The Hawaii softball team’s week in Las Vegas couldn’t have started much worse.
But the Rainbow Wahine managed to turn fortune in their favor and left town on Tuesday riding a hot streak.
UH’s first season-opening road trip since 2002 began with a blowout loss to BYU on Feb. 15. The Wahine then blew a 2-0 lead in a 4-2 loss to Seattle in the first game of a doubleheader last Friday.
“The first two games were really frustrating because we were trying to get our feet on the ground,” UH coach Bob Coolen said in a phone interview after the team’s arrival in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
“We talked a little bit about communication and trying to get better and from that point forward, and with a lineup change, we’ve been doing a good job.”
UH hasn’t lost since, reeling off five straight wins to close the Marucci Desert Classic before heading to L.A. for the second leg of the road trip.
The Wahine (5-2) will play five more games in three days with doubleheaders against Loyola Marymount (4-5-1) on Thursday and Weber State (3-7) on Friday. They close the 12-day trip with a single game against Weber State on Saturday.
After dropping the first two games, UH outscored its next five opponents 37-4, allowing no more than one run in those wins.
“We’re starting to come together,” Coolen said. “So this series coming up after being on the road a week will be interesting to see how we play.”
UH senior right-hander Brittany Hitchcock gave up three home runs in the first two innings in the opener against BYU, then bounced back with a career-high 12 strikeout performance in a 5-1 win over New Mexico.
“I think Brittany was very upset from the night before and she went out with a conviction that she was going to pitch well and she was throwing hard,” Coolen said. “Her ball was biting, it was moving and we starting hitting the ball.”
Dana Thomsen also struggled in relief against BYU and took the loss against Seattle, but rebounded with complete-game wins over Utah State and UNLV and closed the week with 22 strikeouts against five walks.
Nicole Lopez ignited the UH offense with two home runs against the Lobos and ended the week hitting .478 with eight RBIs. Callee Heen traded places with Lopez and moved up into the third spot in the order and caught fire late in the tournament. The sophomore homered twice and drove in six runs in an 8-1 win over host UNLV on Monday.
But junior left fielder Jennifer Iseri ended the tournament as UH’s leading hitter at .583, going 7-for-12 in five starts. Iseri entered the season as a career .209 hitter with nine hits in 43 at bats in her first two years in Manoa.
“Jen has been a surprise for us,” Coolen said. “Always capable, just the lightbulb never went on until right now. She’s feeling real confident and making some good plays in left field.”
Freshman Britnee Rossi also enjoyed a breakout week in hitting .400 in Las Vegas. She drove in the go-ahead runs in the seventh inning in a 3-1 win over Utah State, homered against Idaho State and went 3-for-4 with a double against UNLV. She also delivered a pivotal defensive play in a 3-1 win over Boise State.
With the bases loaded with two out in the top the sixth and UH clinging to a 2-1 lead, Rossi charged a grounder into right field and threw the batter-runner out at first to end the inning and protect the lead.
“Boise had it all going for them, that would have scored the tying run and possibly the go-ahead run,” Coolen said. “She came up and threw a strike and the girl was out by three steps. The confidence level just rose dramatically.”
The production by Iseri and Rossi gives UH an unusually deep outfield. Jordian Hicks and Chardonnay Pantastico also had starts in the corner positions. Hard-luck sophomore Bree Soma started the first three games in right field in her return from last year’s season-ending knee injury before being hit in the face by a pitch against New Mexico.
Loyola Marymount’s lineup includes Mid-Pacific graduate Lindsey Matoi. The senior shortstop has started LMU’s last 61 games and is hitting .250 with five RBIs this season.