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UHH softball consistently strings together winning seasons

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald
    UHH's Kiarra Lincoln.

Callen Perreira modestly doesn’t want to talk about it, and he doesn’t have to because the numbers speak volumes: With just two losing campaigns in 30 seasons, the softball program’s sustained success is unmatched at UH-Hilo athletics.

Long before he began his first coaching stint with the Vulcans in 1990, Perreira also tasted success on the high school level, guiding Hilo High to a state championship in 1978, the only such triumph for a BIIF softball team to date.

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A softball pioneer here for 40 years, it wasn’t until now, however, that Perreira was able to merge the collegiate and prep levels quite like this.

“It’s very unusual,” he said last week in his office of having two Big Island players, Kiarra Lincoln and Skylar Thomas, on his roster.

He recalls Hilo High graduates Haunani Haasenritter and Aisha Sueda, now one of his assistants, as being key contributors, “but never two at the same time.”

Perreira would go on to extol the virtues of Lincoln, a four-year starter at Kamehameha, and Thomas, a two-time Division I Player of the Year at Waiakea, but since actions speak louder than words, just fast forward to Friday.

In her first college at-bat, Thomas hit a grand slam, while Lincoln tripled, walked three times and scored four runs as the Vulcans opened their season with 15-1 victory against San Francisco State at the Desert Stinger tournament in Las Vegas.

Never mind that Perreira said the difference between facing pitching in the BIIF and college Division II was “night and day.”

“You’re going to see every pitch in the book thrown very well,” he said. “For them, it’s a matter of talent, they’re adjusting very well.”

Lincoln has come on strong since she got to UHH, quickly locking down an everyday job at second base and a spot near the top of the order. Just as she did in the BIIF, she shows surprising pop with the bat despite her diminutive stature.

“5-feet with with high heels on,” Perreira said. “She’s opened up a lot of eyes on the team.”

Thomas, who played first base and hit ninth Friday, and Lincoln contribute to a freshman class that Perreira thinks will add much-needed speed and versatility, which were sometimes missing last season as UH-Hilo finished 26-22 in his first season back at the helm.

Expect a learning curve, he said, but maybe so not much with the thumper, Bailey Gaspar, and the slapper, Mari Kawamoto, a pair of preseason all-conference selections on the left side of the infield, back in the fold.

Gaspar, at third, hit .372 last season with 14 home runs, and 53 RBIs, and she has a chance to leave as the program’s all-time leading home run hitter. She hit .415 in 2016, putting her in top 10 in many of the program’s offensive categories.

“Bailey is one of, if not the best hitter that I have ever coached,” said Perreira, the program’s all-time winningest coach.

Kawano, at shortstop, hit .366 with 36 runs scored and swiped 18 bases.

The hardest Vulcan to replace could be catcher Danielle Pulido, so Perreira will turn to three players: sophomore Brinell Kaleikini (.280, six homers in 2017) played six positions last season and freshman Lauren Flores (Laverne, Calif.) and Markie Okamoto (Mililani, Oahu) will see time as well. Kaleikini will also play first.

New faces are vogue in the outfield as well.

Isabelle Mejia, a junior transfer and .400 hitter can pitch or play center field. When she pitches, freshman Keana Reyes-Burke (Idaho) will patrol center, freshman Darian Obara (Pearl City, Oahu) will handle duties in left as well as back up the middle infielders and junior Maria Steadmon, one of only three players to start every game last season, moved from center to right.

“We have more ability with our speed to play better defense,” Perreira said.

The freshman influence also would have been felt in the circle, but Danielle Cervantes is slated to redshirt as she rehabs from an injury after leading Campbell to the HHSAA Division I title in 2017.

“One of the best pitchers I’ve recruited,” Perreira said.

Still, he’s confident in a staff that can go four to five deep.

Senior right-hander Cyanne Fernandez finished 8-3 with a 1.67 ERA last season, and she looked the part of an ace in Friday’s opener, tossing five quality innings while allowing three hits with two strikeouts and no walks.

Leah Gonzales returns after a strong freshman season (9-7, 3.03 ERA), while junior Billi Derleth looks to regain the form that saw her go 12-8 as a freshman.

Along with infusing the program with talent, Perreira worked hard to make the schedule much more user-friendly than last season, when the Vulcans had to endure a three-week break after their season-opening trip.

After 11 games on the mainland, the Vuls head to Oahu for four games Feb. 15-16, and they open at home Feb. 24 with a doubleheader against Hawaii Pacific.

The goal, as always, is to reach the playoffs, something UHH last accomplished in 2013 under Jaime Wallin. Perreira last went to regionals with the Vuls in 2007.

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“We’re playing every weekend,” Perreira said. “The schedule is in our favor and we can do well and go places.

“It’s here for the taking, where as last year, it wasn’t there.”