Yes, UH-Hilo’s softball team was tired, but any fatigue factor was outweighed by the fact the Vulcans were more tired of all the drama.
A series full of blown leads and late-inning rallies was reduced to a laugher Saturday, with special thanks to buzz kills Billi Derleth and Skylar Thomas, as UHH swept a doubleheader against Azusa Pacific to reach the high point of its season heading to the high point of its schedule.
Derleth scattered five hits in a compete game and Thomas launched a grand slam to power a 11-2 victory, a contest that came on the heels of a 14-7 comeback win in Azusa, Calif.
“Tired but good,” coach Callen Perreira said in a telephone interview, describing not only himself but his team, which is in the middle of a stretch in which it’s playing 21 games in 19 days. “Mind over matter.”
Of the 25 runs UHH (19-8, 14-5 Pacific West Conference) scored on the day, Isabelle Mejia drove in seven of them, including a grand slam in the first game. Kiarra Lincoln hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the sixth, and the Vuls never looked back from there, taking three of four from the Cougars (12-11, 9-6).
“Best results we’ve had (this season),” Perreira said. “We hit the ball hard.”
The run support was appreciated but not necessary for Derleth, who used pinpoint control to subdue Azusa, striking out just one with no walks in her second seven-inning stint on the road trip.
“She really came through today,” Perreira said. “(Friday) was tough for us. (Friday) was our fifth day in a row (including a Monday practice), and today was our sixth.”
The teams split a doubleheader Friday in two extra-inning contests in which the Vuls coughed up a pair of leads.
Saturday’s first game appeared headed toward the same trajectory until UHH forged ahead with four-spots in the sixth and seven innings. Mejia collected four hits and six RBIs, including an RBI double in the sixth and a run-scoring single in the seventh.
If there was a downer on the day it’s that Mejia couldn’t muster magic in the circle – of the 35 runs the senior has allowed in 12 appearances, 23 have come in the past four starts – but Leah Gonzales (6-3) came on to fire three scoreless innings with three hits allowed and three strikeouts.
Lincoln’s home run was her third of the season, and she tacked on a three-run double in the second game and holds the team lead with 25 RBIs. Mejia’s homer was her second, and Thomas’s slam was her team-high fourth home run.
The Vuls compiled 23 hits in all. Makamae Kaleikini collected three hits in the first game with doubles in both, and Lincoln, Maria Steadmon, Rayla Jacobs-Kea, Markie Okamoto and Thomas each had two hits in the second game.
UHH, just percentage points behind Hawaii Pacific for second in the PacWest, might want to save some hits for first-place Concordia.
Sunday is a day of rest – the NCAA mandates as much after six days consecutive days on the field – then the Vuls travel to Irvine, Calif., to face the No. 7 Eagles (23-3, 11-2) and sophomore mega-ace Callie Nunes. The right-hander was the Division II freshman of the year in 2018, and this season’s she’s 15-2 with a 0.84 ERA. In 99 2/3 innings covering 20 starts, Nunes has struck out 129 batters and limited opponents to a .114 average.
“Basically, you have to lay off the rise ball,” Perreira said. “It’s devastating, but it’s a ball if you lay off it.”
UHH played damage control with its pitching but couldn’t find the win column, losing 3-1 in the second game of a doubleheader as No. 20 Azusa completed a four-game sweep.
In the first game, the Cougars won 17-2 – giving them 49 runs in three games.
Ace Dylan Spain returned to the mound for the Vuls (10-15, 8-10) in the second game. Making his first appearance since Feb. 28, the sophomore was on a 30-pitch count, so he left in favor of John Kea after 1 1/3 innings and Azusa (20-9, 10-2) in the lead 1-0 on Griffen Herrera’s home run.
RJ Romo tied it with an RBI single in the fifth, scoring Dylan Sugimoto, who had doubled. Kyle Yamada walked earlier in the inning but was thrown out trying to score on Sugimoto’s two-bagger.
Kea cruised until the sixth, when Herrera hit a two-run home run. Kea (1-2) struck out five in 4 1/3 innings, with no walks and three hits allowed.
Yamada was 2 for 2 with two walks.
In the opener, UHH was outhit 19-7 and trailed 17-0 before Rustin Ho and Chris Aubort drove in runs with hits in the seventh. Mana Manago was 2 for 4.
Travis Burleson (3-2) was touched for 14 hits and 12 hits in 4 2/3 innings, walking three with a strikeout.