An all-star through and through since she first stepped on to a high school field, Kiarra Lincoln has come through with bigger hits, but few were as fitting as this one.
As Lincoln stepped to the plate Thursday, Hawaii Pacific’s right fielder was told by her dugout – astonishingly enough – to creep a few steps toward the infield.
Really? We’re still doing this? Someone clearly hasn’t been paying attention to the Big Island softball scene the past eight years.
“I heard them in the dugout talk about it, so that kind of motivated me,” Lincoln said after her head-turning drive to deep right at Walter Victor complex capped UH-Hilo’s second mercy rule win against the Sharks.
Driven or not, this is just what Lincoln does. Whether an assuming, diminutive freshman at Kamehameha or a polished Vulcan who’s packed on some muscle as she nears the end of her college career, she hits the ball over people’s heads.
“I think because at a young age, my dad (Derek) instilled in me to work hard,” the shortstop said. “Keep working everyday, and I think it just stayed with my whole career.”
The resounding wins – 11-3 in five innings and 10-2 in six – were important for the Vulcans’ regional resume, and perhaps their psyche as well. PacWest Hawaii pod champion UHH (15-8) had lost seven of 10 entering the day, including four of six against the Sharks (8-15) the last time out.
“They came out on fire and with a lot of energy,” said coach Callen Perreira, who seemed unworried by his team’s recent slump.
“People fail to realize, we were road on the road for four weekends in a row,” he said. “The last time we played HPU, we lost four one-run games. We just couldn’t get the hits at the right time, they just didn’t come.”
UHH hadn’t played at Walter Victor since March 14. Since then, eight previous “home” games were played at Kealakehe High in Kailua-Kona, which still required the Vulcans to drive back and forth across the island every day.
“Being on the road that long and not having a home field and still winning the pod, that’s an accomplishment in itself,” Perreira said.
Thursday was to have been a single game, but a doubleheader planned for Friday was rescheduled for a day earlier because of rain in the forecast. If the weather holds Friday, Lincoln, center fielder Vevesi Liilii, pitchers Leah Gonzales (she won the first game) and Valerie Alvarado (she started the second game) , catcher Markie Okamoto, second baseman Darian Obara and outfielder Kamalei Labasan will play their final home games.
Then it’s off to the mainland for the first time this season and the PacWest pod tournament to decide an automatic qualifier for the West Regional. Even if the Vuls fall short in Northern California, they could still reach regionals as an at-large selection. They were ranked fifth in the West on Wednesday.
“It was very important to win these games,” Liilii said, “so we weren’t going to sleep on these. We’re still trying to win.”
The senior slugger went 5 for 8 on the day and drove in five runs, though it could have been more. She ended the first game with a blistering RBI “single” that hit the third-base bag. It could have been a bases-clearing double, but the contest ended after the first run scored.
In the second game she ripped the ball over the fence in foul play, and she flied out deep to center field twice.
Was the ball not carrying well?
“I thing I just need to go to the weight room more,” Liilii said with a laugh.
The two games were laughers thanks to 24 UHH hits spread over 11 innings. Skylar Thomas finished 4 for 7, and Nikki Zielinski (three hits, two runs), Lincoln (two hits, three RBIs, two runs), Obara (two hits, two walks), and Angel Prewitt (two hits, two RBIs, two runs scored) contributed to the 14-hit uprising in the second game. The contest included five Sharks errors in back of losing pitcher Megan Wilson, who was charged with five unearned runs.
Alvarado gave up a run on four hits and two walks with two strikeouts over three innings, and freshman Sara Bhatt (5-2) allowed a run on one hit and three walks in her three innings. Gonzalez (6-1) allowed two unearned runs in the second inning, as UHH fell behind 2-0, but she scattered five hits and four walks, with three strikeouts, then watched UHH end it in the fifth with a seven-rally that was fueled by six hits, including Labasan’s two-run single.
“We had a good start to the season and a rocky middle, so we want to be able to get back to how we started,” Liilii said.
With junior eligibility, Lincoln could have elected to come back for a fifth season next year, but she said “with how it’s going this year, I’m happy with my career.”
She’s set to graduate this month with a degree in business administration and is intent on getting her masters in architecture.
“It’s not hitting me yet, but when we get to the mainland,” she said, “every game I’ll know this could be my last game.”
Perreira once described Lincoln as “5-feet with high heels on,” but it’s clear he’s been paying close attention to the Big Island softball scene the past eight years.
As Lincoln strode to the plate and HPU’s right fielder crept in during the sixth inning of the second game, “I said she’s going to hit it over her head, and sure enough she did,” Perreira said.
That’s just what Lincoln does.