Backed by proven commodities, UH-Hilo’s softball team enters the great unknown.
It’s first exposure to mainland competition this season caries the added significance of being its most important competition to date. The Vulcans play Concordia, ranked best in the West, and Dominican on Wednesday to start the PacWest Conference pod series, where an automatic berth to regionals will be at stake at Penguin Field in San Rafael, Calif.
Round-robin competition continues Thursday – four games for each team over two days – and the club with the best record advances directly to a regional in Irvine, Calif., that starts May 19.
Coach Callen Perreira said pitchers Leah Gonzales and Valerie Alvarado will each get a start Wednesday, though he was undecided on who would face which team. The Vuls and Concordia play at 8 a.m. Hawaii time with Vuls-Penguins set for 11 a.m.
It goes without saying that Eagles ace Callie Nunes, the newly minted PacWest pitcher of the year, will be the best arm that UHH will have seen this year.
“Callie has a really good riseball, but it’s key not to swing at it, because it’s meant to be a ball,” said Perreira, who was busy Tuesday presiding over final exams.
Nunes (9-3, 1.76 ERA) is a test of another nature.
“The girls, they have a way of finding their own film online, and we’vefaced her a lot,” Perreira said, “so we know what to expect. She can be dominating if you’re not smart. She beat us in a no-hitter, but we’ve also beaten her.”
The No. 11 Eagles, who have won five games in a row, are led at the plate by PacWest player of the year Mckinsey Thorpe, who is hitting .373 with 22 RBI. Concordia (26-11) hit 23 home runs in winning the SoCal pod.
“They have five or six hitters who are quick and put the ball in play and put a lot of pressure on the defense,” he said.
Dominican went 16-16, overtaking Academy of Art to win the NorCal pod.
“I don’t know much about their pitching, but we’re going to find out,” Perreira said.
On Tuesday, the Vuls put seven players on the all-PacWest teams, including Kiarra Lincoln, a first-teamer who became a three-time all league performer. Gonzales (7-1, PacWest-best 1.27 ERA) made the second team and Alvarado (4-3, 2.50) was a third-team selection.
“I’m glad Kiarra made the first team, because she is the best shortstop in the league,” Perreira said.
Second baseman Darian Obara also made the second team, while catcher Markie Okamoto, third baseman Chloe Domingo and outfielder Vevesi Liilii were all third-teamers.
“I’m happy that we got seven girls, but we always think we should get more,” Perreira said.
Live stats and an audio broadcast of the Vuls’ pod series game are available at the UH-Hilo athletics website.