It wouldn’t be accurate to say UH-Hilo’s softball regular season was long or arduous, but it certainly was repetitive.
Maybe senior right-hander Valerie Alvarado lost her focus somewhere along the way?
It doesn’t matter now, because Alvarado has regained her ace-like form against fresh faces, firing her second consecutive shutout Wednesday as the Vulcans zapped higher-seeded Western Washington 3-0 to open the NCAA Division II West Regionals in Irvine, Calif.
“The adrenaline, she found her game back,” coach Callen Perreira said. “She pitched very well today as well as the past two games at the pod (series).”
Or maybe the double degrees that Alvarado earned last weekend added a bounce to her step? Vevesi Liilii, who also graduated Saturday with two degrees, smashed a two-run home run against Vikings ace Anna Kasner in the top of the first inning, giving Alvarado all the cushion she would need.
“It was a big game for us, we wanted to show that even as a lower seed we belong here,” Alvarado (6-4) said in a postgame news conference.
The Vikings put a runner on base every inning, but they never put two hits together until the seventh.
“I wasn’t stressed out at all about it,” Alvarado said. “Whenever runners got on, I knew with my defense behind me that we could get out of it.”
She struck out three and worked around a walk and eight hits as the Vuls (18-11) advanced to face top-seeded Concordia on Thursday morning at the Eagles’ field. Last week at the PacWest pod series in Northern California, Concordia edged UHH in a pair of one-run games. Alvarado allowed two runs in six innings in a 2-1 loss March 12 before blanking Academy of Art on May 13 for her first shutout since April 3.
“They are really happy to be playing (Concordia),” Perreira said. “Seems like every time we play them it’s a close game. They are excited to be playing them on their home field.”
UHH also was motivated to face Kasner (13-5), the West Region Pitcher of the Year.
It was Liilii who was the tone-setter.
With one out in the first, Darian Obara coaxed a walk and Liilii clubbed her third home run of the season to center.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” Liilii said, “so it felt great to come out strong like we did.”
The Vuls scratched for an insurance run in the third when Obara led off with a single, moved to second on Liilii’s walk and scored when Markie Okamoto’s bunt was thrown away.
Obara, Okamoto and Skylar Thomas collected two hits apiece, accounting for all their teams hits.
“We came out very aggressive,” Perreira said, “and we grinded when we needed to.”
Kasner was pulled after Okamoto’s bunt, striking out four, and Kira Doan pitched five shutout innings of relief. Later in the day, Western Washington (23-14) was eliminated from tournament with a 9-5 loss to Central Washington.
Perreira said he hadn’t determined who would his starting pitcher would be against Concordia. Alvarado is back on track after going through a stretch in which she lost four of five decisions, while Leah Gonzales arguably was UHH’s best pitcher during the last half of the regular season. The loser faces an elimination game Thursday afternoon.
“They have been through a lot the last two weeks, last week we had finals, not to mention all the travel,” Perreira said. “They put that all on the side and did a great job.”
No. 5 UHH 3, No. 4 Western Washington 0
No. 3 Northwest Nazarene 2, No. 6 Central Washington 1
Central Washington 9, Western Washington 5
Game 4: UHH vs. No. 1 Concordia Irvine, 9 a.m.
Game 5: Northwest Nazarene vs. No. 2 Biola, 11:30 a.m.
Game 6: Loser Game 4 vs. Loser Game 5 (elimination Game), 2 p.m.
Game 7: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 9 a.m.
Game 8: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 6 (elimination Game), 11:30 a.m.
Game 9: Loser Game 7 vs. Winner Game 8 (elimination Game), 2 p.m.
Game 10: Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 9, 9 a.m.
Game 11: Winner Game 10 vs. Loser Game 10 (if necessary), 11:30 a.m.
Editor’s note: This story has been modified to exclude a reference that Thursday’s winner advances to Saturday’s championship game. Thursday’s winner advances in the winner’s bracket and plays Frida