Vulcan Softball Finds Offense on the Road
The University of Hawai’i at Hilo softball team has seemed to gain a new outlook on the season with a successful road trip and spark in their aluminum bats.
UH-Hilo recently completed the 2015 Tournament of Champions Presented by Turlock Convention and Visitors Bureau in California with a 6-1 record and the Bronze Bracket championship. With 10 wins in their last 11 games, all coming on the road, the Vulcans have climbed their way back into the PacWest Conference discussion, and maybe even the regional picture.
“It came at the perfect time,” sad first-year head coach Peejay Brun on her team’s 13-game road trip. “We had been struggling with our hitting for a little bit there at home, and worked really hard at practice to work on the pressure situations. When we got to the road, it was like everything was falling together at the right time. I can’t be more proud of these players right now for the way they are playing and putting their hearts out there on a day-to-day basis.
So far on the road trip, UH-Hilo is averaging 7.09 runs per game, a major contrast to the six runs scored in the previous seven games played, all losses at home. Six of those losses came against the top two teams in the conference, Dixie State and California Baptist.
Fast forward to the Tournament of Champions in Turlock, CA. It’s a gathering of 24 Division II softball teams, mostly out of the West region, and hosted by Cal State Stanislaus. A strong showing in the event can usually mean respect when the first regional rankings are released after the tournament.
To matters complicating for the three-day classic, UH-Hilo has just 13 players currently playing on its squad, a small amount compared to other schools across the country. Coming into the season, the Vulcans had just 16 listed on their roster.
“It was a little scary. I’m not going to lie,” said Brun. “Going into the season with so little players was a little scary, but the way they are pulling together and just seeing how this team has grown so much in this short of time has been tremendous.”
UH-Hilo batted .360 during the Tournament of Champions, 10 points better than Sonoma State. Leading the charge were a pair of seniors, Colleen Aubrey and Vanessa Salinas. Both were named to the All-Tournament Team.
Aubrey was named PacWest Co-Player of the Week for games played between March 23-29, in part because of her performance in Turlock. She batted .480 in the three-day tournament and raised her conference-leading batting average to .474. For the week, including doubleheader wins against Holy Names and Notre Dame de Namur, Aubrey hit .528 with 10 runs batted in.
“Her hitting is phenomenal,” Brun explained. “She gets up to the plate, and we know something’s going to happen.”
Salinas, on the other hand, has gotten things done both at the plate and in the pitcher’s circle. She batted .417 at the Tournament of Champions with a double and three runs batted in. On the other hand, she was 7-0 as a pitcher last week, striking out 27 and posting a 1.71 earned run average. She was named PacWest Co-Pitcher of the Week.
“I know a lot of coaches get a little scared letting their pitchers hit, but she’s just been awesome on the mound,” Brun said. “Once I saw her bat and the type of hitting she could do in the fall, I knew there was no way I was going to stop her from swinging throughout the year.”
UH-Hilo is not totally out of the conference picture yet. The Vulcans hold a 22-14 overall record and 11-8 conference record, putting them behind Dixie State and Cal Baptist with ten games remaining in the season. The PacWest-leading Red Storm are eight-and-a-half games ahead of UH-Hilo as the season hits its home stretch.
Home, however, is not yet in the sights for the UH-Hilo softball team. The Vulcans remain on the road, preparing for a Tuesday doubleheader against Academy of Art. After that, the season concludes with eight combined games, six at home, against Chaminade, BYU-Hawai’i, and Hawai’i Pacific University.