By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
The mark of a good softball team and a great one is how it responds to adversity.
The University of Hawaii at Hilo finds itself at that crossroads in head coach Jaime Wallin’s short tenure, hoping to take the next step and successfully challenge the top NCAA Division II teams in the West Region and beyond.
On Saturday, the fourth-seeded Vulcans fell to second-seeded Sonoma State 8-0 and were eliminated from the West 2 Regional in St. George, Utah.
It was a rock-solid season for UHH, which finished 39-19 overall and claimed a share of the Pacific West Conference title along with Dixie State. But in their first postseason action since 2010, the Vulcans struggled in the West Regional, falling in back-to-back games.
Dixie State (39-13) overpowered UHH 14-5 in a five-inning TKO win Friday before Sonoma State (37-21) ended the Vulcans’ season in another five-inning TKO affair Saturday. Shaky pitching and defense as well as a lack of hitting against quality opponents were the keys to UHH’s quick exit.
In Saturday’s loss to Sonoma State, the Vulcans managed only three hits and committed three errors.
“What you saw was an inconsistent performance across the board,” Wallin said. “And when you get to this level there is no room for that.
“I think we’re an intelligent and talented team. Now, we have to take the lessons that we have learned from this experience and apply them to become a better team.”
Sonoma State’s All-America pitcher Samantha Lipperd held UHH to two hits over three scoreless innings and reliever Amanda Llerena shut the door with two scoreless innings and only one hit in an impressive victory that kept the Seawolves (37-20) alive in the four-team, double-elimination tournament.
Lipperd (23-11) earned the win while Vulcan starter Hannah Peterson (6-3) took the loss. The freshman from Alta Loma, Calif., allowed six runs on five hits in 4 1/3 innings. She struck out one and walked four before sophomore Ashley Nelson came in to get the final two outs in the five-inning contest.
Second baseman Holli Brown hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the first inning to fuel Sonoma State’s offense, then added a run-scoring single in a four-run third inning to stretch the Seawolves’ lead to 7-0. Sonoma State closed the shutout with a run in the bottom of the fifth inning to record the TKO victory.
Brown went 3 for 3, including a double, in the Seawolves’ eight-hit attack. Lead-off batter Ancia Purdy had two hits while teammates Vanessa Currie and Hayley Condon each added a hit and an RBI.
UHH’s Kristina Victa, Rebecca Lee and Brandi Wilson each had a single off the dominant Sonoma State pitchers.
In an earlier game Saturday, third-seeded Cal State Dominguez Hills upset top-seeded Dixie State 9-3 to remain undefeated. Dixie State eliminated Sonoma later in the day, and the Red Storm will have to beat Cal State Dominguez Hills twice today to win region. The winner advances to the Super Regional, scheduled May 17-18 at a site to be named. The Super Regional winners earn berths in the NCAA D-II Championships, slated May 23-27.
Wallin loses only two seniors — catcher Brittany Spencer and first baseman Asha Prithviraj — this year and has a solid returning nucleus, led by juniors Lee and Victa as well as sophomore Emily Greene. The trio helped lead the Vulcans to the share of their PacWest title since the 2005-06 season under then-coach Callen Perreira.
Lee, a shortstop from Mililani, Oahu, was named the PacWest Player of the Year after hitting .429 with 41 runs and 23 stolen bases. Victa, a centerfielder from Laguna Hills, Calif., was chosen the PacWest Newcomer of the Year while batting .395 in the lead-off spot to go along with 53 runs and 26 steals. Greene, a third baseman from Woodland Hills, Calif., hit .302 with eight home runs and 41 RBIs and earned all-PacWest first team honors.
Wallin must also replace junior pitcher Vanessa Salinas, who the coach said left the team for personal reasons late in the season after going 15-6 on the mound. Salinas did not pitch in UHH’s final two regular-season series or in postseason play.
Note: According to sports information director Kelly Leong, the UHH team was still finalizing its travel plans to return to Hilo. “It looks like it will be on Monday,” said Leong, who, along with athletic director Dexter Irvin, accompanied the Vulcans to the West Regional.
At St. George, Utah
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