By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
Hawaii Pacific University has always been a thorn in the side of the University of Hawaii at Hilo softball team.
But on Saturday, the Vulcans turned the corner on some past frustrations and earned a hard-fought sweep of the talented Sea Warriors at Howard A. Okita Field in Kaneohe, Oahu.
UHH rode the gutsy pitching of junior Vanessa Salinas in the opener to pull out a 6-4 win, then got steady relief pitching from sophomore Ashley Nelson and a booming bat from junior Rebecca Lee to beat HPU 4-3 in the second game of the Pacific West Conference doubleheader.
“It feels good to sweep HPU,” Vulcans coach Jaime Wallin said. “This hasn’t happened for quite awhile and to fight our way all day and get the sweep, it’s sweet.”
In the opener, Salinas, a right-hander from Madera, Calif., struck out one and walked two against the host Sea Warriors. She allowed 10 hits and two earned runs while improving to 4-1 on the season.
“Vanessa didn’t have her best stuff today,” Wallin said. “When she threw it over the plate, they hit it. But when she moved her pitches around, she had some success. And her teammates played really strong defense behind her — especially left-fielder Arren Nunez, who had a fantastic performance in both games.”
The Vulcans (13-10 overall, 3-1 PacWest) exploded for five runs in the second inning and added an insurance run in the third to support Salinas. The Sea Warriors (6-4, 0-2) plated two runs in the fourth inning and one each in the fifth and seventh to cap the scoring.
Lee led UHH’s seven-hit attack with two hits and a run batted in. Kristina Victa, Colleen Aubrey and Brittany Huff each added a hit and an RBI. Nunez had a single and scored twice.
“After the first inning, we knew we could hit their pitcher,” Wallin said. “Then we took advantage of our opportunities and did some real good things along the way. HPU kept fighting back, but we were able to hold them off for a nice win.”
Chante Tesoro led HPU with three hits and Caira Pires, Nicole Morrow and Melissa Awa each added two hits. Tesoro and Pires had two RBIs apiece.
Melissa Kirby started for the Sea Warriors and lasted one inning. She gave up five hits and five runs while taking the loss. Kristen Caskey replaced Kirby (3-1) in the second inning and finished.
In Game 2, freshman Hannah Peterson cruised through the first three innings and held a 2-0 lead going into the bottom of the fourth inning. But the Sea Warriors got two runners on base and then teammate Kristen Caskey hit a three-run homer to lift the hosts on top 3-2.
Nelson, a crafty southpaw from San Diego, replaced Peterson in the fourth and finished.
“Ashley did a good job finishing,” Wallin said. “But in the seventh, she did get a little excited and tightened up. But she hung in there and we made a couple of big defensive plays to stop them from scoring. On one of the plays, Arren (Nunez) threw out a runner trying to take third. Ashley then got their final batter to pop up.
“It’s a big win for us — our first one coming from behind, our first one winning a one-run ballgame, and our first sweep of HPU in quite awhile.”
Lee, a 5-6 shortstop out of Mililani High School, carried the Vulcans offensively in Game 2. She went 3 for 4 with three doubles and three RBIs. In the first inning, she had an RBI double to drive in Victa and then in the top of the seventh, she had a two-run double that put UHH ahead for good.
“Rebecca had a fantastic day,” Wallin said. “She really hit the ball well. In the second game, the one time that she got out, she drove the ball deep to center field. She came through for us in a big way. She had five hits in the doubleheader.”
Nelson (2-1) earned the win, going 3 2/3 scoreless innings. She walked two and struck out one. Peterson went 3 1/3 innings, allowing six hits and the three earned runs.
Caskey (2-2) started and pitched the distance for HPU and took the loss. She allowed 10 hits while striking out one and walking two.
“Caskey did an outstanding job,” Wallin said. “She pitched really well and kept most of our hitters off-balance.”
The Lady Vuls next host PacWest foe Dixie State in a doubleheader at noon Thursday. Then on Saturday, UHH hosts Brigham Young University-Hawaii in a noon conference twinbill at the Vulcans field.
At Howard A. Okita Field, Kaneohe
UHH 051 000 0 — 6 7 1
HPU 000 210 1 — 4 10 3
UHH 110 000 2 — 4
HPU 000 300 0 — 3