By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
When Kristina Victa’s on first and Rebecca Lee’s at the plate, the University of Hawaii at Hilo is usually ready to put a play into motion and wreck havoc with it’s top-of-the-order table-setters.
But in the case of Sunday’s scoreless game against Chaminade, not everybody was on the same page. When Lee took the first pitch she saw, softball coach Jaime Wallin raised her hands in exasperation because of the apparent lack of communication. One pitch later, Victa was thrown out trying to steal, ending any potential rally.
It was a sign — a missed one, at least — that this just wasn’t going to be the Vulcans’ day on a sun-drenched afternoon on their softball field.
A pair of critical one-run losses later, 1-0 and 5-4, Wallin was exasperated again, and she apologized to her team after it fell out of first place in the Pacific West Conference.
“Physically and mentally, we just weren’t prepared to play,” Wallin said. “Whenever the team loses, it’s on the coach.
“It’s my responsibility to prepare them. It won’t happen again.”
It’s hard to determine which loss was more painful.
Silverswords senior shortstop Rayna Strom-Okimoto provided a sudden, big blow in the first game, cranking a home run to left field in the eighth inning off Vanessa Salinas. In the second game, the Vulcans (35-17, 21-7) seemingly lost their grip piece by piece in losing a 4-0 lead.
With four games left to play, UHH fell percentage points behind Grand Canyon (19-5) in the PacWest, but the Vulcans are two back in the loss column and tied with Dixie State in second place.
“If these games weren’t must-win, they all are now,” Wallin said.
UHH gets a two-week break before meeting up again with the Silverswords (25-17, 17-9) for an April 28 doubleheader in Honolulu.
“I thought one of the main differences was Chaminade came in with fire and energy and a willingness to compete,” Wallin said.
Both teams were coming off busy stretches on the mainland that included playing at the Tournament of Champions, and each will anxiously await the release of the West Regional rankings.
Chaminade coach Kent Yamaguchi said his team rode a wave of momentum into Hilo after finishing its trip 13-3. The eighth-year coach couldn’t remember a time when his club had swept UHH on the road.
“The team worked hard getting ready for these games,” Yamaguchi said. “We’re still in the (regional) mix, so it’s not hard to motivate them.”
While Wallin said UHH could use the time off to its advantage “to relight the fire,” the Vulcans also will try to find a way to figure out ace left-hander Brett Aspel, who hurled 12 2/3-scoreless inning in picking up victories on both ends of the doubleheader.
Aspel (14-10) outdueled Salinas (19-6) in a four-hitter and walked only one with four strikeouts in the first game.
“She moved the ball and stayed away from us most of the day,” Wallin said.
Kaitlyn Watanabe started opposite UHH left-hander Ashley Nelson in the second game, but both team aces came on in relief and finished the contest.
Aspel allowed only two hits in 4 2/3 innings and got the win after Kori Berinobis’ RBI single in the sixth off Salinas capped Chaminade’s rally.
Aspel used an effective riseball to keep hitters off-balance and didn’t need strikeouts to be effective — she had none in the second game.
“We take pride in our defense,” Yamaguchi said. “I tell our pitchers that if we pitch to our defense, I like our chances.”
Nelson (12-10) gave up 11 hits and all five runs in 5 1/3 innings in taking the loss. Trailing 4-1, the first five batters for Chaminade reached on singles in the fifth, with Aja Keyes’s two-run single tying the score.
The first four batters in Chaminade’s lineup r— Shannan Hokama, Berinobis, Strom-Okimoto and Keyes — each collected two hits, as did No. 8 batter Ashley Phelps as the Silverswords outhit UHH 13-8.
Designated hitter Melanie Morelos was 2 for 3, including an RBI single in the third that put UHH ahead 4-0. Emily Greene singled in the second to start a two-run rally and doubled in the third and scored.
The damage against Nelson could have been worse if not for some fine defensive plays. With two on and two out in the fourth inning, Lee ranged to short left field to snag a popup, and Brandi Wilson’s diving catch in right field in the fifth stranded runners on second and third. Phelps was gunned down trying for a triple in the third.
Salinas was solid as usual in her start, a seven-hitter in which she walked one and struck out two. Wilson was 2 for 3.
But a day that began with promise, ended with frustration.
“My sense is this break will be good for us,” Wallin said. “We have some things to fix.”
The game marked a successful homecoming for Chaminade’s Tuma Enos and Chelsea Camello.
Batting fifth at designated hitter in each game, Enos, a senior graduate from Pahoa, finished 1 for 6 with a walk and a double and was hit by a pitch. Camello is the Silverswords’ third pitcher, but Yamaguchi made a point of getting the freshman into the game as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning of Game 2, and the Waiakea graduate grounded out.
“She was home, and that was about rewarding her for effort and working hard. She such a good player to have around,” Yamaguchi said.
Enos, a transfer from Hartnell College, is batting .280 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in 31 games this season.
“(Tuma) has been a pleasant surprise,” Yamaguchi said. “She knows her role. She’s a hitter.”
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