By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Five more hits, another five RBIs, and, of course, the obligatory home run. Three of them, in fact.
Just another day at the office for Rebecca Lee.
University of Hawaii at Hilo’s star shorststop continued her torrid pace Tuesday as the Vulcans opened conference play by splitting a doubleheader against California Baptist in Riverside, Calif.
Lee, the preseason Pacific West Conference Player of the Year and the league’s reigning Player of the Week, has seven home runs on the season, all in the last seven games for the Vulcans (6-5, 1-1 PacWest). UHH who had a five-game winning streak snapped in a 8-5 loss in the nightcap, despite two more home runs from Lee. The senior from Mililani, Oahu, finished 5 for 7 in the doubleheader and has hit safely in each game this season, raising her average to .658.
Why are teams pitching to her?
“I’ve been wondering the same thing,” UHH coach Jaime Wallin said. “They continue to do so, and she continues to hurt them.
“I would think they might start pitching around her today.”
The Vulcans and Lancers (9-2, 1-1) wrap up series with another doubleheader.
Wallin called Lee “superhuman,” but the most encouraging sign for the Vulcans was the shutout performance by pitcher Ashley Nelson (3-3) in the first game, a 4-0 victory. The junior left-hander began the day with an ERA above 4.00, but she scattered seven hits and three walks with seven strikeouts.
“We need her to perform like that for our pitching staff to be successful,” Wallin said. “She was effective on both sides of the plate. For us to be successful against a lineup like Cal Baptist, she had to have command on both sides.”
Freshman Danielle Pulido highlighted a three-run third inning with a two-out double that scored two runs. Sophomore Brittany Huff started the rally when she was hit by a pitch, coming around to score on Lee’s double, her second of the game and ninth of the season. Of her 25 hits this year, 17 have gone for extra bases.
Kristina Victa, UHH’s senior leadoff hitter, finished 2 for 4.
Lee, who started Tuesday with an 1.323 slugging percentage, hit a solo home run in the fifth inning, then slugged two more in the second game.
UHH starter Hannah Peterson was ineffective in four innings of work, allowing six runs, and Cal Baptist took the lead for good by breaking a 4-4 tie with four runs in the bottom of the fifth. Nelson took the loss.
Victa and Lee were both vital cogs batting from the top of the lineup last year, sparking the Vulcans to the postseason.
But Lee has stepped it up a notch this season as she continues to show the form that made her a Division I recruit out of Mililani High. As a transfer from East Carolina, she was the PacWest Player of the the Year, hitting .432 in her first season in Hilo.
In 11 games hitting from the No. 2 hole, she’s ripped 25 RBIs and scored 20 runs with nine multi-hit games, including seven is a row.
Wallin said she hadn’t seen anything like it since she came to UHH in 2011.
The PacWest honored Lee Monday primarily for her work at the Desert Stinger tournament in Las Vegas. Lee knocked in six runs in a 12-11 loss against Humboldt State, then she homered and knocked in four runs in each of the final two games of the tournament against Fort Lewis and Regis.