The University of Hawai'i softball team split a doubleheader to finish the Bank of Hawai'i Rainbow Wahine Classic on Saturday afternoon.
In the first game, senior third baseman Nicole Lopez's two home runs lifted Hawaiʻi (19-8) past Niagara (1-13) in a 3–1 victory at the Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
“Nicole is always going to be there,” head coach Bob Coolen said. “She’s a constant. Her getting that two-run home run to get us back in that game right away was a big relief for us.”
Lopez's two-run home run in the first inning was the start of an impressive 3-for-3 performance against Niagara. Lopez was Hawai’i’s main form of offense as her two homers and three RBIs accounted for all of UH’s runs.
Hawai’i fell to an early 1–0 deficit in the first inning after freshman designated player Tara Driver homered to center field. Driver’s home run was the fourth run freshman pitcher Izzy Dino conceded in the last two games. Coolen had redshirt senior Brittany Hitchcock replace Dino after she gave up three hits in three innings. After the game, Coolen revealed that Dino was suffering from an illness.
“I knew our starting pitcher Izzy wasn’t feeling too well so it was a possibility,” Hitchcock said of her relief appearance. “Coach Bob let me know that I should be ready.”
Hitchcock stabilized the game, holding Niagara scoreless with one strikeout through her 3.2 innings of relief.
In the final game of the Bank of Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine Classic, Hawai’i (19-9) was once again outmatched by the undefeated No. 4 Alabama (31-0), suffering a 6–2 defeat.
Hitchcock returned to the mound to start against Alabama after pitching in the prior game. The redshirt senior started well, retiring the first three batters of the game. However, the second inning saw the Crimson Tide find their way on base with back-to-back singles. A third consecutive hit by sophomore third baseman Maddie Morgan scored senior left fielder Merris Schroder to give the Tides a 1–0 advantage.
“I just try to remain confident in my abilities and my team,” Hitchcock said of facing a strong Alabama offense. “We didn’t come out on top today, but I think we had a good game overall.”
Hawai’i errors bolstered an already strong Alabama side when shortstop Chardonnay "Sissy" Pantastico’s throwing error gave Alabama a 2–0 lead in the second inning. Then in the top of the fourth, two more runs would score when Alabama junior designated player Bailey Hemphill’s single bounced by sophomore center fielder Brittnee Rossi.
“The errors came at the wrong time,” Coolen said. “Then Brittany got hit and they scored off the errors.”
The Rainbow Wahine scored their first runs against Alabama in the sixth inning. With two outs, senior second baseman Alyssa Sojka’s two-run home run to left field cut the game's score to 5–2.
The Crimson Tide scored another run in the seventh inning, increasing their lead to 6–2 as they held off Hawai’i’s last at bats. Alabama’s win this evening was its 31st consecutive win in a row.
The loss against Alabama also marked the end of Hawai’i’s two-week homestand.
“I thought our players handled it well,” Coolen said of their grueling two-week schedule. “We handled it to the end. They could’ve gotten tired three or four days ago, but they kept battling.”
UH will have plenty of rest as the team will return to the Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium on March 29 at 6 p.m. against Long Beach State.