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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 2, 2006

Morton earns No. 2 pitching spot for Rainbows

By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer


WHEN: Today through Sunday

WHERE: Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium

TODAY'S GAMES: California vs. Mississippi Valley State, 10 a.m.; UC Riverside vs. Mississippi Valley State, noon; Florida International vs. California, 2 p.m.; Florida International vs. Mercer, 4 p.m.; Mercer vs. Hawai'i, 6 p.m.

ADMISSION: Free. Parking is $3

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Overcoming a career of misfortune, Jessica Morton has emerged as the No. 2 starter on the University of Hawai'i softball team's pitching staff.

"She's getting the job done," said UH coach Bob Coolen, whose team meets Mercer in tonight's opening round of the Pepsi Malihini Kipa Aloha Softball Tournament at Rainbow Wahine Stadium.

Justine Smethurst (4-2, 3.78 earned run average) will start against Mercer, and Morton (1-1, 4.72 ERA) will pitch in tomorrow's 4 p.m. game against UC Riverside. Smethurst will start in tomorrow's 6 p.m. game against Florida International.

The starting rotation was established based on a "pitch-off" during Monday's intrasquad scrimmage. Courtney Baughman, a freshman who had been the No. 2 starter in the first two tournaments, struggled.

Coolen said it was a disappointing outing for Baughman, an off-speed pitcher who was supposed to complement the power-throwing Smethurst.

"Courtney has to get a little more mentally strong on the mound," Coolen said. "She's played a lot of competitive softball, but she never got hit as hard as she's getting hit right now. What's happened is it's mentally bothering her. She's thinking, 'Why am I getting hit so hard?' She needs to understand that in Division I, the (Nos.) 1 to 9 hitters are good hitters, it's not just 1 to 5 that's tough. Once she gets a batter on (base), and another, then there's a little bit of a breakdown, and mistake pitches happen."

Coolen said Baughman is not suited for relief assignments, and she will need to regain her confidence in practices.

Morton is taking advantage of a rare spell of good health. She received a medical hardship two years ago after suffering a back injury. She missed most of last season with a broken bone in the thumb of her right (throwing) hand and a broken jaw. This year, she allowed one earned run in a complete-game victory over Southern Mississippi, but exited after five outs against Texas-Arlington when a blister burst on the index finger of her right hand.

"She has a very live arm," Coolen said.

Coolen also has been impressed with reliever Kate Robinson's pitching. She threw two scoreless and hitless innings during the scrimmage. Coolen said he is contemplating using Robinson as a spot starter.

"Right now, she has a lot of confidence on the mound," Coolen said of Robinson, who has the largest repertoire of pitches. "You don't know what you're going to get from her."

Reach Stephen Tsai at stsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.