Sea Warriors are national champs
By Bo Allegrucci
Special to the Advertiser
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Hawai'i Pacific's 27-hour trip from Honolulu to the NCAA Division II softball championships turned out to be well worth the hassle.
After two delays extended their trip beyond a full day early last week, the Sea Warriors ran the table to capture the national title on Memorial Day with a harrowing 4-3 win over Valdosta (Ga.) State.
Both teams blew through the tournament's winners' bracket without a loss, but it was a one-game, winner-take-all scenario yesterday, and Hawai'i Pacific's 50th win of the season was the biggest in program history.
"This win has big significance for Hawai'i softball," HPU coach Bryan Nakasone said. "Hawai'i softball is taking off right now, and this is a banner year for us. For us to get this far took a lot of years and a lot of hard work, and more and more people are looking at Hawai'i now as a contender."
Hawai'i Pacific (50-8) found itself in an early 2-0 hole, scored all of its runs in a crucial fifth-inning rally, then withstood a frantic Valdosta State comeback.
Senior pitcher Sherise Musquiz earned tournament MVP honors, winning all four games as a starting pitcher and batting .333 with four RBIs and a run scored.
Musquiz (34-3) didn't get a hit yesterday, and retired the side in order only once, but scattered 10 hits and stranded 11 runners to keep Valdosta State from pulling away early.
Sea Warrior left fielder Ciera Senas and catcher Nicole Morrow also earned all-tournament honors. Senas batted 2 for 3 and scored a run yesterday.
"It's very, very, very exciting," Senas said. "I have confidence in all our players, and I know every batter can come through whether we're a lefty slapper or we get a home run or what."
Valdosta State (51-9) out-hit HPU 10-7, but the Blazers made damaging errors late in the game and stranded seven runners in their final three at-bats.
"We had chances to get more runs, but we didn't get the timely hits we needed," Valdosta State coach Thomas Macera said.
"We out-hit them, but it seems like the balls we hit went right at them or they made great plays. If they don't make a couple of those plays, we win the game or at least we're still playing right now.
"We didn't make some plays and we had some errors they capitalized on give them credit," Macera added. "They run the bases well and play excellent defense they're a great team and they're here for a reason."
Valdosta State grabbed the early lead with three consecutive hits in the top of the first, the last of which was Alyssa Shirey's two-run double to center.
The small-ball execution and clutch hitting that carried Hawai'i Pacific past Metro State Sunday was absent early in the championship. Despite having only one hit, the Sea Warriors stranded a runner in scoring position in each of their first three at-bats before breaking through in the fifth.
Caira Pires led off with a single to left and took second on a Breanne Patton's sacrifice. Three straight singles and a Valdosta error helped the Sea Warriors tie the score at 2.
Margaret Carter relieved Holly Satterfield for the fourth straight game and surrendered two more runs on a single and an error, but Carter got two big outs to leave the bases loaded and keep the deficit at 4-2.
"We scored all four runs in one inning and then we just kinda held them down," Nakasone said.
HPU gave a run back in the bottom of the fifth when, with runners on first and third and one out, Alyssa Shirey fouled out down the left-field line. Amber Shaw had already trotted home thinking there were two outs. That left a chance for the Sea Warriors to get an inning-ending double play.
Instead, Senas threw the ball through the middle of the infield to no one in particular, and Shaw raced back to third and then all the way home again to close the gap to 4-3.
Musquiz walked Stephanie Carlson to put runners back on first and third with two outs, but Valdosta State left them there.
Musquiz also worked around a pair of two-out singles in the bottom of the sixth with the help of a nice defensive play by shortstop Celina Garces.
Valdosta State threatened in the seventh, loading the bases on two singles and a walk with one out. But Musquiz got pinch-hitter Amy Brightwell to line out to third, then retired April Hutchens on a fly to center for the final out.
"I guess I just wanted to make it interesting and load the bases in the seventh inning," said Musquiz, who oddly enough was smiling throughout most of the seventh-inning tension. "I was really nervous, I'm not going to lie, and I guess I didn't know what else to do.
"I just wanted to keep the ball low and not let them hit it too hard. I was hoping to get a groundball but luckily I got a line drive we could catch (on the second out of the inning)."
Freshman catcher Nicole Morrow and senior second baseman Casey Sugihara joined Musquiz and Senas on the all-tournament team.
"What a way to go out in my last year," Sugihara said. "It still hasn't sunk in yet."
Note: Hawai'i Loa College won the NAIA national title in 1991. Hawai'i Loa merged with Hawai'i Pacific in 1992.