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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wahine won't be homing in on record

By Ferd Lewis

When the University of Hawai'i baseball team used to go to windy, high-altitude sites, it wasn't the balls that were lost during batting practices that annoyed then-coach Les Murakami.

It was the hitters who lost their minds.

Otherwise patient hitters took on fantasies of being Babe Ruth reincarnate as they went for the fences and beyond altering swings and losing focus that often carried over to the games.

With the UH softball team in the launching pad of Las Cruces, N.M. (elevation 3,900 feet) and tantalizingly close to breaking the NCAA single-season record as it opens the Western Athletic Conference Softball Tournament tomorrow, we are left to wonder if the Rainbow Wahine similarly might succumb.

"No!" maintains a resolute Bob Coolen, the coach, who has made it his mission to see they don't. "We'll just take our cuts at what they give us."

Coolen pledged that yesterday as he noted a 30 mph wind was whipping through the Chihuahuan desert as the Rainbow Wahine went to practice. This at place where he has memories of watching many seemingly routine fly balls "carry ... and carry ... and carry ..."

Sometimes, instead of coming in when a fly ball got in the jetstream, Coolen said, "the left fielder would be backed up against the fence watching the ball go out."

Several times Coolen said he's seen balls carry out of the decent-sized softball complex (190 feet down the lines and 220 to center) and go well up on the 30-foot-high baseball field scoreboard more than 260 feet away.

So, yes, you could say that NCAA home run record of 134 set by Arizona last season appears to be living on borrowed time as the Rainbow Wahine close in, just seven clouts short of breaking it entering tomorrow's game against the winner of today's Louisiana Tech-San Jose State meeting.

As the WAC regular season champion and tournament's top seed, perhaps the only thing that can derail UH is the Rainbow Wahine playing out of character. Which is why they preach staying in form and keep talk of the impending record to a minimum.

What Coolen does is go to great lengths to keep them on their game. Well, shorter ones, actually

"I move up from 43 feet to 40 or 38 feet (to pitch batting practice), so I'm right on top of them," Coolen said. "And I move the ball around because if you groove it, then there's a tendency to get comfortable and to go for the bigger swings."

Not much more than 20 miles from the White Sands Missile Range, the Rainbow Wahine are being primed for their own liftoff.