HPU in Elite company
By Kalani Takase
Advertiser Staff Writer
The final leg of a season-long journey is about to begin for the Hawai'i Pacific softball team.
After dominating its opponents during the regular season and winning their fourth straight Pacific West Conference championship, the Sea Warriors have survived the first two rounds of the postseason to reach the Elite Eight.
HPU (46-8) opens play at the NCAA Division II World Series Thursday at noon against Wayne State (52-11). The double-elimination, eight-team tournament runs through Monday at St. Joseph, Mo.
"We had a team meeting (Sunday) to bring them back to focus," Sea Warriors coach Bryan Nakasone said. "The players are certainly very enthusiastic and very excited about it, but the bottom line is we're going up there to play ball and that's it."
The third-ranked Sea Warriors advanced out of the Super Regional round, by winning two of three from Chico State over the weekend. After losing Friday's opening game of the Super Regional, 5-0, HPU rallied to win back-to-back games Saturday.
"There's no excuses for us losing the way we did Friday," Nakasone said. "After that loss, it kind of prepared us, because we knew what our destiny was, that we had to win two to stay alive and when we came out (Saturday), you could see it in their faces and eyes that they were ready for it."
Senior Sherise Musquiz earned the pitching victories in both games. The Sea Warriors took Game 1 by a score of 11-2 and held off Chico State, 5-3, in the deciding game. Freshman catcher Nicole Morrow and sophomore outfielder Kozy Toriano drove in four runs apiece Saturday.
"After we won the first game pretty decisively, I think the players had the confidence that they knew they could do it," Nakasone said.
Despite taking a 4-1 lead after the first inning, Nakasone said he was tense until the game's final moments.
"I didn't let my guard down until the last out was made," he said. "It was an exciting finish because Chico had a runner on second with two outs. I called time and went out there to calm down our defense a little. With a 5-3 lead, we knew that the runner on second meant nothing — we could let her go and focus on the batter."
Nakasone said there were no lingering effects of Saturday's celebration at Sunday's team meeting.
"Oh yeah, it's already sunk in and we're looking ahead to Missouri," said Nakasone, whose team left last night on a flight to Kansas City via Minneapolis. The team expects to arrive in Kansas City around 8:30 a.m. and will make a 45-minute drive to St. Joseph.
"We get there at 3:30 in the morning our time and I think we'll need to get some of that jetlag out, so we'll try to get a practice, keep them up a while during the day and try to get them to go to bed early the night before the game," Nakasone said.
Wayne State (Mich.) won the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and beat Ashland, 4-0 and 7-1, in its Super Regional last weekend.
"We know nothing about them except that they have a good record and good pitching," Nakasone said. "But, when you get to the Elite Eight, you have to expect that every team has good pitching. We haven't seen them before, just their stats, so we're just preparing like we would for anybody else."
Nakasone is banking on some leadership from his senior class.
"We've been in these tight, postseason situations before and they know the disappointment of not going any further," said Nakasone, referring to last season, when HPU lost in a regional final to Dixie State. "I think they're hungry for this and they realize the potential and where we are now. At the beginning of the season, they set short- and long-term goals and this is the long-term goal. We have that taste of winning in our mouth and we like it, so hopefully we can go up there and win it all."
The other teams in HPU's bracket are Angelo State (48-13) and Metro State (51-4). The other bracket has North Georgia (50-0) meeting Molloy (43-19) and Valdosta State (47-8) playing Bloomsburg (49-6) Thursday. The winners of each bracket play for the national championship on Monday, which will be aired nationwide on CBS College Sports.