UH awaits new field, bet­ter luck in ’18

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - SPORTS - By Ja­son Kaneshiro jkaneshiro@starad­ver­tiser.com

If Bob Coolen’s knock-on­wood hopes hold true, last week’s se­nior night game will be the last on Rain­bow Wahine Softball Sta­dium’s cur­rent field. Planned ren­o­va­tions to the home of the Univer­sity of Hawaii softball team for next sea­son in­clude the in­stal­la­tion of syn­thetic turf in the out­field and sur­round­ing the dirt in­field, padded fenc­ing and ex­tended net­ting to pro­vide added pro­tec­tion for the neigh­bor­ing ten­nis and beach vol­ley­ball courts from home runs and foul balls.

“I’m just hop­ing ev­ery­thing goes ac­cord­ing to plan and we have the right weather for it,” Coolen said af­ter the fi­nale to his 26th sea­son as UH head coach. Bids are due on Mon­day and work on the project — cov­ered by $3.5 mil­lion in up­grades ap­proved by the leg­is­la­ture — is slated to start in early June with a tar­geted fin­ish in De­cem­ber, ac­cord­ing to Teri Chang, UH as­sis­tant ath­let­ics di­rec­tor for fa­cil­i­ties and events man­age­ment.

In the mean­time, Coolen is ex­plor­ing al­ter­nate sites to hold the team’s fall prac­tices and ex­hi­bi­tion tour­na­ment in Oc­to­ber and the Wahine are slated to break in the new field when spring prac­tices com­mence in Jan­uary.

Amid the up­com­ing con­struc­tion work, the Rain­bow Wahine will look to build on a 2017 sea­son that started with prom­ise be­fore their post­sea­son hopes faded in Big West play. UH won 13 of their last 15 non­con­fer­ence games to en­ter the league sched­ule at 21-10 and No. 52 in the NCAA rat­ings per­cent­age in­dex, sec­ond among teams in the Big West. The Wahine held serve at home early in con­fer­ence play, but an 0-8 start on the road all but elim­i­nated them from con­tention.

The Wahine closed the sea­son at 29-23 over­all and 8-13 in Big West play, leav­ing the Rain­bow Wahine sev­enth in the con­fer­ence stand­ings, at No. 84 in the RPI and short of the NCAA tour­na­ment for the fourth straight year.

“It was just re­ally frus­trat­ing that we never re­ally got go­ing once the (Big West) sea­son started,” said Coolen, who passed the 1,000-win mark for his ca­reer on March 4.

UH fin­ished eight games be­hind Big West cham­pion Cal State Fuller­ton, co­in­cid­ing with eight con­fer­ence losses de­cided by a sin­gle run. Three road losses, in­clud­ing two at Fuller­ton, ended on walk-off hits. “Hun­gry is just the brink of it,” UH pitcher Brit­tany Hitch­cock said of her out­look for next sea­son. “Even this year I felt we re­ally had a good chance com­ing in and you could see how close it all was. … So we were there with ev­ery­body and def­i­nitely have the tal­ent to do it, it’s just a mat­ter of putting it all to­gether.” Hitch­cock will en­ter her se­nior sea­son among the Big West’s top re­turn­ing pitch­ers af­ter go­ing 19-12 with a 1.85 earned-run aver­age and a ca­reer-high 169 strike­outs against 28 walks. She was named to the Al­lBig West first team along with sopho­more third base­man Ni­cole Lopez and se­nior first base­man Heather Mo­rales and earned thirdteam All-West Re­gion hon­ors from the Na­tional Fast­pitch Coaches As­so­ci­a­tion.

Lopez hit a team-high .331 and fin­ished sec­ond in the con­fer­ence with 12 home runs. The Wahine are slated to re­turn eight of the top nine hit­ters from a lineup that ranked sec­ond in the Big West with a team bat­ting aver­age of .283 and 43 home runs.

“We have the fire­power,” Coolen said. “Ob­vi­ously we’re go­ing to miss Heather’s bat, but hope­fully we can re­place it and go from there.”

Coolen’s cur­rent con­tract ex­pires this sum­mer and ath­letic di­rec­tor David Matlin said dur­ing the sea­son that “the in­ten­tions on both sides are there” to iron out a multi-year ex­ten­sion.

JAMM AQUINO / MARCH 3

UH coach Bob Coolen clapped from the dugout against Charleston South­ern at Rain­bow Wahine Softball Sta­dium. The sta­dium will get an up­grade, with in­stal­la­tion of syn­thetic turf in the out­field and sur­round­ing the dirt in­field.

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