HPU Soft­ball Starts With 21 Home Games On Ka­neohe Field

MidWeek Islander (Windward Oahu) - - Windward Oahu Sports - By JACK DANILEWICZ

As Hawaii Pa­cific Uni­ver­sity soft­ball head coach Bryan Naka­sone put his Sharks through pre­sea­son work­outs over the last month, he couldn’t help but no­tice similarities be­tween his cur­rent team and his na­tional cham­pi­onship team of 2010 — at least in the all-im­por­tant area of team chem­istry.

“I would at­tribute the 2010 team’s suc­cess to its se­nior lead­er­ship,” Naka­sone said. “We had nine fresh­men that year, which was half of the team, but the lead­er­ship was good, and that team jelled ex­tremely well.

“I like this team’s abil­ity to get along,” he added. “They’re very co­he­sive. That’s im­por­tant as far as be­ing able to play as a team.”

HPU went 21-22 over­all last spring ( 19- 13 in PacWest play), end­ing a string of seven straight sea­sons in which it topped the 30-win plateau.

Five se­niors are back to lead the way, in­clud­ing lo­cal prod­ucts Do­rian Acierto (third base) and Court­ney Ahlo (sec­ond base), of Kapolei High and Pearl City High, re­spec­tively.

“Do­rian is very ath­letic, and Court­ney has been tremen­dous as a leader,” said Naka­sone, whose team of­fi­cially opens the 2015 sea­son Wed­nes­day at home against Gus­tavus Adol­phus Col­lege. Acierto hit .272 in 2014 and was RBI- leader last sea­son with 32.

Naka­sone also has high hopes for ju­nior short­stop Sharae Es­pre­cion, who was a stand­out at Camp­bell High. As a sopho­more last sea­son, she bat­ted a team-best .370 to go with 26 RBI.

“Sharae cov­ers a lot of ground — she’s real smooth in the po­si­tion,” Naka­sone said of Es­pre­cion, who had a field­ing per­cent­age of .928 in 2014.

“Right now, the de­fense is look­ing re­ally good. We have good lead­er­ship there and on the whole team, for that mat­ter.”

Se­nior Keila Elderts, of Temes­cula, Calif., will an­chor the out­field at cen­ter. “Keila leads by ex­am­ple. She has great speed and is a true threat on the base paths.”

On the mound, the Sharks also re­turn ju­nior Kristen Caskey of Or­ange County, Calif., who is slated to be first in the pitch­ing ro­ta­tion. Caskey went 12-5 with an ERA of 1.95 in 19 ap­pear­ances last year.

“She’s re­ally been work­ing hard and putting in the ex­tra time,” Naka­sone said. “She’s look­ing pretty good.”

The Sharks im­proved their pitch­ing depth in the off-sea­son by adding trans­fer Paige Craw­ford (Salina, Kan.) and fresh­man Alexa McCoin (Sacra­mento, Calif.).

“They are not dom­i­nant, but they throw strikes, which is the most im­por­tant thing. Paige has a good rise-ball and curve ball. She just needs to work on her off- speed (pitches).

“Alexa is very con­sis­tent,” he added of McCoin. “She mixes up her speeds well. She’s go­ing to help us a lot.”

The Sharks will look to take ad­van­tage of the com­forts of home early, as their first 21 games will be played at Howard Okita Field on HPU’s Ka­neohe cam­pus. All told, HPU won’t play a game off is­land un­til March 24, when the team vis­its Do­mini­can in San Rafael, Calif.

The start of the sea­son couldn’t come quick enough, as the Sharks have been prac­tic­ing for a month with­out a game to look for­ward to.

HPU also held 24 fall prac­tices as al­lot­ted by the NCAA be­fore tak­ing a manda­tory break Dec. 6-Jan. 10.

“They’re get­ting antsy to start,” Naka­sone said.

Right now, the de­fense is look­ing re­ally good. We have good lead­er­ship there, and on

mat­ter.” the whole team, for that

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