Stephanie Ricketts returns to try to improve on her 30-10 season, with Kaia Parnaby and Jenna Rodriguez filling out the rotation
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 10, 2011
Stephanie Ricketts figured the exposure the Hawaii softball team received last season would give upcoming opponents ample opportunity to scout her tendencies.
So she decided to beat them to it.
Following a run to the Women's College World Series, Ricketts — the leader of the Rainbow Wahine pitching staff the past two years — spent part of her summer reviewing games her family had recorded. And although she'd delivered strong performances throughout a 30-win season, "some of them were hard to watch," she conceded.
"We had a lot of success last year, but personally I don't think I did that good," Ricketts said. "That's what I was thinking about the whole summer, not wanting to turn on games and know that I wasn't going to like what I saw.
HAWAII SOFTBALLOceanic Time Warner Cable Paradise Classic
» When: Today-Saturday
» Where: Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium
» TV: Today's Hawaii game on KFVE
» Radio: Hawaii games on 1420-AM
» Today: UC Davis vs. Texas State, 4 p.m.; Hawaii vs. Southern Utah, 6.
» Tomorrow: UC Davis vs. Southern Utah, 1 p.m.; Texas State vs. Southern Utah, 3; Hawaii vs. UC Davis, 5; Hawaii vs. Texas State, 7.
» Saturday: No. 2 seed vs. No. 3 seed, 10 a.m.; No. 1 seed vs. No. 4 seed, noon; Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 2 p.m.; Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 4.
Ricketts' first chance to test her offseason training comes today when eighth-ranked Hawaii opens the season against Southern Utah in the Oceanic Time Warner Cable Paradise Classic at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
Along with UH, the reigning Western Athletic Conference champion, this weekend's tournament features two other teams that finished atop their conferences last season. UC Davis tied for the Big West title before losing to UH in the Stanford Regional. Texas State tied for the Southland Conference crown.
Ricketts and sophomore lefty Kaia Parnaby again form UH's starting duo, with Jenna Rodriguez — slated to start in right field — expected to see more innings this season after making five relief appearances last year.
From an outside perspective, it's tough to quibble with what Ricketts accomplished in 2010. She went 30-10 with a 2.59 earned-run average while being named the Western Athletic Conference's pitcher of the year. She struck out 161 while holding opponents to a .239 batting average against her and tossed a five-inning perfect game at Nevada. And having the support of the nation's most explosive offense tended to cover some of the rough spots.
She took a break to recharge after throwing more than 237 innings, but was soon back at work running and lifting. The results of her efforts have been apparent to her teammates in preseason scrimmages.
"She was throwing heat," senior third baseman Melissa Gonzalez said. "I'm glad she's on my team and it's going to be other batters and not me going up against her."
With UH playing six games on national television in last season's Super Regional at Alabama and in the WCWS, Ricketts figured changing up her tendencies and altering the movement on her pitches would be a key when she returned for her junior year.
The impact of the increased air time didn't take long to emerge when she started throwing in a summer league back home.
"It was kind of different because everyone knew who I was then, and it was a little bit annoying," Ricketts said. "I just went after it like everyone was coming out to get me. That was different, but it was fun that way."
Parnaby enters her second year of collegiate softball after pitching in the national championship in Australia over the winter break. Throwing about 40 innings in five days left her "a bit sore" when she returned. But she said she's ready to build on a 19-6 freshman season in which she had a team-best 193 strikeouts against 46 walks.
Parnaby, who entered the program with international credentials, said she also has greater focus in the circle after pitching on some of the nation's biggest stages last season.
She started the clinching game at Alabama ("One of the craziest experiences I've had in my life," she said) and managed to maintain her composure to keep UH in contention before Rodriguez hit her game-winning homer in the seventh.
"You had to clearly focus straight down the pitching tunnel otherwise you were put off by everyone around you. It was quite surreal," Parnaby said.
Ricketts and Parnaby will have a newcomer, fresman Sharla Kliebenstein, setting the target behind the plate. The left-handed Kliebenstein steps in for four-year starter Katie Grimes, who started all 66 games last season, and will handle the responsibility of calling pitches.
"She came into the program really confident. She's gotten along with all of us," said Parnaby, who's regular catcher in Australia is also left-handed. "She's pretty much got it down. She knows what we like to pitch, and she'll choose (based) on what's going and what's not."