POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, May 6, 2011
Stephanie Ricketts headed home yesterday and hopes she isn't back in Hawaii for quite a while.
No, the Hawaii softball team's ace pitcher hasn't grown disenchanted with the islands. But as far as the Rainbow Wahine are concerned, the longer they can stay on the mainland the better.
The Wahine embarked on their final road trip of the regular season yesterday morning and hope to extend the itinerary into the postseason.
"It would be nice to stay away," Ricketts said. "We know that we have to do certain things to not come back early, so we're really going to focus on that.
"Last year, every time we moved to a different hotel no one complained because we knew what that meant."
The first stop takes Ricketts back to her hometown, where the Wahine (33-16, 11-7 Western Athletic Conference) face San Jose State (19-32, 5-13) to close the regular season. The three-game series begins with a single game today and concludes with a doubleheader tomorrow.
They'll stay in San Jose until Monday, when the team takes a bus south to Fresno, Calif., site of next week's Western Athletic Conference tournament. Whether they remain on the continent when NCAA regional berths are announced on May 15 depends on what they do over the next two weekends, starting with the series against the Spartans.
"That's why we're not looking past it," UH head coach Bob Coolen said.
Ricketts, a graduate of San Jose's Archbishop Mitty High School, figures to have a sizable cheering section for the series.
"I've been looking forward to it, playing in front of old coaches and my family and people who've seen me when I first started pitching up to now," Ricketts said.
Ricketts (19-11, 1.61 ERA) said she's also been receiving text messages from young players she mentors in the offseason at a park near her home. She's confident the familiar faces in the stands won't draw her focus away from the field once she enters the circle.
"Whenever there's distractions I can separate it from the game, so it's not really a problem," Ricketts said.
The Wahine enter the series fourth in the WAC and could move as high as second, depending on how New Mexico State (14-4) and Fresno State (13-4) fare this weekend. A strong finish also could be critical if the Wahine fall short of the WAC tournament title and are in need of an at-large berth into the regionals.
UH jumped 11 spots in the NCAA's RPI rankings to No. 57 this week following a sweep of New Mexico State, when the Wahine pulled out three one-run victories with key hits in the late innings.
"They played with a lot different attitude," Coolen said of the team's comeback from a four-game losing streak. "It was good to see we had some resiliency and some fortitude."
Said Ricketts: "It gives us a lot of momentum knowing that finally we're seeing a payoff. We've been putting in so much work because of how tough our season's been going, and when the scoreboard doesn't reflect it it's really tough on us. … We need to come out against (San Jose State) the way we did against New Mexico, basically having fun."
While the Wahine secured their spot in the WAC tournament last week, San Jose State still has some work to do to join them in Fresno. The Spartans hold a one-game lead over Louisiana Tech for the sixth and final spot in the field.