There were familiar elements in Hawaii’s doubleheader sweep of Chaminade yesterday at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
The Wahine showed off plenty of power with six home runs, and pitchers Stephanie Ricketts and Kaia Parnaby were firmly in command in 11-0 and 16-0 exhibition wins.
Among the notable differences between the Wahine team preparing for the spring and last season’s squad were the players behind the plate.
With four-year starter Katie Grimes completing her career in the Women’s College World Series in June, the Wahine are evaluating a new group of catchers this fall.
Freshman Sharla Kliebenstein started the opener behind the plate and homered in the second inning. Sophomore transfer Ashley Smith, a St. Francis graduate, went 2-for-2 in the second game, and Kapaa product Jocelyn Enrique closed out both games, hitting a two-run homer in the finale.
The offensive production is just part of the audition for the catchers aiming to succeed Grimes, who started all 66 games last season.
"Katie did such a good job handling the pitchers, and everyone felt comfortable with Katie that no one wanted to get away from Katie," UH head coach Bob Coolen said. "If all three of them can be readily available that’s going to help us."
Coolen said he’ll tip the catchers to some tendencies he sees in opposing hitters but otherwise lets them call the game.
Coolen said Kliebenstein, a left-handed catcher who bats from the right side, has been adjusting well to college ball, while Smith has been a "pleasant surprise."
"She’s doing a real nice job signal calling. She figures out the hitters right away, knows what to throw in certain situations," Coolen said. "And Jocie has the most experience in our program, being with us for three years."
Kliebenstein said getting used to hitting at the college level has been more challenging than getting comfortable behind the plate — almost as challenging as finding a catcher’s mitt fitted for a left-hander.
"It’s really hard," she said. "You have to search online like crazy."
Kliebenstein said she started out playing first base in youth leagues, "but I was the only one on my team who could throw it all the way down to second so they stuck me there. A lot of people tend to think I’m not as good as a right-handed catcher, but I don’t know why. I’ve dealt with a lot of people not really believing I could catch because I’m left-handed. Just proving them wrong every day."
Kliebenstein’s second-inning homer in the opener highlighted UH’s 14-hit attack, and she was on the receiving end of a one-hit shutout.
Ricketts struck out seven and walked none over 5 1/3 innings, and Jenna Rodriguez was perfect in relief. Samantha Ford recorded Chaminade’s lone hit, a double off of Ricketts in the fourth inning.
Smith started the second game, as Parnaby gave up two hits over five innings before Makani Duhaylonsod-Kaleimamahu tossed two shutout innings.
Kelly Majam, the NCAA’s reigning home run champion, walked three times in the first game, then hit a leadoff homer in the first inning of the finale, easily clearing the right-field fence. Sarah Robinson went deep in the second inning, and the Wahine also got homers from Duhaylonsod-Kaleimamahu, Mikalemi Tagab-Cruz and Enrique.
Robinson went 5-for-5 with three RBIs in the doubleheader while playing first base, where the Wahine are seeking a replacement for Amanda Taualii. She shared time with Duhaylonsod-Kaleimamahu, who was 5-for-6 and drove in five runs.
The Wahine have one more week of practices before closing the fall season with the alumnae game at 5 p.m. on Friday.