The little things add up.
One run here, perhaps another there, and the conclusion to Hawaii’s softball season might have had a significantly different tone.
The Rainbow Wahine opened the schedule in mid-February with memories of a magical 2010 still lingering. The season ended in mid-May with the last of their 10 one-run losses in a 37-18 campaign that left them short of the NCAA tournament.
"You never know what you’re going to get year to year and that’s such a novelty of collegiate athletics," Bob Coolen said, reflecting on his 20th season as UH head coach.
With five starting position players and all of their pitching returning from a rousing run to the Women’s College World Series, the Wahine rose to No. 9 in the NFCA/USA Today poll and No. 11 in the USA Softball/ESPN.com poll early in the season. Their 12-1 start included wins over nationally ranked Stanford and Oklahoma.
But the close losses contributed to a fourth-place showing in the Western Athletic Conference’s regular-season standings and the Wahine came up a run short against both New Mexico State and Fresno State in the WAC tournament last Thursday, bringing the season to an abrupt end.
Measured by winning percentage, this year’s team was the most successful in the program’s history to go without an appearance in the regionals. Most of the team returned from Fresno, Calif., on Sunday, hours after the season’s end was made official with the announcement of the NCAA tournament selections.
2011 HAWAII SOFTBALL STATISTICAL LEADERS
>> Batting Average: Jessica Iwata, .355
>> Wins: Stephanie Ricketts, 22
Career records broken (previous record)
>> Walks: Majam, 78 (Tyleen Tausaga, 76)
The Wahine went 7-12 against their 12 opponents who ended up in the NCAA field.
"We didn’t do anything dazzling," Coolen said. "We beat a couple of good teams, but didn’t beat enough good teams."
Hawaii’s pitching kept the Wahine in just about every game with junior Stephanie Ricketts and sophomore Kaia Parnaby forming one of the program’s top 1-2 combinations.
Ricketts (22-11, 1.58 ERA) and Parnaby (12-6, 1.28) dropped UH’s collective ERA from 2.87 in 2010 to 1.63 this season, and the Wahine held opponents to a .195 batting average.
Ricketts, the two-time WAC pitcher of the year, broke the school record for career strikeouts and became the second UH pitcher to win at least 20 games in three consecutive seasons. She threw a no-hitter against South Dakota State, and Parnaby tossed a perfect game against Weber State.
However, UH’s offensive numbers fell just as dramatically, from a team batting average of .321 last year to .258 this spring and UH lost three 1-0 games and four more by a 2-1 score.
Sophomore shortstop Jessica Iwata, a repeat selection as WAC player of the year, emerged as the most consistent of the UH hitters with team bests in batting average (.355), home runs (15) and RBIs (44).
Leadoff hitter Kelly Majam returned from treatment for thyroid cancer and scuffled a bit early before finishing third on the team in hitting at .290, with a .319 performance in WAC play.
Still, the chemistry that defined the 2010 offense proved elusive until a late seven-game winning streak provided some oxygen to their NCAA hopes. But the early exit from the WAC tournament was the last dip in a season of undulating fortunes.
A 2-1 loss to Fresno State put the final note on the careers of three seniors — Melissa Gonzalez, Jasey Jensen and Jenna Rodriguez — and signaled the start of the offseason for the returning Wahine.
UH will again have an experienced core in 2012, but, as always, "there’s so many different variables," Coolen said.
"We have to solve them, we have to have solutions to the problems we had this year, then we have to move forward next year and say ‘remember the feeling.’
"There’s a lot to learn and I really hope they come out with a passion."