Iwata Hot For WahineWith conference play heating up, the University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine softball squad is having another big season behind two-time defending WAC Player of the Year Jessica Iwata.
Now a junior, Iwata is continuing her torrid pace after earning the confer-ence’s top individual honor in her first two seasons at Manoa. The team is out to a 29-3 record and nationally ranked in the top 20 with the Kaua’i High School graduate leading the squad in batting average, RBIs, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, hits and doubles.
As of April 4, she was hitting .404 with six homers, 34 RBIs, seven doubles, 21 runs and five stolen bases without having been caught. She also has improved on her already solid defense, committing just four errors while playing the demanding shortstop position.
Back in the spring of 2009, Iwata had the game-winning hit to give the Raider Wahine an HHSAA Division II state championship. The accomplished team had fallen just short the previous two seasons, losing in the title game each time. That wasn’t to be three straight, as Iwata’s double off the wall plated Alyssa Carvalho for the game’s only run behind a shutout performance from Wailana Borrero on the mound. The senior-led unit got the monkey off its back and gave a number of graduates the send-off for which they had hoped.Fast forward just one year and Iwata was helping lead the power surge that propelled the Rainbow Wahine to their memorable College World Series run in 2010, when the team finished in a tie for fifth place, knocking off top-seeded Alabama in the process. Hawaii set the NCAA’s single-season record for home runs that year, and Iwata got in on the act often, finishing with 18.
While the team came back to earth a bit in 2011, finishing 37-18, Iwata hit .355 with 15 homers and 44 RBIs. Her production is soaring once again this year as she is getting on base more frequently than ever, helping set the table for a balanced offense that features seven hitters with between four and seven home runs. With more than a year still remaining in her collegiate career, Iwata already ranks in the school’s top five for career average, homers and RBIs.
The crux of the 2012 schedule is now upon us as UH hopes to make it another spring we won’t soon forget. The tests only get tougher from here on out. Hawaii won five of its first six WAC contests, with 15 more on tap before the conference tournament. Just nine of the team’s first 32 games were away from the friendly confines of its Honolulu haven, but it has a 9-0 record in those road or neutral site matchups. That resolve will need to continue as 11 of its final 17 contests are on the road.
Facing the most daunting time of year, who knows if this team can duplicate some of that 2010 magic? We now have to wait to see how the final act plays out. What we don’t have to wait on is Iwata’s legacy in a UH uniform, which will eventually recognize her as one of the best Rainbow Wahine to ever play the game.