HPU Softball Starts With 21 Home Games On Kaneohe Field

As Hawaii Pacific University softball head coach Bryan Nakasone put his Sharks through preseason workouts over the last month, he couldn’t help but notice similarities between his current team and his national championship team of 2010 — at least in the all-important area of team chemistry.

“I would attribute the 2010 team’s success to its senior leadership,” Nakasone said. “We had nine freshmen that year, which was half of the team, but the leadership was good, and that team jelled extremely well.

“I like this team’s ability to get along,” he added. “They’re very cohesive. That’s important as far as being able to play as a team.”

HPU went 21-22 overall last spring (19-13 in PacWest play), ending a string of seven straight seasons in which it topped the 30-win plateau.

Five seniors are back to lead the way, including local products Dorian Acierto (third base) and Courtney Ahlo (second base), of Kapolei High and Pearl City High, respectively.

“Dorian is very athletic, and Courtney has been tremendous as a leader,” said Nakasone, whose team officially opens the 2015 season Wednesday at home against Gustavus Adolphus College. Acierto hit .272 in 2014 and was RBI-leader last season with 32.

Nakasone also has high hopes for junior shortstop Sharae Esprecion, who was a standout at Campbell High. As a sophomore last season, she batted a team-best .370 to go with 26 RBI. “Sharae covers a lot of ground — she’s real smooth in the position,” Nakasone said of Esprecion, who had a fielding percentage of .928 in 2014.

“Right now, the defense is looking really good. We have good leadership there and on the whole team, for that matter.”

Senior Keila Elderts, of Temescula, Calif., will anchor the outfield at center. “Keila leads by example. She has great speed and is a true threat on the base paths.”

On the mound, the Sharks also return junior Kristen Caskey of Orange County, Calif., who is slated to be first in the pitching rotation. Caskey went 12-5 with an ERA of 1.95 in 19 appearances last year.

“She’s really been working hard and putting in the extra time,” Nakasone said. “She’s looking pretty good.”

The Sharks improved their pitching depth in the off-season by adding transfer Paige Crawford (Salina, Kan.) and freshman Alexa McCoin (Sacramento, Calif.).

“They are not dominant, but they throw strikes, which is the most important thing. Paige has a good rise-ball and curve ball. She just needs to work on her off-speed (pitches).

“Alexa is very consistent,” he added of McCoin. “She mixes up her speeds well. She’s going to help us a lot.”

The Sharks will look to take advantage of the comforts of home early, as their first 21 games will be played at Howard Okita Field on HPU’s Kaneohe campus. All told, HPU won’t play a game off island until March 24, when the team visits Dominican in San Rafael, Calif.

The start of the season couldn’t come quick enough, as the Sharks have been practicing for a month without a game to look forward to.

HPU also held 24 fall practices as allotted by the NCAA before taking a mandatory break Dec. 6-Jan. 10.

“They’re getting antsy to start,” Nakasone said.