Vanessa Salinas doesn’t worry about how hard she throws. It’s always been fast enough.
The University of Hawaii at Hilo junior right-hander also doesn’t pay much attention to the opposing pitcher. If she had Friday, she might have noticed her opposite number, Azusa Pacific’s Rita Kim, and her gaudy 0.59 ERA.
Kim was good, but Salinas was simply better as the Vulcans swept a doubleheader — scores were 3-0 and 10-4 — against the Cougars at the UH-Hilo softball field.
“I just always go out there and do my thing and don’t worry about it,” Salinas said of the pitching matchup.
The second game had its sloppy moments, but the Vulcans (21-13, 12-4 Pacific West Conference) scored all of their runs in the first two innings, and Ashley Nelson came out of the bullpen to help UH-Hilo to its 11th victory in 13 games.
Thanks to Salinas, the first game was much cleaner. To tag the outing as simply vintage Vanessa might not be doing the ace justice, according to UH-Hilo coach Jaime Wallin. Not only did Salinas not walk a batter, she rarely came close.
“I don’t think they really hit any balls hard,” Wallin said. “She got ahead of most of the hitters. Maybe two or three that she started out with a ball. One hitter that, I think, she went to a 2-0 count on.”
Locked in a pitchers’ duel with Kim, Salinas (12-7) didn’t blink. She used her changeup and riseball to keep hitters off-balance, firing a two-hit shutout with five strikeouts.
Many might throw faster than the 5-foot-4 Salinas, but few in the league have been better. She lowered her ERA to 1.49 — a credit to her impeccable command. In 112 1/3 innings she’s walked just 11 batters. That helps make up for the fact that she might not miss as many bats as a typical ace.
“I think when you worry about (how hard you throw), it takes you out of the zone,” Salinas said. “I just try to stay focused and stay in my zone.”
Center fielder Kristina Victa finished 2-for-3, and the junior and Colleen Aubrey each had singles in the bottom of the fifth and scored on errors as UH-Hilo took a 2-0 lead.
Salinas gave herself an insurance run in the sixth with an RBI groundout after Kaylie Drew opened the inning with a single.
In five innings, Kim (5-2) yielded two runs — one earned — with three walks.
The Vulcans can finish off a 12-game homestand at 10-2 with another sweep against the Cougars (14-10, 6-6) in their noon doubleheader today.
While Wallin was encouraged by UH-Hilo’s seven hits against the league’s leader in ERA, that shine had worn off after UH-Hilo’s defense let down starter Hannah Peterson in the second game. The Vulcans committed four errors and were outhit 9-7.
“That was the message in the (postgame) huddle,” Wallin said. “Not a good performance. Tale of two games. At this point in the season, we can’t afford to be making these types of mistakes.”
UH-Hilo got away with it because of Nelson’s stellar relief stint and rallies against starter Taryn Devich (3-4), who was hurt by a key error in the first inning, and reliever Narissa Garcia.
Nelson (6-7) didn’t walk a batter and scattered five hits in 5 1/3 innings and allowed just two unearned runs.
“I felt good out there, everything was working well,” she said. “As a team, though, we looked slow, too laid back.”
Freshman Brittany Huff ripped a two-run single off Devich and finished with three RBIs, Victa had a pair of run-scoring singles and senior catcher Brittany Spencer drove in two runs with a pair of bases-loaded walks. Colleen Aubrey, Brandi Wilson and Asha Prithviraj each scored twice.
Angie Sprague, Brandi Andrews and Sona Babayan each had two hits for Azusa Pacific.
UH-Hilo got only one hit in 4 2/3 innings against reliever Mariah Worley, a pitcher that Wallin figures her club will see again today.
“We need to do a better job to be able to face what she’s bringing to the table,” Wallin said.
Of course, the Cougars probably said the same thing about Salinas.