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The ball is in Dana Thomsen’s hand. Literally.

Thomsen, a former Petaluma High and Santa Rosa Junior College ace, will be spending a lot of time in the pitcher’s circle this season after her fellow senior and starting pitcher for the University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine, Brittany Hitchcock, was sidelined with what coach Bob Coolen called a season-ending injury.

Thomsen is the new No. 1.

“Dana has to pick up the ball a lot more,” Coolen said. “It’s a capacity we didn’t have to use her in last year.”

But for Thomsen, being needed might be just what she needs.

“Obviously, I would love to have Brittany on the mound with me, but it’s also really cool,” she said. “It reminds me of high school or being young and knowing I pitch every game.”

At Petaluma High not only did Thomsen pitch every game, she blew the doors off every game.

As a senior, Thomsen was The Press Democrat 2013 All-Empire Player of the Year after going 17-1 with an earned run average of 0.71 and 145 strikeouts. She allowed just 16 walks.

She was also successful at Santa Rosa Junior College.

As a freshman for the Bear Cubs, she was 15-4 with 2.73 ERA, 83 strikeouts and 17 walks. As a sophomore, she went 17-11 with a 2.08 ERA, striking out 239 and walking 31.

But after her sophomore year, her softball future was unclear. She stayed on with the Bear Cubs as an unpaid volunteer coach, pitched batting practice, worked out and focused on her academic load. She started to think of life after softball.

The University of Hawaii was on her short list of transfer options. Some included softball, others did not.

“I knew her in high school,” Coolen said. “She had a great career at Santa Rosa, then I got the message that she was coming here and I was like ‘Wow that is awesome.’”

Thomsen started off strong for the Rainbow Wahine her junior year, running up impressive numbers and gaining confidence. Then the Rainbow Wahine started Big West Conference play.

“Those first couple of games were shocking,” she said. “I kind of went in and was ‘Oh I can do exactly what I did in the preseason and blow it by them.’ But they are not going to chase a rise ball and not just let a screwball miss. It was definitely eye-opening.”

Coolen saw Thomsen get rattled.

“She was 7-2 and had 9.2 strikeouts per game,” Coolen said of preseason. “Then conference came around and she was 7-7 and ended up 8-7.”

Coolen wants Thomsen to stick with her bread and butter: the rise ball and changeup.

“She has a great change-up when she doesn’t rush it. Last year her change-up and rise ball were getting her outs,” he said. “This year she is going more in and out, rather than up and down, and that is hurting her because she is getting hit.”

Coolen wants his pitcher to have ice in her veins. Thomsen leans a little more to the fire side of the spectrum.

“She gets affected a little more with what is going on around her rather than staying in her bubble,” he said. “She’s emotional. With that being said, sometimes her emotions get in the way of her being a leader. You want your leader to be emotionally strong, nothing bothers them. They have that one look about them that they are confident all the time. Sometimes Dana loses that edge. When he loses it, the team doesn’t know what to do. If she breaks down, they break down.”

Coolen is working on Thomsen’s presence in the pitcher’s circle. He wants her pitches to go up and down, not her emotions.

“She just needs to be able to turn that emotional roller coaster off and just stay stoic and in control,” he said.

An opposing coach shouting out what pitch she is going to throw? Forget about it, Coolen said.

“You’ve just got to know you are going to throw (your) best pitch and it doesn’t matter,” he said.

Thomsen doesn’t dispute it.

“I definitely ride the high waves,” she said. “When my team gets down, I for sure get down. It’s more like I’m so pissed off that I didn’t win that game.”

But both Thomsen and Coolen, as well as Phil Wright, Thomsen’s coach at SRJC, think that the pressure of being the first, second and third choice at starting pitcher this season for the Rainbow Wahine may be just the thing Thomsen needs.

“I kind of like the pressure,” she said. “It gives me confidence almost. He trusts me. I want to give him reason to trust me.”

Coolen has to.

“This is the role she wanted,” he said. “It has been thrown on her shoulders with two freshmen looking at her with ‘What advice can you give me?’”

“She just needs to keep us in ballgames,” he said.

Wright believes Thomsen will thrive under pressure because the ball will be in her hand day in and day out — just like the old days.

“When she is wanted, she’ll do well,” Wright said. “She’ll perform.”

Her first test is right out of the gate. The Rainbow Wahine are 16-13 and open Big West Conference play against No. 22-ranked Long Beach State on Friday.

Thomsen heads into that game 9-9 with a 3.09 ERA and 100 strikeouts.

She is sounding confident in her new role.

“I’m a good pitcher,” she said. “It’s hard going from junior college to a Division I school, that’s a big jump player-wise, knowledge-wise, athletic wise … it’s worked out for me. It was hard.”

Thomsen knows her journey wasn’t the most direct, but it was the right one for her. Hawaii has been a good fit.

“I’m so lucky mine led me here,” she said. “I’m loving every minute. I don’t want it to end.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com.

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