Rainbow Wahine reach title round
Overcoming tough odds and a tougher crowd, the University of Hawai'i rallied for a 6-5 victory over Fresno State to advance to today's championship round of the Western Athletic Conference softball tournament in Fresno, Calif.
In ousting the nation's 23rd-ranked team and tournament's top seed, the third-seeded Rainbow Wahine (31-20) improved to 3-0 in this double-elimination tournament and will meet Nevada, also 3-0, in today's best-of-three series.
The winner earns the WAC's automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
Neither injuries nor a 3-0 deficit could deny the Rainbows. They entered without right-fielder Tanisha Milca, whose injured right hand is in a soft cast. Starting pitcher Justine Smethurst was struck above the right kneecap by a line drive, and pinch-runner Richie Titcomb was spiked on the hand, requiring six stitches. UH coach Bob Coolen said Smethurst is well enough to start today's first game.
Catcher Kristi Yoshizawa's opposite-field triple to left closed the Rainbows to 3-2 in the top of the fourth. In the sixth, Yoshizawa slammed the go-ahead, two-run homer to right field, a 225-foot drive that landed near her parents in the make-shift bleachers. "It was a shot and a half," Coolen said. "She turned on it big time."
"My mom has been telling me to hit a homer," said Yoshizawa, one of two Rainbow seniors. "I was like, 'Mom, I'm trying.' Thank God I hit one."
Jessica Morton, who replaced Smethurst with two outs in the third, retired 12 consecutive batters, including the first two in the seventh, with UH leading 6-3. But the Bulldogs pieced together four well-placed hits to close to 6-5. "They were hitting little bloopers," Morton said.
Freshman Courtney Baughman entered, inducing the final groundout.
As the Rainbows walked off the field, the Fresno State fans refused to leave quietly.
"People were booing us off," Morton said. "The whole game was exciting. You could feel the intensity from the fans. It was a do-or-die atmosphere. To beat (the Bulldogs), it was like, 'yeah-ha!' "
Yoshizawa said: "It was out of control how (the Bulldog fans) were. Beating them on their field was the best part. ... This whole tournament, we've been really confident. We know we can do this."