Hawaii pushed to brink after 5-2 loss
• Photo gallery: Hawaii-UCLA NCAA softball
By MIKE GRIFFITH
Special to The Advertiser
OKLAHOMA CITY — On the road, an ocean away from home, backs to the wall, facing elimination ...
Hawai'i finds itself in a familiar situation today after yesterday's 5-2 loss to 10-time national champion UCLA (47-11) in the second round of the Women's College World Series at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
Twice this season, the Rainbow Wahine (50-15) have battled from the brink of elimination in a tournament setting to emerge victorious.
"Our players know they are playing for a small state in the middle of the Pacific," UH coach Bob Coolen said. "It's special to them."
Hawai'i bounced back from a 4-3 loss to Fresno State at the Western Athletic Conference Tournament to score a 14-3 win and win the conference tourney.
The Rainbow Wahine captured national attention and qualified for their first WCWS trip in school history in Super Regional play against Alabama. Hawai'i rallied from an 8-0 loss in Tuscaloosa, Ala., to score 8-7 and 5-4 victories over the NCAA Tournament's top-seeded team.
The 16th-seeded Rainbow Wahine play at 3:30 p.m. Hawai'i time today on ESPN against the winner of today's early game between third-seeded Washington (48-9) and 10th-seeded Arizona (48-12).
"We've played Arizona before and Washington before," Coolen said, referencing an 8-3 loss to the Wildcats and 1-0 and 8-4 defeats at the hands of the Huskies earlier this season. "We know what they're about, and they know what we're about."
Familiarity didn't work in UH's favor against the fifth-seeded Bruins, who hit three home runs and started senior ace Megan Langenfeld (13-1).
"We beat that young lady (three) years ago at UCLA," Coolen said, remembering the 3-1, eight-inning game in 2007, one of only nine career losses Langenfeld has suffered. "She toed the rubber, and her screwball was working. We made the adjustments, but we didn't make them early enough or often enough."
Alex Aguirre had plenty of time to adjust before drilling a two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth inning that cut UCLA's lead to 4-2.
Aguirre fouled off 14 consecutive pitches before driving the 17th offering from Langenfeld out of the park, scoring Jenna Rodriguez, who had singled.
"That home run was epic," Coolen said. "She knew she had the moment."
Aguirre, who also homered in Thursday's 3-2 win over Missouri, said as much.
"It was one of those things where I knew she was coming inside every single pitch," Aguirre said. "I had to focus on getting my hands out front, and I kept telling myself to see the ball, see the ball. I trust myself to react to it."
It marked the 55th time in 65 games the Rainbow Wahine have hit at least one home run in a game, and ignited the crowd and the UH dugout.
Kanani Pu'u-Warren followed with a single to center off an 0-2 count and Amanda Tauali'i lined a single to right off a 1-2 count, sending Pu'u-Warren to third and suddenly the Rainbow Wahine appeared to have the makings of a big inning.
But Langenfeld, a national player of the year finalist, got Katie Grimes to pop to second on a full-count pitch.
The Bruins jumped to a 2-0 lead after starter Stephanie Ricketts (30-9) walked Dani Yudin to start the second inning before surrendering a home run to Samantha Camuso.
When Julie Burney followed with a single, Coolen brought in freshman left-hander Kaia Parnaby.
Parnaby's first offering was ruled an illegal pitch, with her trailing foot leaving the ground, and UCLA proceeded to use a sacrifice bunt to move the runner to third.
After a popout, GiOnna DiSalvatore laced an RBI single up the middle to make it 3-0.
UCLA added another run in the fourth when Burney drove a home run over the wall in left-center to make it 4-0.
The Bruins scored their final run, making it 5-2 in the top of the fifth inning, on Andrea Harrison's solo home run.
Coolen said the Rainbow Wahine will stick with the same game-day preparation that has taken them far into what's now a 25-day road trip.
"I told them to go to the pool, relax, watch the game. They have the whole day to spend with family and friends," Coolen said. "We don't sequester our players, we let them enjoy the experience.
"They know what they need to do."
They've done it before.