Rainbows win WAC softball opener in 10th
By Stephen Tsai
In a battle of high-scoring softball teams, it was a 10th-inning grounder that boosted Hawai'i to a 3-2 victory over San Jose State last night at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
The Western Athletic Conference opener matched teams that each entered averaging more than six runs per game.
The Rainbow Wahine, who are fourth nationally in home runs, did not smack any last night. Instead, they relied on selfless at-bats and Stephanie Ricketts' peril-escaping pitching.
Tied at 2 in the bottom of the third extra inning — the 10th — rightfielder Kanani Pu'u-Warren beat out a chopper to short.
"I don't even know where it was hit," she said. "I just put my head down and ran as fast as I could. I was safe."
Then catcher Katie Grimes hit a liner to right-center, sending Pu'u-Warren to third with no outs.
That brought up freshman centerfielder Kelly Majam, who is fourth nationally with 15 home runs. Because of Majam's upper-cut, left-handed swing, second baseman Julianne Aiello played deep, despite the Rainbows having runners at the corners.
UH head coach Bob Coolen signaled for Majam to try to pull the ball. Spartan starter Amanda Pridmore (11-1) then threw a pitch that was high and outside.
"I had been struggling most of the game, but I made the adjustment," Majam said. "I knew where they were going to pitch me. I tried to hit it out in front of my body more."
Majam reached out and managed to pull a grounder to Aiello, who bobbled the ball. Aiello tagged out Grimes but never threw to the plate as Pu'u-Warren raced home with the winning run.
"I don't know why she was playing deep," Majam said. "It worked out in our favor, so that's good."
Coolen said: "What helped us was there were no outs. If they turned the double play, we were going to score. It was just a situation where Nani was going (on contact), and that was it. It was situational hitting."
The Rainbows had hit 63 home runs in their 33 non-WAC games, and won 10 games by the eight-run mercy rule. But in WAC play, familiarity breeds better scouting and fewer mistake pitches.
Pridmore, a righthander who allowed 1.36 base-runners per inning in her 17 appearances, mystified the Rainbows with sizzling risers and curveballs.
To counter, the Rainbows had to play so-called small ball — bunts, hit-and-run plays, aiming for the opposite field.
Those fundamentals were implored during a spring break that offered few breaks.
"All week it was a tough-love situation," Coolen said. "I was riding them. Ask them how tough the week was. It was spring break. We had so much time I didn't want to have 80-percent practices. I challenged them all week."
Ricketts allowed five hits, but she walked seven, and the Spartans had a baserunner in every inning but the eighth. In the ninth, left-fielder Alex Aguirre threw out a runner at the plate and, after the Spartans filled the bases with two outs, Ricketts struck out Alyssa Sulay.
"If we hold them off the board long enough, our batters will definitely come through," said Ricketts, who improved to 10-6. "That's all I was thinking about: give our batters another chance."
The teams meet again in a doubleheader today, beginning at 4 p.m