'Bows shut out Fresno St., 5-0
• Photo gallery: Hawaii vs. Fresno State softball
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
Putting its signature stamp on the season's most important game to date, the No. 20-ranked University of Hawai'i softball team slammed three home runs en route to a 5-0 victory over arch rival Fresno State last night and clinched the Western Athletic Conference regular season championship in the process.
A capacity crowd of about 1,200 at Rainbow Wahine Stadium watched UH — which leads the nation with 126 home runs and is now just eight shy of the NCAA record set by Arizona last year — improve to 40-11 overall and 18-0 in the WAC with its 18th straight victory.
The three-game series with Fresno State (33-15, 12-4) continues with a a doubleheader starting at 4 p.m. today; both games will be televised live on KFVE.
"We're focusing on every game, so tonight's game came first," said Jenna Rodriguez, a designated player for Hawai'i who gave the Rainbow Wahine a quick 2-0 lead in the first inning with a two-run homer over the left field fence. "Now we're trying to go for the undefeated (record), we want to win every game in this series."
Bulldogs starter Michelle Moses, a sophomore right-hander, entered the game at 8-0 in WAC play with an earned run average of 1.11. But Hawai'i made her work from the beginning, with top three batters Kelly Majam, Jessica Iwata and Melissa Gonzalez each running full counts and forcing Moses to throw a total of 23 pitches.
Iwata drew a one-out walk, and after Gonzalez struck out, Rodriguez launched a 1-0 pitch over the fence in left field.
"You gotta be sharp, you gotta be ahead from the beginning," said Fresno State coach Margie Wright. "We didn't play well tonight, and this was the result."
Gonzalez added a two-run homer to center in the third inning, after Iwata had reached on a one-out single. And Katie Grimes — who bats eighth in the Rainbow Wahine lineup — made it 5-0 in the fourth with a line drive solo shot that barely cleared the wall in left-center.
Meanwhile, UH starter Stephanie Ricketts cruised along with a two-hitter and was backed by a defense that made only one inconsequential error in the sixth. Hawai'i left fielder Alex Aguirre robbed Brooke Phipps of a home run in the fifth inning with a leaping catch at the wall, snaring the ball just as it was about to clear the fence.
After the Bulldogs' Haley Gilleland led off the game with a walk and reached second base on a passed ball, no other Fresno State player advanced into scoring position.
"All day I was worried about the 'what ifs,' wondering if we would feel the pressure," UH coach Bob Coolen said. "But Ricks was throwing real relaxed in the bullpen, and she was relaxed in the game. Fresno State is a good-hitting team, but I think these three-game series once a week are good for us, it's helping us stay healthy and giving our arms a rest."
Coolen said his team won't be relaxing too much, either.
"We can't rest on our laurels," Coolen said. "We don't want to beat Fresno just once, we want to make a statement."
FSU (33-15, 12-4) 000 000 0–0 2 1
UH (40-11, 18-0) 202 100 X–5 5 1
Michelle Moses and Kaitlin Griffin. Stephanie Ricketts and Katie Grimes. W–Ricketts. L–Moses.
Leading hitters–FSU: none. UH: Jessica Iwata 2 runs; Melissa Gonzalez homer, 2 RBIs; Jenna Rodriguez 2-2, homer, 2 RBIs; Grimes homer 1 RBI.
Read his blog on high school sports at http://preptalk.honadvblogs.com.