Iwata's homer boosts UH, 5-4
• Photo gallery: Hawaii vs. Fresno State softball
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
Fresno State snapped Hawai'i's 18-game Western Athletic Conference win streak last night, but UH salvaged a doubleheader split by winning the second game, 5-4, on Jessica Iwata's one-out home run in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Fresno State won the first game, 9-7, after Caitlin Stiglich hit a game-tying grand slam in the fifth inning and a go-ahead three-run homer in the seventh.
A standing-room only crowd of about 1,200 at Rainbow Wahine Stadium watched 20th-ranked Hawai'i improve to 41-12 overall and end the WAC regular season in first place at 19-1. The second-place Bulldogs fell to 34-16, 13-5 after losing two games in the three-game series.
The Rainbow Wahine will now take a week off preparing for final exams before traveling to Las Cruces, N.M., for the WAC Tournament from May 12 through May 15.
Last night's nightcap was the final home game for UH seniors Katie Grimes, Tasha Pagdilao, Kanani Pu'u-Warren, Amanda Tauali'i and Traci Yoshikawa.
Iwata, a freshman shortstop from Kaua'i High, slammed a 1-2 pitch for a line-drive homer over the center-field fence to end the second game after Kelly Majam — second in the nation with 25 home runs — led off the bottom of the seventh with a flyout to right.
"I was struggling a bit, but I just wanted to stay positive and try to win it for the seniors," said Iwata, who was 1 for 8 in the doubleheader entering that final at-bat. "I tried not to get down on myself. Plus we saw that pitcher (reliever Morgan Melloh) earlier, so I knew what she had."
UH was one pitch away from ending it in the top of the seventh, when Brooke Phipps — who hits ninth in Fresno State's lineup — ripped a two-out, 3-2 pitch from Rainbow Wahine starter Stephanie Ricketts over the fence in right-center to tie the score 4-4.
Hawai'i had broken a 2-2 tie in the fifth on Majam's RBI double off the left-field fence and Jenna Rodriguez's run-scoring single to right.
In the first game, Hawai'i jumped to a 5-0 lead in the first inning after Melissa Gonzalez's two-run homer, Pu'u-Warren's RBI double and Tauali'i's two-run double to right field.
The Rainbow Wahine made it 6-0 in the second on Rodriguez's RBI triple to right, in which Fresno State right fielder Lisamarie Coronado injured her knee and lay on the ground writhing in pain with the ball in her glove as Tauali'i circled the bases.
The Bulldogs closed to 6-2 in the third after back-to-back home runs by Andrea Ortega and Michelle Moses, then tied it 6-6 in the fifth on Stilglich's two-out grand slam over the center-field fence on a 2-2 count.
UH took the lead back at 7-6 in the sixth, after Gonzalez led off with a seeing-eye single, advanced to second on Rodriguez's walk and scored on Pu'u-Warren's one-out single to right.
The Rainbow Wahine then were one pitch away from sealing the victory in the seventh, after center fielder Majam made a shoestring catch and doubled off Haley Gilleland at first base.
Moses and Courtney Moore followed with back-to-back singles, and Hawai'i starter Kaia Parnaby worked a 2-2 count on Stiglich, who slammed the next pitch over the center-field fence.
"I could have taken Kaia out, but I wanted her to finish the game to see what she was made of," Rainbow Wahine coach Bob Coolen said. "We had taken her out in some other games, but I felt this time I needed to see what she had, because she learned that this is a different level. I want to be comfortable with her throwing in the postseason, I want her to be as dominant as Stephanie can be."
Hawai'i threatened in the bottom of the seventh, with Majam reaching on a force play followed by Iwata's two-out single to left, bringing Gonzalez — the Rainbow Wahine's No. 3 batter who has 20 home runs — to the plate.
But Fresno State starter Melloh got Gonzalez swinging on a 1-2 count after she fouled off two other pitches.
Coolen had predicted after Friday night's 5-0 victory in the series opener that the Bulldogs would come back stronger last night.
"They are not a team that is ever, ever going to give up in a ball game," Coolen said. "They battled, they out-slugged us and now they know they can beat us."
But Iwata said despite the one loss, the Rainbow Wahine's confidence is not shaken.
"We just have to believe in ourselves," she said. "We had a target on our back because we were undefeated, but it's fun. We like playing with pressure. In the long run, that loss might be good, because it will make us push harder."