'Bows club Bulldogs, 16-1 Our hitting is 'contagious'
The Hawai'i' softball team's dream performance to remember was Fresno State's nightmare to forget.
The Rainbow Wahine scored 14 runs in a record-setting third inning to coast to a 16-1 victory in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament in Las Cruces, N.M.
The game was abbreviated to five innings because of the NCAA's eight-run mercy rule.
In the process, the Rainbows broke the NCAA single-season record for home runs.
"The hitting," said catcher Katie Grimes, who batted three times in the UH third, "was contagious."
The Rainbows, who have scored 34 runs in winning their two tournament games, advance to today's championship game against Fresno State at 10 a.m. Hawai'i time. If FSU wins, a second game will follow at 1 p.m. The Bulldogs eliminated Boise State, 6-5, last night. The tournament winner earns the WAC's automatic berth in the NCAA Regionals.
But even if the Rainbows fail to capture the tournament title, with a 43-12 record — including 21-1 against WAC opponents — they are likely to receive an at-large berth.
For the 21st time this season, the Rainbows triggered the eight-run mercy rule. The quick finish enabled them to have the rest of the day off. Some players attended last night's games; some studied for today's final exams.
"It's been pretty stressful," said Grimes, a reference to the 30 final exams that were administered to the Rainbows during this road trip.
The third-inning outburst, which broke a scoreless tie, proved to be a stress reliever. The Rainbows had 20 plate appearances in the inning, with Grimes and Traci Yoshikawa each hitting three times. Grimes, who led off the third, had two singles and a walk in the frame.
The 14 runs were too much for the scoreboard, which had the capacity of listing only single-digit runs in the inning column. On the scoreboard, it showed "4."
Freshman shortstop Jessica Iwata, the WAC's Player of the Year, belted a three-run homer. It was the Rainbows' 135th of the season, an NCAA record. Arizona hit 134 home runs in 2009.
"We just knew one of us would do it," Iwata said. "I think everyone is pretty excited we broke the record."
Later in the inning, second-year freshman Kelly Majam smashed an opposite-field grand slam to left. It was her team-leading 27th home run of the season, and second of the tournament.
"It was definitely awesome," Majam said of the inning.
After the slow start, Majam said, "We knew it was going to come. That's how our offense works. Once we go through the lineup the first time, we're able to pick up a few things on the pitcher."
Two weeks ago, the Rainbows squandered a 6-0 lead in a 9-7 loss to Fresno State. That implosion served as motivation in the third inning.
"Even when we had two outs, we kept going," Iwata said. "We kept telling each other, 'We're not stopping yet.' They came back to beat us (two weeks ago). We knew they had the capability of coming back."
In Thursday's victory over San Jose State, the Rainbows pounded six home runs. Yesterday, they hit two.
"The thing I've always said about our team is we can manufacture runs," Grimes said. "If you can hit home runs, that's good for you. But we're not going to hit home runs all of the time. It's important that we get base hits, too."