Hawaii softball draws UC Davis A new mission begins tomorrow
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
In a Las Cruces, N.M. restaurant specializing in buffalo wings, the Hawai'i softball team yesterday experienced a chicken-skin moment.
The Rainbow Wahine yelled in unabashed celebration when it was announced they would open against UC Davis Friday in the NCAA Regional on Stanford's campus.
"I'm really excited we're going to California," freshman center fielder Kelly Majam said. "My family is from (Southern) California, and they'll be able to come."
The Rainbow Wahine were all but a lock for an NCAA berth after winning the Western Athletic Conference's regular season with a 19-1 record.
They solidified that position when they won the WAC Tournament Saturday in Las Cruces and the league's accompanying automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
The only mystery was where the Rainbows, who did not submit a host's bid, would be sent.
Head coach Bob Coolen figured that because the Rainbows remained in New Mexico until yesterday's televised announcement, they would be sent to a regional in the Southwest or South.
There are 16 four-team regional tournaments. Each regional is seeded No. 1 through No. 16.
Factoring their No. 16 ranking in the ratings percentage index (RPI), the Rainbows received the No. 1 seed in the 16th-seeded regional. The other members of that double-elimination regional are host and No. 2 seed Stanford, No. 3 Texas Tech and No. 4 UC Davis.
The winner of the Stanford regional will face the winner of the top-seeded Alabama regional next week.
For now, Coolen said, "we're excited about coming back to the West Coast. All of our California kids are excited. This is a pleasant surprise."
Stanford is about a half-hour drive from San Jose, where starting pitcher Stephanie Ricketts' family lives.
What's more, the Rainbows have played Stanford and UC Davis this year. The Rainbows and Cardinal split their two meetings; UH beat UC Davis, 8-5.
"We know what they'll bring," Majam said.
Since then, the Rainbows have tweaked their lineup. Shortstop Jessica Iwata, the WAC's Player of the Year, has moved up to second in the batting order, behind Majam.
Jenna Rodriguez is now the designated player and cleanup hitter.
And, to spread the power, first baseman Amanda Tauali'i was moved to the bottom third of the lineup.
Then again, UC Davis also has changed in the past couple of months.
The Aggies won 12 of their final 14 regular-season games to finish 15-6 and in a first-place tie in the Big West.
But the Aggies won two of three games against co-champion Cal State Northridge to claim the league's automatic berth in the NCAA Regionals. The Big West does not have a conference tournament.
Coolen was on the committee that ranks the top teams in the West region. He said the Aggies were off the radar until making their late push.
"We beat them, but it wasn't easy," Coolen said. "They have a scrappy team, with some pretty good hitters."
The Rainbows had a weight-training session yesterday. Coolen said he expects to conduct a practice of at least two hours today.
Tomorrow, they expect to travel to Northern California. They will resume practicing Wednesday.
At least, they will not have to be concerned with academics. They took about 30 final examinations at the hotel last week.
The UH spring semester ended the past Friday, and Saturday was the graduation ceremony.
Katie Grimes, who had completed work on her bachelor's degree last week, was forced to skip the ceremony.
But she did not miss out on a coveted graduation gift.
"Any time you go to the Regionals, it's a nice present," Grimes said.