Five Wahine make West Region team First day of practice
By Stephen Tsai
Hawai'i third baseman Melissa Gonzalez yesterday woke up to a sweet dream.
"I took a nap, and when I woke up, I found out," said Gonzalez, who one of five Rainbow Wahine to earn All-West Region honors.
Gonzalez, center fielder Kelly Majam and designated player Jenna Rodriguez were named to the first team. Starting pitcher Stephanie Ricketts and shortstop Jessica Iwata were named to the second team.
Louisville Slugger and the National Fastpitch Coaches Association selected the regional teams. The chosen players now are automatically entered for All-America consideration.
"It's surprising," said Gonzalez, whose team plays UC Davis today in the opening round of the NCAA Regional at Stanford University. "I worked really hard."
Indeed, Gonzalez, a junior, missed most of the 2009 season because of a foot injury. After being used at second, short and in the pitcher's circle her first two UH seasons, she moved to third base.
"I wasn't used to it," Gonzalez said of her early work at third. "The ball comes a lot faster. But I like it. It's reaction. I don't have much time to think about it."
At the plate, Gonzalez is hitting .399 with 23 home runs and 55 runs batted in.
Majam, a second-year freshman, missed the entire 2009 season because of a knee injury. In her breakout debut season, Majam has redefined the leadoff role. Majam, who is hitting .409, has set UH single-season records for home runs (28) and runs (72). She also has walked 37 times, one short of the school record.
"I give the glory to God," Majam said. "He gave me the abilities to play."
Rodriguez, who played for the junior college national champion last year, was recruited to play outfield or pitch. But because of the tight job market, she landed the role of designated player. It is a position that requires full attention.
"The game of softball is 80 percent mental," said Rodriguez, who is batting .361 with 14 home runs and 47 RBIs. "I have the hitting aspect. I have to be ready 24/7, and be in the game, and not let my mind wander."
Ricketts has remained focused as the ace of the Rainbows' pitching staff. Overall, she is 24-7 with a 2.37 earned-run average. Against Western Athletic Conference opponents, she is 13-0.
"I was pretty surprised, actually," Ricketts said of her selection. "It's nice. It's pretty cool to know a lot of the girls on our team were honored, too."
Iwata, a true freshman from Kaua'i, has made an impressive ascent to Division I softball. She is hitting .404 with 17 homers and 53 RBIs.
"I always set my own goals," Iwata said, adding this award "is like a bonus."
In preparation for today's Regional game against UC Davis, the Rainbows yesterday practiced at Stanford, site of the four-team tournament.
"I like the field," Gonzalez said. "It's really nice."
Last week's WAC tournament was played in New Mexico's thin air. The Rainbows hit 13 home runs in four games at that stadium, whose dimensions were 190 feet to the corners and 210 to straightaway center.
Stanford's field has dimensions of 200 feet to the corners and 220 to center. The regional will be played at sea level, maybe below it.
"It's kind of a sunken field," Majam said, noting the base of the stands is above field level. "I think it's built into a little hill."
But Majam added: "The fences are farther away (in center and the power alleys), but it's the same in left and right as it is at home, and we hit a lot of home runs at home."
At Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium, every point of the outfield fence is 200 feet from the plate.
Rodriguez said Stanford's green backdrop makes it easy to pick up the pitch. And, she added, "the sun isn't in your eye."
Ricketts, who was raised in San Jose, about a 20-minute drive away, said she decided to attend last year's regional at Stanford. Watching that game provided useful information for Ricketts.
"We're excited to get back on the field," Iwata said. "We haven't played in a week."