Rainbows 2-0 in regional It felt like we were the home team
By Jake Curtis
Special to the Advertiser
Palo Alto, Calif. — Hawai'i added two home runs to its NCAA-record total yesterday as it moved within one win of advancing to next weekend's Super Regional in the NCAA softball playoffs.
The Rainbow Wahine, the top-seeded team in this four-team, double-elimination regional, hung on to beat host Stanford, 6-3, in the pivotal winner's-bracket game, ending a run of seven straight losses to Pac-10 teams on the Mainland dating to 2007.
Melissa Gonzalez, the hottest hitter in the regional, belted a three-run homer in the second inning, and Amanda Tauali'i added her second homer in two days in the third inning to give Hawai'i 144 home runs for the season, 10 more than the previous Division I single-season record.
Hawai'i pitcher Stephanie Ricketts, who grew up 20 minutes from the Stanford campus in San Jose, had to squash budding Cardinal (37-19) rallies in the fifth and seventh innings to win her 14th consecutive start, providing the 'Bows with what is probably their biggest win of the season, for several reasons.
First and foremost, Hawai'i (46-13) needs to win only one of two possible games today against Texas Tech (38-17), which ousted Stanford, 6-3, last night.
Even if they lose the 10 a.m. (Hawai'i time) game today, the 'Bows can capture the regional title by beating Texas Tech in the "if necessary" game scheduled for 12:30 p.m. (Hawai'i time).
If the Rainbow Wahine win the regional, they will likely play Alabama, the top overall seed in the 64-team tournament. The Crimson Tide (50-9) are in the winners' bracket of their regional in Tuscaloosa.
For another thing, the win allowed Hawai'i to avoid having to play a second game last night.
"This gives us a chance to get a little more rest and little more relaxation," UH coach Bob Coolen said, "and being on the road as much as we have, that helps."
The Rainbow Wahine have not been home since May 10. They won the Western Athletic Conference tournament in Las Cruces, N.M., and stayed on the Mainland for the NCAA regional. Coolen does not want his team's offense to take a rest, though.
"It was good to be the visitors in the game," Coolen said. "I wanted to hit first and set the tone."
Alex Aguirre established the tone by ripping a two-run double off an 0-2 pitch in the first inning, and Gonzalez made it 5-0 in the second inning with her three-run shot on a 3-1 pitch.
"Just being relaxed is what really worked for me," Gonzalez said. "Earlier in this tournament, I've been caught swinging defensively when I was ahead in the count, and the coaches have been telling me to swing harder and more offensively. So that's what I focused on and swung for the fence."
Gonzalez went 3 for 3 yesterday and is 5 for 6 with two walks in her two regional games, lifting her batting average to a team-best .412.
Tauali'i's homer made it 6-0 in the top of the third, but that's all the Rainbows got off Stanford starter Ashley Chinn.
"When the team gives you six runs, you should be able to close it out," Ricketts said.
Stanford closed to 6-3 in the fourth inning, but Ricketts escaped a two-on, no-out situation in the fifth, and did it again in the seventh when the Cardinal got two runners on with one out.
Ricketts had only one strikeout, but it was a big one. She got Stanford's second-leading hitter, Ashley Hansen, on a high fastball for the second out in the seventh.