Wahine clinch regional
By Jake Curtis
Special to The Advertiser
STANFORD, Calif. – Hawai'i's impressive display of power began with Texas Tech's second pitch yesterday and did not end until the Rainbow Wahine had clinched a regional title in the NCAA softball championships.
Hawai'i hit five solo home runs in its 7-1 victory over Texas Tech, bringing its season home run total to 149, a Division I single-season record that is 15 better than the previous mark.
Hawai'i went undefeated in the four-team, double-elimination tournament, and earned a berth in next weekend's best-of-three Super Regional in Tuscaloosa, Ala., against the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, Alabama, which has won 27 straight games.
"They're good, but we'll beat them," said Hawai'i freshman Kelly Majam, who hit a first-inning home run to increase her nation-leading total to 29 for the season.
Upsetting the Crimson Tide would get Hawai'i into the Women's College World Series for the first time in school history, and the Rainbow Wahine's long-ball potential makes them a threat.
"Most teams have two or three girls that you really want to make sure don't hurt you," Texas Tech coach Shanon Hays said, "but they all get good pitches to hit because you can't pitch around anyone."
Five different Hawai'i players went deep, including the team's Nos. 8 and 9 hitters. Besides Majam, Melissa Gonzalez, Jenna Rodriguez, Katie Grimes and Traci Yoshikawa hit homers against Tech (38-18).
The Rainbow Wahine (47-13) hit eight home runs in their three regional games, with Gonzalez and Amanda Tauali'i belting two apiece.
"Those kind of hits are hard to defend," Hays said.
Stephanie Ricketts won her 15th straight start for Hawai'i, but her effort was overshadowed by Hawai'i's penchant for the long ball. The Rainbow Wahine have hit at least one home run in 16 of their last 17 games and in 51 of their 60 games overall.
Yesterday was the seventh time this season Hawai'i has hit at least five homers in a game, and it came within a whisker of getting a sixth when Kanani Pu'u-Warren's blast hit the very top of the right-field fence, but bounced back into play for a triple.
Hawai'i's first home run came in the bottom of the first inning after Tech had scored in the top of the inning. Hawai'i leadoff hitter Majam nailed Karli Merlich's second pitch over the left-center-field fence to tie the game.
"And it was great because I got it on my birthday," said Majam, who turned 20 yesterday. "I don't look to hit home runs. I just try to get on base and do my job. If they come, they come."
Her 29 home runs are the sixth-most in a season in Division I history.
Merlich lasted only four pitches before being relieved. Limited because her regular delivery had been deemed illegal by NCAA umpires at the regional, Merlich was replaced with a 2-0 count to Hawai'i's second batter.
Yoshikawa put Hawai'i ahead with a homer in the second inning, and third-inning homers by Gonzalez and Rodriguez made it 4-1.
Hitting homers against Alabama may not be as easy. Alabama's top pitcher, Kelsi Dunne, is 29-4 with a 1.89 earned-run average.
The Hawai'i squad has not been home since May 10, and it may stay on the Mainland before heading to Tuscaloosa. About half the players start summer school today and will begin online classes this week.