'Bows feel they're ready, willing, able A different approach to second Super Regional
By Stephen Tsai
It was the storm before the calm.
A thunderstorm was supposed to hit the Tuscaloosa, Ala., area last night.
But under a full moon obscured by thick clouds, the Hawai'i softball team, which will face top-ranked Alabama today in the opening game of the NCAA Super Regionals, remained focused.
"The team is loose," UH coach Bob Coolen said. "I don't see any changes in the team, from the WAC (tournament) to the Regionals to here. The team is traveling well. We're healthy. We're ready to go out and play against a very good team."
The Crimson Tide (51-9) is regarded as the nation's best softball team.
The Tide can hit (.318 batting average), hit for power (100 home runs, or one every 14.65 at bats), run (134 steals in 156 attempts), and pitch. Kelsi Dunne is 29-4 with a 1.89 earned-run average and 332 strikeouts in 199 2/3 innings.
The Tide has won 27 in a row.
What's more, "Pride Tide" is a lifestyle. A crowd of 2,500 — the largest of the year for the Rainbow Wahine — is expected for the first game of the best-of-three series. The Super Regional winner advances to next week's College World Series in Oklahoma City.
Of the surrounding hoopla, UH catcher Katie Grimes said, "It's one of those things we can't worry about."
Coolen said the Rainbows must focus on remaining hydrated — humidity has been at 80 percent during daylight — and not trying to be over-anxious.
"We know what we have to do," Coolen said.
The Rainbows earned what could be a significant victory yesterday when they were named the home team for the second and, if necessary, third game tomorrow. The Tide is designated as the home team today.
Kara Nishimura, UH's sports media relations director, represented the Rainbows at the coin toss yesterday.
"We told her to call 'tails,' and tails it was," Coolen said.
By earning the home team's role for the third game, the Rainbows will avoid any down time caused by changing uniforms.
"Now we know what the timeline will be," Coolen said. "Everything will go smoothly."
Both teams have cobbled scouting reports.
The Tide has five returning starters. In last year's meeting between the teams, Dunne, a right-hander, was summoned as a reliever. Alabama won that game, 1-0, in eight innings, but it was one of the early starts for UH's Stephanie Ricketts, who was a freshman.
Now Ricketts, also a right-hander, is the Rainbows' ace. She is 5-1 in this postseason.
Coolen believes Ricketts will be effective in Alabama's mugginess. Ricketts relies on curveballs and screwballs — pitches that did not have as much bite in the thin air at the Western Athletic Conference in New Mexico or the crisp Bay Area weather at last week's Stanford Regional.
"The warm weather is much better for her," Coolen said. "Her pitches will break. There will be more heaviness on the ball, which she likes. In thinner air, the ball doesn't move as much. She's excited about pitching here."
The Rainbows have relied on powerball, hitting an NCAA record 149 home runs, in amassing a 44-13 record. They hope the thicker air does not affect their drives in the spacious Alabama Softball Complex (200 feet down the line, 220 feet to straightaway center).
During yesterday's 40-minute batting practice, they worked on hitting Coolen's riseball, which is Dunne's main pitch. The Rainbows have had success this year against riseball pitchers from Fresno State and San Jose State.
"They have good pitchers, and they also hit a lot of home runs," UH center fielder Kelly Majam said. "They play a lot like we do. We should be evenly matched up. It should be a good game."