Rainbow Wahine stun Alabama with two-out, walk-off HR to earn first World Series
Jenna Rodriguez hit a two-out, two-run walk-off homer as the University of Hawai'i Rainbow Wahine softball team stunned No. 1 seed Alabama, 5-4, today in Tuscaloosa, Ala., to reach its first Women's College World Series.
UH (49-14), the 16th seed, goes to this week's Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City. The tournament starts Thursday against No. 9 Missouri and will extend the Rainbow Wahine's road trip, which began May 10 with the Western Athletic Conference Tournament.
It was a shocking turn of events, which saw Alabama (52-11) overcome a 3-0 lead for a 4-3 advantage and witnessed the pitching mastery of Tide ace Kelsi Dunne (30-6), who struck out 16.
The player the right-handed ace couldn't master was Rodriguez, who played in last year's Junior College World Series.
Rodriguez staked UH to a quick lead with a three-run homer in the bottom of the first inning. She batted 3-for-4 (UH only managed five hits) and drove in all five runs.
UH lead-off hitter Kelly Majam, the nation's home-run leader at 30, opened the bottom of the seventh with a walk, taking a 3-2 changeup from Dunne.
But Dunne then struck out the next two batters — Jessica Iwata for the fourth time in the game and Melissa Gonzalez for the second time.
With the crowd in a frenzy sensing a victory and another Alabama berth to the WCWS, Rodriguez slammed the first pitch high over the left-field foul pole, sending the Rainbow Wahine and their small contingent of fans into a wild celebration.
After she launched her hit, Rodriguez stayed near home plate, watching to make sure the ball stayed fair, much like Carlton Fisk, a Boston Red Sox famous moment that UH coach and Massachusetts-raised Bob Coolen should know about.
"Simply amazing. This is the best day of my life," Coolen told ESPN. "All we needed was one runner on. We had the top of the lineup. We knew we could do it."
When asked how a 16th seed could advance to the World Series, he said, "Chemistry, all the way. Chemistry."
UH's first berth to the Women's College World Series comes on the 30th anniversary of the men reaching their only trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
The Rainbow Wahine had to dispatch three teams from power conferences — the Pac-10 Conference, Big 12 and Southeastern Conference — to earn the trip. UH beat Stanford and Texas Tech in last week's regional to advance to the Super Regional in Tuscaloosa. At least five of the other eight teams in the WCWS are from those conferences.
UH jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first inning on Rodriguez's three-run homer and held the lead until the sixth behind left-hander Kaia Parnaby.
In the bottom of the first, UH's Majam opened with a single. One out later, Gonzalez walked and Rodriguez followed with a homer to left.
UH hardly threatened after that as Dunne was dominant.
In the top of the fourth, Charlotte Morgan hammered a blast over the right-field fence to make it 3-1.
In the top of the sixth, Alabama's Kayla Braud bunted for a hit, but was forced out at second. Morgan then walked before Whitney Larsen hit a three-run homer to left-center for a 4-3 lead.
Meanwhile, Dunne was in control after the first-inning slip up. She recorded 16 strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings and is the school record holder for most strikeouts in a season at 355.
UH, the home team today, started Parnaby, who pitched in both games Saturday with no decisions. She pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing four earned runs and striking out four today.
Stephanie Ricketts, who replaced Parnaby in the top of the sixth, got the win in relief for the second day in a row.
"Kaia did a great job, coming out and holding them down," Coolen said on ESPN. "Ricketts was ready. We just didn't want to use her to start because she's been a little under the weather. Kaia's been rearing to go. And it worked out real well for us because Steph came in and shut them down."
Dunne was yesterday's first-game winner and second-game loser yesterday.
Parnaby started the second game Saturday, a game UH led 7-1 before winning 8-7.
Alabama won the opener, 8-0.
Dunne pitched a two-hitter to beat UH in Saturday's opening game, which was pushed from Friday to Saturday because of inclement weather. But Dunne, who came in relief with the game tied at 7 in the second game, saw her 17-game winning streak snapped in the second game.
UH, which hit three homers in the second game yesterday and two today, increased its NCAA record for most home runs for a season at 154.
Yesterday's second-game victory by the the Rainbow Wahine ended the Crimson Tide's 28-game winning streak, tying the best-of-three Super Regional at a game apiece and forcing today's winner-take-all game.