'Amazing day' on the diamond for Hawaii college teams
By Curtis Murayama
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i, where winning happens.
Well, that's what happened yesterday as three Isle teams — the University of Hawai'i baseball and softball teams and the Hawai'i Pacific University softball team — scored epic victories.
In Tuscaloosa, Ala., Jenna Rodriguez launched a shot heard around the nation as her two-out, two-run walkoff homer stunned top-seeded Alabama, 5-4, vaulting the Rainbow Wahine into their first-ever World Series appearance.
In Mesa, Ariz., the Rainbows defeated four-time defending champion Fresno State, 9-6, capturing their first Western Athletic Conference baseball tournament championship since 1992.
And at St. Joseph, Mo., HPU beat Metro State (Colo.), 7-2, advancing to the NCAA Division II Women's World Series title game for the first time. The Sea Warriors will play Valdosta State for the title today.
But the wildest, most exhilarating and most unexpected celebration occurred in the NCAA Super Regional in Tuscaloosa, where Rodriguez's dramatic homer during a nationally televised game stunned ESPN announcers, made the state proud, left UH coach Bob Coolen saying it was the "best day of his life," and turned Gov. Linda Lingle into a cheerleader.
In a statement released shortly after the Rainbow Wahine victory, Lingle said: "The Wahine softball team has brought pride to the University of Hawai'i and the entire state. The Rainbow Wahine can be assured that all the people of Hawai'i will be cheering them on as they advance to their first NCAA Women's College World Series. 'Let's Go Bows!' "
HOME ON YOUTUBE
But the excitement the women stirred didn't subside as events went viral.
Rodriguez's homer was posted on YouTube shortly after and registered more than 300 views in six hours, immortalizing the history-making moment. The story posted on The Advertiser website drew dozens of comments within hours.
The victory also fueled the phenomenon of UH softball, whose popularity bloomed late in the season when large crowds began flocking to the stadium.
The Rainbow Wahine, who set an NCAA record for home runs in a single season, went on to win the Western Athletic Conference and then the regional at Stanford in which they had to beat the host Cardinal and Texas Tech.
But UH traveled to Tuscaloosa last week as a decided underdog against Alabama, which had won 28 in a row, advanced to the past two World Series and featured ace pitcher Kelsi Dunne, who had a 16-game winning streak and a 29-4 record coming in.
Dunne would beat UH, 8-0, Saturday, but lose 8-7 in relief in the second game, forcing yesterday's winner-take-all game.
After Alabama rallied from a 3-0 deficit to take a 4-3 lead, the Tide seemed destined for victory with Dunne dominating batters, recording 16 of her 20 outs by strikeout.
Down to their last out and the mostly red-clad fans in a frenzy sensing victory, 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.
As she watched her majestic clout, Rodriguez stayed near home plate, making sure the ball stayed fair, much like Carlton Fisk did in a famous Boston Red Sox moment that the Massachusetts-raised Coolen should know about.
"Simply amazing. This is the best day of my life," Coolen told ESPN in the midst of the excitement.
He would later recraft his words, saying, "The most exciting day, other than the birth of my two children, in my life."
"It was a great, awesome experience," Rodriguez said.
The Rainbow Wahine will now crash a party at the World Series in Oklahoma City that features teams from power conferences — Tennessee, Georgia, Florida of the Southeastern Conference; Arizona, UCLA, Washington of the Pac-10; and Missouri of the Big 12.
UH's first berth in the Women's CWS comes on the 30th anniversary of the men reaching their only trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
MEN WIN WAC TITLE
The UH men now have that chance.
The Rainbows beat conference bully Fresno State for their first WAC title since 1992 and will advance to their first NCAA tournament since 2006.
"There is one word to describe it: finally!" said Kolten Wong, the tournament's Most Valuable Player. "We've worked our (behind) off since Day 1, training, trying to get ready for this. This is the payoff."
The NCAA will announce its 64-team baseball tournament field today and UH will stay on the Mainland at one of 16 regional sites. The host teams for West regions are UCLA, Cal State Fullerton and Arizona State.
"They really peaked at the right time. We got some fire back into us," UH coach Mike Trapasso said.
History was also in the making at the NCAA Division II Softball College World Series in Missouri as HPU advanced further than ever before.
The Sea Warriors, behind senior star Sherise Musquiz (33-3) who pitched for the victory and added two hits and three runs batted in, beat Metro State (Colo.), 7-2.
"I can't think of a better way to end my career ... in the championship game, win or lose I'll be happy, but of course I want to win," Musquiz said.
HPU (49-8) will play for the title today against Georgia's Valdosta State (50-8) at 9:07 a.m. Hawai'i time on CBS College Sports (Oceanic Digital Cable channel 247). It will also be broadcast on radio on AM 1500.