Sparkling day on diamonds for UH Baseball 'Bows win WAC
Wahine walk off with Series berth
By Ferd Lewis
For the University of Hawai'i, it will be remembered as the day that Cinderella danced twice.
Some 1,500 remarkable miles apart.
First, in dramatic fashion before a stunned-to-silence overflow crowd in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where the Rainbow Wahine softball team punched its historic ticket to the Women's College World Series with Jenna Rodriguez's two-run, seventh-inning, walk-off home run that beat Alabama, 5-4.
And, then, hours later, when the Rainbow baseball team tenaciously held on in Mesa, Ariz., to beat nemesis Fresno State, 9-6, for the Western Athletic Conference Tournament title and an NCAA Regional berth.
In one pinch-me day of hope, persistence and triumph, the Rainbow Wahine earned the school's inaugural trip to Oklahoma City, site of the World Series, and the Rainbows got their first WAC tourney title in 18 years and first regional spot since 2006.
A "hallmark day," athletic director Jim Donovan called it.
If Hallmark made a card to salute such a grand occasion, it would surely be one of those iPad-sized ones that burst loudly into "congratulations!" upon opening.
Kudos, certainly, to the teams that endured and endeared. Teams that overcame substantial odds, each in their own gritty ways. And to their coaches, who, if not for second chances, might not be there, either.
The Rainbow Wahine, for all their home run records, were but a 16th seed and one of only two non-Bowl Championship Series conference schools to invade the Sweet 16.
Their reward was to play the No. 1 seed and owner of the nation's longest winning streak (28 until Saturday) on the Crimson Tide's field in front of a record red-wave crowd.
But, then, how better to prove the legitimacy of their clouts and validate their cause?
Fittingly, the NCAA team record holder for home runs in a season (now 154 and counting) did it with a long ball heard 'round the softball world by Rodriguez. And two states held their breath to see whether the shot would be fair or foul as it approached the left-field pole. It was a Carlton Fisk moment, the Rodriguez pose long to be remembered in UH history.
A tip of the hat, too, to the baseball 'Bows, who struggled just to finish fourth in the regular season and then painstakingly negotiated the tournament bracket. There, they faced the Bulldogs, long the bully of the WAC block, and the terminator of too many Rainbow dreams. But in three meetings, UH won the two biggest ones.
It would also be a day of reminders of the second chances realized for the head coaches involved.
Baseball coach Mike Trapasso was in the final year — and, truth be told, probably last hours — of his contract when the Bulldogs, two seasons removed from a national championship, were finally dispatched.
Word around the Mānoa campus was the mechanism to select a new coach was already in motion before Kolten Wong hit his first home run this past week. Now, Donovan confirmed, Trapasso will be offered an extension.
Coolen, in the midst of a five-year contract, labored under no such pressure this year. But he'd been there earlier this decade. For him, 2001 was a turnaround season and a trip to the NCAA regionals probably helped save his job.
You wonder where the Rainbow Wahine might be today had Coolen been cut loose, as some had wanted.
Wherever it might have been, it probably wouldn't have been on the way to Oklahoma City and the World Series this week, Cinderella in green and white.