Alabama Softball Dreams Dashed
With the bitter 5-4 defeat, Alabama ends the season 52-11, and Hawaii advances to the field of eight at 48-14 on the year.
While Bama fans were asking "What happened," Hawaii players wondered what time curfew was?
"The most exciting day, other than the birth of my two children," said Hawaii skipper Bob Coolen. "My phone hasn't shut off. It's scrolling (congratulatory) text messages. This is what you aspire to as a coach."
What had been a school-record 28-game winning streak is now a two-game, quite frustrating season-ending skid.
Said Tide coach Patrick Murphy: "We were hitting a lot of pop-ups, which is not like us. Stuff happens. We had so much fight in us. We didn't give up.
"I think we definitely overachieved (this season), by working hard. We had seven people (who were) either new or in new positions."
"Hits aren't always going to fall, but not once did we ever believe we couldn't do it," said Whitney Larsen.
GAME STORY: Hawaii, as you know by now, can hit the softball. The Rainbow Wahine added to their NCAA record when Jenna Rodriguez crushed her 16th – and the team's 153rd – round-tripper of the year in the bottom of the first. Two were one, and Hawaii was home team by virtue of an NCAA coin flip, and led 3-0 after one.
Charlotte Morgan, playing in her last home game, got the Tide on the board with a blast to right center with one down in the fourth.
Down to its final six outs, the Tide had the top of the order coming up in the top of the sixth. Kayla Braud slapped to the mound, and beat the throw. After Cassie Reilly-Boccia hit into a force, Morgan walked. Whitney Larsen then laced a 1-2 Kaia Parnaby offering over the wall in left center, igniting the crowd of 3,130 and giving Bama its first lead of the afternoon. Amanda Locke popped out after flirting with several homers that went foul, and Jazlyn Lunceford doubled with two out. Murphy pinch-hit senior Alex Blewitt, and Coolen brought in an ailing Stephanie Ricketts, who was battling either flu or food poisoning, depending on who you ask.
After Blewitt lined sharply to third to end the inning, Dunne needed six outs against the nation's most potent offense to get her team to Oklahoma City, site of the WCWS.
In the sixth, Dunne struck out the side. Bama failed to score in the top of the seventh.
The seventh began with a 3-2 walk to Kelly Majum, the nation's top home run hitter. Jessica Iwata went down swinging, and Melissa Gonzalez looked at strike three. Rodriguez, who had homered earlier, did so again on what at first appeared to be a long foul. With that, Bama's dream ended, and Hawaii's continued. Rodriguez also had a double, leading all hitters with her three-for-four performance.
"I was just looking for something to hit. It hit me when I was rounding first base, and my emotions came out," said Rodriguez. "Our team stays up, constantly. We all feel we can do it."
Rodriguez won a national championship last year in junior college. Now, she will play for another.
"Greatest feeling in the world," she said.
Morgan had two hits and an RBI in her final appearance at the Alabama Softball Complex. Lunceford was the only other Tider with a pair of safeties. Dunne (30-6) went 6.2 innings, surrendering five hits, but the two that left the yard decided the game. She walked two, and hit four batters. Ricketts (29-8) got the win for one scrappy bunch of Islanders.
"Every single one of them fought out there," Dunne said. "They made me work hard."
Bama left three on base to Hawaii's six. Neither team attempted a steal, which is typical for Hawaii but atypical for the Tide.
"I don't know if we were anxious, or what," said Morgan. "It hurts, because we worked so hard. One pitch, they got the lucky hit. It happens.
"We had a great year. I have no regrets."
HAWAIIAN HISTORY: Thirty years ago this weekend, the Rainbow baseball team lost two games to Arizona in that squad's only World Series appearance. The softball team will now make it's first appearance in school history at the WCWS. The program began in 1985, and Coolen took over in 1990.
"We put Hawaii on the map," he said.
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