POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 11, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 2:49 a.m. HST, Feb 11, 2011
The doubters had to love that first time around the lineup. The Michele Smiths of the world and all the other softball traditionalists who want to go back to the 11-inning, 1-0 snoozefests would have been overjoyed.
In its season opener, Hawaii was homerless, hitless and befuddled by a JC transfer pitcher for Southern Utah who doesn't appear on any preseason All-America lists.
So it had to be the bats, right? The yellow Easton Stealths that the Rainbow Wahine belted an NCAA record 158 home runs with last year have been decommissioned. They're deemed too explosive; they're banned.
UH went 0-for-8 that first time through the lineup with their new purple and white Stealths, not sneaking up on anybody. Eight Wahine went down in a row after Kelly Majam led off the bottom of the first getting hit by a pitch.
"Everybody was tight. The ball was getting by people," said coach Bob Coolen, referring to at the plate and in the field. Southern Utah led.
The Wahine had become samurai sans swords, Linus minus the blanket.
Or so you might think. It took just one at-bat for that to all change.
TWO OUT, NOBODY on. The left-handed hitting Majam laces a 1-0 pitch down the third base line and is standing on second before the ball is tracked down and thrown back in.
Jessica Iwata and Melissa Gonzalez follow with home runs, and that's that.
Majam led the nation with 30 roundtrippers last year. But don't forget she batted .400. That's a lot of singles and doubles mixed in. She knows what to do with pitches she can't hit over the fence.
"It was an inside pitch, so it's just kind of the way it worked out," said Majam, who, oh, by the way, blasted a three-run homer in the fourth inning, too ... and, who, oh, by the way, is still recovering from radiation therapy after having her cancerous thyroid removed in the offseason.
"We work on it all the time," Coolen said, referring to hitting the other way, not a long way. "Hands go to the ball. Let the bat lag. We work on it over and over.
"The more extension the better. That's why the ball pops off the bat."
THE WAY IT ended was anti-climactic, a two-run fifth inning that basically took advantage of Thunderbird mistakes. Jazmine Zamora was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to end it. The rally included a line drive off the bat of Alex Aguirre that bounced off the top of the fence and back into the field. It was one of the hardest hit singles you'll ever see.
The three homers put UH ahead of last year's record pace ... and, amazingly, without their magic bats of 2010.
"Hopefully (doubters) look at the box score and see we hit three homers with new bats on an approved list. It tells everyone it's not the bat, it's the hard work in the weight room and in batting practice, learning proper mechanics," Coolen said. "A statement, yes, was made. Last year everything was 'the bat, the bat, the bat.' That was unfortunate. The players felt that was the focus. No credit went to the players or the strength coach."
For the record, that strength coach is Kenny Esquivel, and the Wahine appear to be even stronger and more fit than last year, if that's possible.
No fair, working hard. Maybe Hawaii should be forced to use whiffle bats, or swing from the other side of the plate.
It's just the first game, but with all the changes the Wahine and their star player have endured, Coolen's right, it's a statement.
"We definitely showed we're good hitters and it's not the equipment we use," Majam said.