Through two innings, memories of the Hawaii softball team’s season-opening struggles of last year began to creep in.
But before thoughts of that loss could really take hold, the Rainbow Wahine rediscovered the powerful stroke that defined most of 2010 and began the new season with a 9-1 win over Southern Utah last night in the Oceanic Time Warner Cable Paradise Classic.
The eighth-ranked Rainbow Wahine fell behind the Thunderbirds 1-0 in the first inning but hammered three home runs in the third and fourth innings to take control and ended the game in the fifth due to the eight-run mercy rule.
Southern Utah starter Heather Black held Hawaii hitless her first time through the order in a start reminiscent of Hawaii’s 2-1 loss to McNeese State in last year’s opener.
But Jessica Iwata and Melissa Gonzalez hit back-to-back homers in the third and Kelly Majam added a three-run shot in the fourth to send UH starter Stephanie Ricketts to her first win of the season.
"I had to tell them in the middle of the game, ‘You guys are out here all tight and just trying to do way too much,’ " UH coach Bob Coolen said. "Just go out there and let it happen. This is not last year so let’s get moving and do what we’ve been practicing."
The Paradise Classic continues today with UH facing UC Davis at 5 p.m. and Texas State at 7 at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium. Texas State beat UC Davis 4-0 in the opener.
After Black silenced the first nine UH hitters, Majam’s double down the left-field line ignited the UH offense in the third. One inning later, she launched a blast into the net protecting the UH tennis courts beyond in the center-field fence. For Majam, the home run was especially sweet coming off cancer treatment in the offseason.
"It was a tough road but I’m glad to be back on the field," said Majam, the reigning NCAA home run champion. "I was anticipating this day for a really long time and I just wanted to show I’m OK and I love softball. This is my passion."
The Wahine might have been a little too antsy early on as Southern Utah jumped to a 1-0 lead when Stephanie DeJesus flared a single into left and Aly Daniels followed with a triple into the right-center gap.
After Majam doubled with two out in the third, Iwata gave UH, which hit an NCAA record 158 homers last season, its first lead by lining home run No. 1 of the season out to left center.
"She threw me a changeup my first at-bat and I just missed it and I said I wasn’t going to let that happen again," Iwata said. "She threw me a changeup on the second one and I took a good cut at it."
Three pitches later, Gonzalez followed with a blast to center, putting UH up 3-1.
The Wahine loaded the bases with nobody out in the fourth and Jocelyn Enrique’s groundout to shortstop gave UH a 4-1 lead. With two out, Majam drilled a 2-2 pitch from Black over the center-field fence to give UH a six-run cushion.
Ricketts, meanwhile, settled in to hold the Thunderbirds to three hits over her final four innings. The Wahine scratched out two more runs in the bottom of the fifth to give her an early end to the night.
"Once I got into a groove I was able to control my pitches to do what I wanted them to do," Ricketts said. "I think I was just trying to do too much. … I calmed down a little bit and good things happened."
Hawaii 9, Southern Utah 1
Heather Black, Kara Bendt (5) and Brittany Henderson. Stephanie Ricketts and Sharla Kliebenstein. W–Ricketts. L–Black.
Leading hitters–SUU: Stephanie DeJesus 1-2, run; Brittany Henderson 1-2, 2b. UH: Kelly Majam 2-2, 2b, HR 3 RBIs; Jessica Iwata 1-3, HR, 2 RBIs; Melissa Gonzalez 1-2, HR, RBI; Alex Aguirre 2-3, run; Sharla Kliebenstein 1-2, 2 runs.
Majam is ESPN.com All-American
University of Hawaii sophomore Kelly Majam was named to the ESPN.com preseason All-America softball team yesterday.
Majam, who led the NCAA with 30 home runs last season, was one of 12 players selected to the team, which has two players each from Arizona and Georgia.
Earlier this spring, Majam and teammate Melissa Gonzalez were selected to the 10th annual USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year Award "Watch List."
Majam was also voted the Western Athletic Conference’s Preseason Player of the Year.