Still fighting through an illness, Jessica Iwata probably had opposing pitchers feeling pretty queasy when she stepped to the plate yesterday.
Iwata homered in three consecutive plate appearances and Alex Aguirre sent three more out to power the Hawaii softball team to wins over Utah and Long Beach State in the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic in Las Vegas.
Iwata and Aguirre hit back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to rally the Rainbow Wahine to a dramatic 8-7 win over Utah in their first game of the day.
Iwata and Aguirre both homered again in UH’s 10-4 win over Long Beach State. Freshman Sharla Kliebenstein provided a tie-breaking homer in the third inning to propel the Rainbow Wahine (7-0) to their best start since 1998, when they started 8-0.
UH, ranked ninth and 12th in the national polls, struggled early against Utah in its tournament opener and trailed 6-1 going into the bottom of the sixth inning.
Iwata hit a two-run homer to chop into the deficit and came up again in the seventh with UH trailing 7-4, one out and two runners on base. She worked the count full before launching a pitch from Utah reliever Generra Nielson out to center field to tie the game.
"It’s something that comes with experience," Iwata said. "I don’t worry too much about the situation. I just try to do the job.
"She threw me a riser, and I stayed on top of it and tried to hit it hard."
Aguirre then followed with her second blast of the game to give UH the win.
The Wahine maintained the momentum into the Long Beach State game when Iwata hit a two-run homer in the top of the first inning to highlight a four-run outburst.
"We really rolled it into the next game and kept that excitement," Iwata said.
Long Beach State rallied to tie the game with four runs in the bottom of the second off of UH sophomore Kaia Parnaby. Kliebenstein then gave UH the lead in the third with her second home run of the season.
Protecting a 5-4 cushion going into the fifth, the Wahine put the game away with a five-run rally. Iwata walked to start the inning and Aguirre’s third homer gave UH some breathing room.
The UH pitching staff benefited from the production at the plate. Senior Jenna Rodriguez (1-0) picked up the win against Utah in relief of starter Stephanie Ricketts.
Ricketts gave up five runs on nine hits before being lifted in the fifth inning. She struck out seven while walking one. Rodriguez gave up two runs on six hits and struck out two in 2 2/3 innings in her first pitching appearance of the season.
Parnaby (3-0) went the distance against Long Beach State. She struck out seven and walked three, giving up nine hits along the way.
The tournament continues today with UH facing No. 14 Oregon and No. 18 Stanford. Oregon advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals last year. UH and Stanford last met in a regional hosted by the Cardinal last May with the Wahine winning 6-3.
Hawaii 8, Long Beach State 7
At Las Vegas
Gnerra Nielson and Brooke Olson. Stephanie Ricketts, Jenna Rodriguez (5) and Sharla Kliebenstein. W–Rodriguez. L–Nielson.
Leading hitters—Utah: Cheyella Myers 2-4, run, 2 RBIs; Tia Palauni 2-3; Hannah Clements 2-3, run, RBI; Jackie Sweet 3-4, HR, 2b, 2 runs, RBI. UH: Jessica Iwata 2-4, HR, 2 runs, 5 RBIs; Alex Aguirre 3-4, HR, 2 runs, 2 RBIs; Melissa Gonzalez 2-3; Dara Pagaduan 2b.
Hawaii 10, Long Beach State 4
At Las Vegas
Kaia Parnaby and Sharla Kliebenstein. Taylor Petty, Erin Jones-Wesley (5) and Dana Garcia. W–Parnaby. L–Petty.
Leading hitters—UH: Jessica Iwata 2-4, HR, 2 runs, 2 RBIs; Jenna Rodriguez 2 RBIs; Sarah Robinson 2b, 2 runs; Alex Aguirre HR, run, 2 RBIs; Kliebenstein HR, 3 runs, RBI. LBSU: Bree Stephan 3-4, 2b, run, RBI; Dana Garcia 3b, run; Nalani St. Germain HR, run, 2 RBIs.