Hawaii took what Utah State offered and claimed a spot in the winner’s bracket at the Western Athletic Conference softball tournament.
At Fresno, Calif.
Mandy Harmon, Shelbi Tyteca (4) and Tina Ferguson. Stephanie Ricketts and Sharla Kliebenstein. W—Ricketts. L—Harmon. Leading hitters—Utah State: Megan
Two errors in the first inning contributed to four unearned runs for the Rainbow Wahine and UH opened defense of its WAC tournament title with a 6-1 first-round win yesterday in Fresno, Calif.
UH catcher Sharla Kliebenstein hit a two-run home run in support of pitcher Stephanie Ricketts, and the Wahine moved on to face top-seeded New Mexico State today.
“It’s a big ballpark,” UH head coach Bob Coolen said. “So it’s the team that finds the gaps and puts the ball in play rather than up in the air that’s going to make it happen.”
UH, the tournament’s fourth seed, advanced with its seventh straight win, a streak that began with three tight wins over New Mexico State two weeks ago in Honolulu.
“They’re going to come out just wanting to light us up,” Kliebenstein said. “So we have to come out and play them strong like we did at the start.”
Ricketts became UH’s career strikeout leader with four yesterday, passing former All-American Brooke Wilkins. The junior tied Wilkins’ mark of 585 in the fourth inning and moved ahead in the sixth.
Ricketts (22-11) gave up eight hits and walked four in her 30th complete game of the season.
Along with her fourth-inning home run, Kliebenstein backed up Ricketts with two putouts at the plate and turned a game-ending double play after Utah State loaded the bases in the seventh.
“She had two great plays at the plate and hit a bomb 220 (feet), just caught it all,” Coolen said. “That helped us a lot.”
Kliebenstein got the Wahine out of a jam in the top of the first when she retrieved a wild pitch and scrambled back to the plate to tag Megan McDonald, who was trying to score from third.
UH loaded the bases in the bottom of the first and scored three runs on consecutive two-out errors by Utah State. A throwing error on pitcher Mandy Harmon allowed Kelly Majam and Jasey Jensen to score, and an error on Kliebenstein’s grounder to short scored Jenna Rodriguez.
The Aggies scored in the top of the second and threatened in the fourth when McDonald doubled to left with two out. Nichole McDonald attempted to score from first, but was thrown out on a relay from Alex Aguirre to third baseman Melissa Gonzalez to Kliebenstein.
“I just didn’t want to give up on the plays, so I was taking hits left and right and not caring if I was getting knocked down,” Kliebenstein said. “I was just going to make sure I got the ball first and tagged them out.”
Iwata, Ricketts are WAC’s best
Hawaii’s Jessica Iwata and Stephanie Ricketts heard their names called again when the Western Athletic Conference’s top softball awards were handed out yesterday.
Iwata was named WAC Player of the Year for the second straight year and Ricketts repeated as Pitcher of the Year, picking up their plaques at the WAC tournament banquet at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center in Fresno, Calif.
They were among four Rainbow Wahine players named to the All-WAC teams. Iwata and Ricketts made the first team, and outfielders Alex Aguirre and Kelly Majam were second-team selections.
Iwata hit .429 in WAC play with five home runs and 22 RBIs. She became the first UH player to win consecutive player-of-the-year awards since Kate Judd won it in 2001 and ’02.
Ricketts went 8-4 in 14 WAC appearances with a 1.92 ERA. She led the WAC’s top pitching staff and held opponents to a .215 batting average. She’s the first UH pitcher to be named WAC pitcher of the year twice.
Majam, a sophomore center fielder, hit .319 in league games with five home runs. Aguirre, a junior left fielder, hit .314 and earned All-WAC recognition for the first time in her career.
New Mexico State senior Hoku Nohara, a Kamehameha graduate, made the first team.
NMSU’s Valerie Swedberg was named Freshman of the Year and Kathy Rodolph was the Coach of the Year.
ALL WAC SOFTBALL