May 29, 2010

By Christopher Walsh
Special to NCAA.com

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- If there's one thing the Hawaii softball team is known for, it's home runs. And Saturday afternoon, Alabama found out why.

Freshman shortstop Jessica Iwata crunched a grand slam and freshman center fielder Kelly Majam hit a solo shot for her 30th home run of the season, but it was a sixth-inning rally for a run that allowed the Rainbow Wahine to take their NCAA super regional to the limit with an 8-7 victory at the Alabama Sports Complex.

The decisive Game 3 will be at noon Sunday.

"You saw the reason why Hawaii is here," Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said after the Crimson Tide's record 28-game winning streak had been snapped. "It could have gone either way. But they made the pitches when they needed to and got the key hits." After Alabama junior Kelsi Dunne threw an 8-0 shutout in five innings in Game 1 earlier Saturday, senior Charlotte Morgan made her first pitching appearance since May 8 against Mississippi State as Murphy decided to treat it "like a regular SEC doubleheader" after Friday's rainout.

But Majam led off the bottom first with her home run to right, and the Rainbow Wahine exploded for five more runs in the second.

"We definitely were more comfortable," Majam said. "I think the first game we may have been a little star-struck from the crowd, TV and stuff like that. We settled down and didn't play the way we usually play the first game."

Actually, Hawaii (48-14) wanted to put Game 1 so far behind it that in addition to switching dugouts to be the home team, the players also asked to also change jerseys from black to gray.

"It was definitely just forget about it," Majam said.

The grand slam made it ancient history and took advantage of a hit batter and a fielding error by Morgan, the Southeastern Conference player of the year. Catcher Katie Grimes singled in one run, and with two outs Alabama intentionally walked Majam to face Iwata.

"It was an inside drop, and Coach basically gave me a few words to believe in myself and get me a little pumped up," Iwata said of her 18th home run. "After walking Kelly, they were leaving it up to me."

But after Hawaii extended its lead to 7-1 with another solo home run, Traci Yoshikawa's 11th of the season and the team's record-setting 152nd, Alabama roared back and tied the game in the fifth inning.

Morgan's two-run single keyed the rally, which lasted 11 batters and included six hits and two walks. With the sellout crowd of 3,218 backing the home team and Dunne back in after freshman Lauren Sewell quieted the Hawaii bats, the Tide stranded two runners in the sixth and had the bases loaded with two outs in the seventh and Morgan at the plate. Yet after already notching six RBIs, she popped out to end the game.

"I saw it and knew it was coming and just mishit it," Morgan said.

Top-seeded Alabama (52-10) outhit Hawaii 12-9 and left 11 runners on base, five in scoring position. Despite struggling with the flu, Game 1 loser Stephanie Ricketts (28-8) relieved Kaia Parnaby to earn the win. Dunne (30-5) took the loss.

Dunne will get the ball Sunday, while Hawaii coach Bob Coolen didn't announce a starter.

"We're just glad we get to play again," Murphy said. "The seniors get another opportunity. It's do or die. I think they'll all be ready to come out and put it on the line."