Wahine heading to NCAA softball regional
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When the Hawaii softball team left the ballpark last Friday, it appeared the Rainbow Wahine had packed up their gear for the last time this season.
Instead, the Rainbow Wahine will soon be packing up for a trip to Arizona.
The Wahine (38-19) were awarded a berth in the NCAA Regionals yesterday, drawing Mississippi State (40-20) in Friday's first round of the Tempe, Ariz., regional hosted by Arizona State (56-5).
The second-ranked Sun Devils open against Stony Brook (33-21-1).
The Hawaii-Mississippi State game is tentatively scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Hawaii time. The double-elimination regional runs through Sunday.
UH finished third in both the Western Athletic Conference's regular-season standings and tournament. But a solid power rating helped put them among four WAC teams to earn berths, joining Louisiana Tech, Nevada and Fresno State.
Hawaii is making its eighth trip to the NCAA tournament, but only advanced out of the regional round last year:
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Hawaii softball coach Bob Coolen had some apprehension about going to Eastside Grill to watch the NCAA tournament selection show yesterday afternoon.
The just-completed Western Athletic Conference tournament left the Rainbow Wahine in a less-than-favorable position heading into the selections, and Coolen was wary of sitting through the entire show only to leave disappointed. But he ultimately decided to join the team for the get-together.
After the team watched most of the tournament field go by without the Wahine being announced, "Hawaii" suddenly popped onto the screen.
"The team just erupted," Coolen said. "All kinds of excitement, people jumping up and down."
The Wahine (38-19) were granted a berth in the 64-team NCAA tournament field yesterday, drawing Mississippi State (40-20) in the opening round of the Tempe, Ariz., regional hosted by Arizona State.
Hawaii and Mississippi State meet at 1:30 p.m. Hawaii time Friday in the opening game of the double-elimination regional. The host Sun Devils (56-5) face Stony Brook (33-21-1) in the other first-round game.
The Tempe winner advances to the Super Regionals to face the winner of the regional hosted by Northwestern for a berth in the Women's College World Series.
The Wahine gathered for the selection show holding out hope that third-place finishes in the WAC's regular season and tournament might be enough to earn them an at-large spot in the field. But with three WAC teams already assured berths, it looked like Friday's 2-1 loss to Nevada in the WAC tournament might signal the end of the season and the careers of five seniors.
Instead, the selection committee rewarded the seven-team conference with four tournament berths for the first time since 1995, sending UH to the regionals for the second straight year and the eighth time overall along with WAC tournament champion Louisiana Tech, regular-season champ Nevada and 10th-ranked Fresno State.
UH had been nationally ranked for much of the season until falling out in the final weeks. They picked up wins over nationally ranked Northwestern, Long Beach State and Fresno State along the way and the WAC's power rating jumped from 14th in the preseason to eighth in the latest listing.
The Wahine went 5-5 in their last 10 games, all of the losses coming by one run. But rather than having the entire offseason to contemplate opportunities lost, they were granted another.
"The kids were just off the wall. You couldn't even hear the announcers," Coolen said. "Then the reality sets in that we have a lot of work to do to get off the island."
The regionals come during final exams on the Manoa campus and Coolen said the team's travel itinerary will be finalized today.
The Wahine won the Los Angeles regional last year and became the first WAC team to play in the Super Regionals before falling to Tennessee one win short of a trip to the Women's College World Series.
"I think that helped us this year. We are competitive, we have a good reputation and let's see what we can do this year," Coolen said.
Mississippi State was among eight Southeastern Conference teams to make the regionals. The teams met last season with UH winning 3-2 on a walk-off homer by Valana Manuma in the UNLV Desert Classic in Las Vegas.