Hawaii closed its first game on Friday with a display of resilience.
The Rainbow Wahine then got an up-close look at pure dominance in the finish of the day.
The Wahine opened their Paradise Classic doubleheader with a six-run first inning against Texas-Arlington, only to see the Mavericks catch and pass them in the top of the seventh. But Nicole Lopez’s leadoff double sparked a Wahine response in the bottom of the inning and sophomore center fielder Brittnee Rossi gave UH an 8-7 victory with another double, this one a two-run walk-off line drive.
The Wahine, however, had no answer for UCLA All-American Rachel Garcia in the final game of the day.
Garcia, the reigning national player of the year and member of the U.S. national team, struck out 15 in her first start of the season and the Bruins looked every bit the part of a national title contender in a 7-0 win.
UCLA, ranked No. 1 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 and No. 2 in the NFCA/USA Today poll, launched two home runs off UH starter Brittany Hitchcock and Garcia held the Wahine offense to one single as the Bruins won their seventh straight in the series with UH.
“She’s as advertised,” UH coach Bob Coolen said. “They’re No. 1 in the country, I can see why. They have the pitching, they have the power.”
Garcia gave up a leadoff walk to Tatumn Satow then retired nine in a row — the last seven on strikeouts — before Lopez lined a single to center in the fourth for UH’s lone hit of the game. Garcia allowed just one more baserunner in perhaps the most dominant performance for a UH opponent since Cal’s Valerie Arioto, another national team member, struck out 17 in a 5-0 win on March 18, 2010.
“It all started in the bullpen,” Garcia said. “I felt nice and relaxed and felt comfortable. Sully (Colleen Sullivan) also did a nice job behind the plate, especially with framing a few pitches back there. Paige (Halstead) coming in and finishing it out. And then my team having my back, especially when Kelli Godin came in at third base. That ball always finds you when you come into the game. So she did a good job out there too.”
Aaliyah Jordan, who hit .429 while earning first-team NFCA All-America honors as a freshman, opened the scoring in the second inning with a two-run blast that soared over the scoreboard beyond the right field fence. Sullivan added another two-run homer in the fourth to chase Hitchcock.
Sophomore Emily Klee threw the final 3 2/3 innings, giving up two runs on five hits in an overall encouraging season debut in Coolen’s eye.
“We knew throwing a slower pitcher with movement would be better,” Coolen said. “Emily impressed me with her movement and we have to make a call, because were not going to take five pitchers on the road (next week to Las Vegas).”
UH hasn’t beaten UCLA since Kate Robinson and Brandi Peiler led the Wahine past the Bruins in the 2007 Los Angeles regional.
All five UH pitchers saw time in the circle in the doubleheader, starting with freshman Izzy Dino in the opener against UT-Arlington. The 6-foot-2 right hander was fairly efficient through five innings before running into trouble in the sixth and giving way to fellow freshman Ashley Murphy.
Murphy got out of a jam in the sixth but gave up a two-run homer to Reagan Wright in the seventh that erased what remained of a 6-0 UH lead. The Mavericks scratched out the go-ahead run on an RBI groundout to take a 7-6 lead.
Lopez came inches away from tying it up when her drive to lead off the bottom of the seventh hit off the top of the fence in center field.
Cheeks Ramos walked and Alyssa Sojka was hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out. A mound visit gave Rossi a chance to collect her thoughts before stepping into the box.
“I was just looking at my teammates, I was listening to my walk up song and trying to stay calm,” said Rossi, who had a walk-off homer against Cleveland State last season.
When play resumed, Rossi — who struck out in her previous at bat — ripped the next pitch into the right-center gap to score Lopez and pinch runner Bree Soma to give UH the win.
“She made a good adjustment because they threw her inside again and she was ready to get her hands through,” Coolen said.
Said Rossi: “(The comeback) was something that really showed that we could get into tough situations in games and we can push through those tough situations and fight through adversity.”
The Paradise Classic closes with five more games on Saturday. UH (2-1) is scheduled to face Saint Mary’s at 3 p.m. and Fresno State at 5, but the first two days have run well behind schedule.