Krista Hicks hit the game-winning home run against No. 11 Hawai'i. (Photo by Jon Hardy/BYU Photo)
LAS CRUCES, N.M. - The BYU softball team will play in the championship game of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament after putting together a 6-4 win over No. 11 Hawai'i on Friday.
The victory is the 13th in a row for BYU, the third-longest win streak in program history, putting the second-seeded Cougars in the final with a chance to take home the title the automatic NCAA qualifying bid at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Jessica Dugas, Krista Hicks and Stacie Toney each had two hits for BYU while Hannah Howell and Tori Almond split time at pitcher almost evenly for the Cougars.
BYU scored all six of its runs in the first inning, the second game in a row Hawai'i has give up half a dozen runs in the initial inning after doing so in a 7-4 loss in Provo last month.
Down 3-0 in the first after Jessica Iwata lifted a 3-run homer in the top of the inning, the Cougars answered back against Hawai'i pitcher Kaia Parnaby, who came into the game with a 0.95 ERA. A hit by pitch, bunt single and a walk by the first three BYU batters set up the Cougars to answer back.
Sophomore Katie Manuma responded, hitting a chopper that bounced once in the infield before going into right field for a single, bringing in Dugas and Tiffany Messerschmidt.
After taking a few swings, senior Stacie Toney surprised the Rainbow Wahine with a perfect squeeze bunt that resulted in the game-tying run and left Toney safe at first.
"That was the best play of the weekend," said BYU coach Gordon Eakin. "It set the tone for the rest of the game."
Senior Krista Hicks came up next with two runners on and did not disappoint. Her 3-run home run sailed over the fence in right field and put BYU on top, 6-3, forcing Parnaby out of the game after just one out.
BYU gathered 10 hits for the game, but the next six innings were all about the Cougar defense. The Hawai'i lineup, which includes six All-WAC honorees and a lot of combined power continually hit the gaps for hits but were just as often stymied by great defensive plays.
In the third inning with runners on first and second, Leisa Li'ili'i hit a deep ball straight away to center. Dugas jumped on the fence but missed the catch as the ball bounced off the wall with Iwata rounding third. After hitting the fence, Dugas quickly grabbed the ball and fired it from center field all the way to the plate where catcher Shelbi Everett collected the ball in time to tag a sliding Iwata at home.
Hawai'i tacked on a run in the fourth, the same inning Almond came in to relieve Howell. Almond struck out four over the next two innings.
In the sixth, a single and two consecutive walks put BYU in a very precarious situation with the bases loaded, no outs, and Iwata - who had already gone 3 for 3 and was a triple short of the cycle - up at the plate. But again a great defensive play halted any run the Wahine could make when third baseman Ashlee Brawley scooped up a line drive from Iwata near third, stepping on the base for one force out before running down the Hawai'i baserunner stuck between third and home, tagging her out for the double play.
Almond's very next pitch resulted in a groundout and the Cougars were out of the inning. Almond added two more strikeouts in the top of the seventh, including the final out of the game, to give BYU the victory.
The Cougars play Fresno State on Saturday at 2 p.m. MT. Because the tournament is double elimination, BYU will have two chances if needed to win the tournament. All games will be broadcast live on BYU Radio.