HONOLULU – The Ole Miss softball team (2-4) and No. 23 Hawaii (5-0) played another tight game at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium on Saturday afternoon, but Hawaii again was able to pull off a tight 2-0 victory to advance to the finals of the Oceanic Time Warner Cable Paradise Classic.
Just two days after dropping a 2-0 decision to Hawaii in which each team recorded just one hit, Ole Miss again played the host school tight and allowed just three hits, but couldn’t bring any runs home and fell to the top-25 ranked team. Despite the loss, Ole Miss softball head coach Windy Thees still saw a lot of good things from her team.
“It’s fun to play top 25 teams, and they’re a good squad,” Thees said. “(Hawaii’s Kaia Parnaby) is a tough pitcher, but we definitely put the bat on the ball more today. We just hit the ball too hard at the wrong times right to somebody. We had bases loaded, one out, and rip one but they turn a double play on it and that kind of let the wind out of our sails. That was a great inning for us and we were finally really attacking on their pitcher.
“I’m proud of the growth of our team. We have nine new people on our squad this year, and getting out here playing the best of the best is really good for us because I think the kids have really elevated their games and it will really help us as we go into the season.”
The Rebels’ best opportunity of the game came in the top of the sixth inning. Freshman right fielder Bri Payne began the inning with a leadoff double to left-center field, followed by a pair of beautiful bunts from junior centerfielder RT Cantillo, and freshman shortstop Haley Culley to load the bases with no outs. Ole Miss was unable to drive any runs home though, as the Rainbow Wahine forced a pop up and turned a double play on a hard hit ball to third base.
Ole Miss received strong pitching performances from its two junior transfer pitchers, Carly Hummel and Shelby Jo Fenter. Each pitcher threw complete games, as Hummel allowed just three hits and struck out four against Hawaii, while Fenter allowed two runs on five hits and struck out six against St. Mary’s earlier in the day.
“They both had their ups and downs this weekend, but I feel like they learned so much in just three days of playing and pitching, about themselves, about how to pitch fatigued, about what they need to do in the dugout and about how they need to look at scouting reports,” Thees said. “I’m really, really pleased with what I see out of them. I think by the end they both were pitching better than they ever did.”
Another bright spot for the Rebels were the performances from their freshmen. Welcoming in seven rookies this season, Ole Miss started four freshmen in each game Saturday, and played five freshmen total against Saint Mary’s.
“I’m so pleased right now (with our freshmen),” Thees said. “Haley Culley at shortstop just makes everything look so easy and she had a great day and a great tournament, really. I’m really excited to see her as a Rebel moving forward. Natalie Martinez throwing somebody out, and gunning them down was great, and Haley had a great tag at second. Then Bri Payne at the fence catching one and the kid tried to tag from second to go to third and she threw a bullet and it wasn’t even close. She was out by a mile.”
Ole Miss will play again Wednesday in its home opener against No. 10 LSU. The game will be a rare non-conference matchup between the two Southeastern Conference foes. With the Rebels and Tigers not meeting in the SEC regular season, Thees and Tigers head coach Beth Torina decided to continue the rivalry.
The game is also special because the Rebels will be participating in the Geaux Play program established by former LSU All-American Brittany Mack. Ole Miss is asking fans to donate any new or gently used sports equipment. Those who donate sports equipment at the game will receive two free tickets to the baseball home opener vs. TCU on Feb. 15 at 4 p.m. CT.
Trailing 2-0 entering the bottom of the second, Ole Miss scored one run in the bottom of the inning, one more in the fourth and broke it open with five runs in the fifth. All seven of the Rebels’ runs came unearned.
Fenter picked up her first win as a Rebel, throwing a complete game, and allowing just two runs on five hits and striking out six.
The win was Ole Miss’ second victory over Saint Mary’s (0-5) at the Oceanic Time Warner Cable Paradise Classic. Ole Miss defeated the Gaels 10-2 on Thursday in the Rebels’ season opener.