Courtesy of NMSU
LAS CRUCES, N.M. – The New Mexico State softball team won its second Western Athletic Conference regular-season championship after defeating Grand Canyon 7-6 on Friday off of a Rachel Rodriguez walk-off single to that concluded a three-run final inning for the Aggies.
The only other time NM State (38-13, 12-1 WAC) has won a conference championship was in 2011 when it brought home its first-ever title. Grand Canyon (28-20, 9-4 WAC) still had a shot at the title coming in, but had to sweep the three games from the Aggies this weekend.
“(I’m) very proud of the team’s battle tonight,” NM State head coach Kathy Rodolph said. “It took everyone battling every pitch on both sides of the ball. As long as we continue to do that we will be where we want to be.”
The ‘Lopes were three outs away from taking the first step towards the sweep after heading to the bottom of the seventh with a 6-4 lead and then collecting the first out of the inning after a Fiana Finau strikeout.
But following Finau was senior first baseman Kelsey Dodd, who earlier in the game had hit her 30th home run of her career to tie the game at 3-3. Dodd immediately cut the Grand Canyon lead in half after belting her second long ball of the night, a solo shot to left center.
Dallas McBride, who started in the circle for the Aggies and collected her 13th win of the season, then drew a walk to put the tying run on base. She was lifted for pinch runner Lucy Mendoza.
Malena Padilla followed McBride with a bloop single to left field. The senior leader had perhaps the best at-bat of the inning after fouling four pitches with a full count before finally collecting her second hit of the night. A walk to Tatum Reedy by Grand Canyon pitcher and eventual loser Taylor Nowlin loaded the bases for the Aggies and put the winning run on second base.
Another senior, Lacey Rother, came in to pinch hit and proceeded to hit a sacrifice fly to center field that scored a diving Mendoza from third base. The Las Cruces native and Onate High School grad needed all her speed and a great slide to barely avoid the tag from ‘Lopes catcher Brittany Medina.
Mendoza’s run tied the game at 6-6 and set up Rodriguez for her walk-off antics. With two outs, the freshman calmly stepped into the box and hit a 2-1 pitch to shallow center field and watched as Padilla rounded third and came in to score the winning run and give NM State the 2015 WAC regular-season championship.
The freshman McBride pitched a total of six complete innings in two stints in the circle to improve to 13-5, allowing four runs on eight hits while striking out six batters. Dodd finished 2-for-3 with her two homers and three RBIs while Padilla finished 2-for-4 and scored two runs, including the most important one on the night.
Grand Canyon went up early after and three-run home run by Medina in the top of the second gave the visitors a 3-0 lead. The Aggies answered with a Padilla run in the bottom of the frame and then tied the game on Dodd’s first home run of the night in the third.
The ‘Lopes broke the tie by scoring a run in the top of the fifth and then also marked a run in the sixth and another in the seventh inning. NM State got an important run in the bottom of the sixth off an Emma Adams RBI single up the middle that hit the second base bag and bounced to the outfield.
With the win and the WAC title secure, the Aggies can now enjoy Senior Day on Saturday as the three-game series concludes with a doubleheader slated for a 4 p.m. start. Seniors Staci Rodriguez, Kelsey Dodd, Malena Padilla, Lacey Rother and Las Cruces native Nikki Diaz will be recognized at the conclusion of the second game.