Courtesy of NMSU
LAS CRUCES, N.M. – A day after clinching the Western Athletic Conference regular-season championship, the New Mexico State softball team wrapped up conference play by taking two games against Grand Canyon on Saturday, completing the three-game sweep over the ‘Lopes.
The Aggies (40-13, 14-1 WAC) won game one 6-3 before taking game two 15-5 in five innings on what was Senior Day where NM State’s five seniors, Nikki Diaz, Malena Padilla, Kelsey Dodd, Lacey Rother and Staci Rodriguez were recognized at the conclusion of the second game.
With the two wins the Aggies get to 40 wins for the first time since 2011 when they also won the WAC regular-season title and also took home the WAC Tournament crown to advance to their only NCAA Regional appearance. NM State also finished the WAC regular season with a 14-1 record, its best record in conference play in program history.
“I’m very proud of the team today,” Aggie head coach Kathy Rodolph said. “We had outstanding contributions again from everyone to sweep a very well coached and scrappy Grand Canyon team. Great day for the seniors and great day to be an Aggie.”
It was a mixture of old and new that got it done for the Aggies on Saturday. The seniors definitely came out and played on their night as both Padilla and Dodd finished a combined 3-for-6 at the plate. Padilla also knocked out her ninth home run of the season in game two. Rodriguez, meanwhile, also finished 3-for-6 and scored a run in each game to tie the NM State record for most runs scored in a season of 61.
Not to be outdone, the freshman also came out in full force with Dallas McBride picking up her second win in as many days, Staci’s younger sibling Rachel going 5-for-6 at the plate with four runs scored and Corrin Green with the biggest shot of the day, a walk-off grand slam that ended game two in the sixth inning.
Also coming up big for the Aggies was junior power hitter Fiana Finau, who hit two solo shots in game one, her 20th and 21st homers of the season, passing her teammate Staci Rodriguez for second place on the most home runs in a season list for NM State. Finau is now only three home runs from former Aggie Hoku Nohara who hit 24 home runs in 2011. And she still has two regular season games, the WAC Tournament and perhaps the NCAA Regional to catch Nohara.
NM State fell down early in game one after the ‘Lopes scored a run in the top of the first, but the Aggies quickly answered after Rachel Rodriguez led off the bottom of the inning with a single and third baseman Emma Adams followed with a two-run shot to left-center field.
Junior Makayla McAdams started in the circle for NM State and saw her offense give her another run in the third inning as the Aggies led 3-1. McAdams would see Grand Canyon load the bases in the top of the fourth, but a slow groundout would get the right-hander out of the inning.
McAdams did, however, allow a hit to start the fifth and was pulled for McBride. Although the ‘Lopes tied the game with a couple of runs, they once again left the bases loaded. Finau would immediately make them pay after her first homer to lead off the bottom of the inning.
NM State would add another run in the inning before Finau came up in the sixth and for the second-straight inning belt a shot out of the park. McBride would allow a double to start the final inning before being pulled for Karysta Donisthorpe who came in and struck out two and induced a little grounder to pick up her third save of the season.
Donisthorpe immediately turned around and started the series finale, only allowing one run through the first four innings. Rachel Rodriguez again led off the NM State portion of the first with a single and later scored on a groundout by her older sister. Padilla slammed her solo shot in the second as the Aggies led 2-1 through four innings.
But Grand Canyon got to Donisthorpe in the top of the fifth, marking three runs on three hits, including a two-run blast by shortstop Kelsey Barak. NM State went from up a run to down a run.
But as has been the case all season, the Aggies quickly answered the bell, getting the three runs back plus another in the bottom half of the inning after starting the inning with five-straight singles as the home team took a 6-4 lead heading into the sixth inning.
McBride came in and pitched the sixth, allowing the ‘Lopes to get an unearned run to cut the lead to one at 6-5. This time NM State would answer in a bigger way, as nine of 10 batters in the bottom of the sixth reached base, including the final eight, the last of which was Green who hit a towering shot over left field with the bases loaded to end the game.
Although the WAC regular season is over, the Aggies still have two games before hosting the WAC Tournament as they head south to El Paso, Texas, on Tuesday for a doubleheader versus I-10 rival UTEP slated to begin at 4 p.m.