Courtesy of NMSU
LAS CRUCES, N.M. – The top-seeded New Mexico State softball team began play in the 2015 Western Athletic Conference Tournament by easily handling fifth-seeded Utah Valley, 13-3, in five innings on Thursday at the NM State Softball Complex.
The Aggies (43-13) only outhit the Wolverines (17-40) by one, eight to seven, but capitalized on 10 walks and a big grand slam homer by junior Fiana Finau. It was Finau’s 23rd home run of the season, leaving the Chula Vista, Calif., native one home run shy of the NM State record for home runs in a season, currently held by Hoku Nohara who slammed 24 in 2011.
“I thought we did a good job of coming out and playing our brand of softball,” Aggie head coach Kathy Rodolph said. “We have stressed all year that we are just a group of players who battle moments to the best of our ability. We did that again tonight and it paid off.”
Dallas McBride and Staci Rodriguez, the WAC Freshman and Player of the Year, respectively, both figured prominently in what was the third game of the tournament.
McBride got the start in the circle for the Aggies and picked up her 16th win of the season (16-5) after pitching the first three innings and only allowing two runs on four hits. Rodriguez, the two-time conference player of the year, went 1-for-2 at the plate, including two walks, while scoring two runs and driving in another two.
NM State quickly jumped on top after scoring a run in the first inning off of Finau’s first of five RBIs on the day, a fielder’s choice that scored leadoff hitter Rachel Rodriguez. Finau’s biggest hit, however, came an inning later after she shot a rope to straightaway center with the bases loaded and two outs.
The slam was part of a five-run second inning and gave the home team a 6-0 lead over Utah Valley after only two innings.
The Wolverines got a couple of runs back in the top of the third off of McBride after two singles and a walk cut the NM State lead to 6-2. But as they have all season, the Aggies immediately responded, and they responded by doubling their score with six runs in the bottom of the inning.
The first three batters of the inning reached, and then after an out, Rachel Rodriguez hit an RBI single up the middle and shortstop Haley Nakamura followed with another single up the middle. Staci Rodriguez then came up and hit a two-run double down the left-field line that scored her younger sister along with Nakamura.
NM State led 12-2 after three innings, allowing Rodolph to bring in Karysta Donisthorpe to relieve McBride in the circle. Donisthorpe would pitch the final two innings of the game.
The Aggies tacked on another run in bottom of the fourth. The Wolverines got the run back in the top of fifth off of a Jaylen Watson home run, but could get no closer as regular-season champs would close the game in five innings.
NM State now plays third-seeded Bakersfield on Friday at 1:30 p.m. in the opening game of day two of the tournament. The ‘Runners defeated No. 2 Missouri-Kansas City 8-7 in the best game of the day to join the Aggies as the only undefeated teams remaining in the tournament. Friday’s winner will automatically advance to the championship game on Saturday and will have to be beaten twice to lose the title.
Bakersfield is the only team that defeated NM State during conference play, although the Aggies did take 2-of-3 from the ‘Runners.