Courtesy of NMSU
LAS CRUCES, N.M. – The Western Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament champion New Mexico State softball team will play in Tucson, Arizona during the Tucson Regional of the NCAA Softball Championship beginning Friday, the NCAA announced Sunday.
The double-elimination format regional will be played from Friday, May 15 through Sunday, May 17. Joining the Aggies (46-14) in Tucson as part of the four-team regional will be host and 12th-seeded Arizona (38-17), St. John’s (28-17) and NM State’s first opponent, Minnesota (46-9).
“We are excited to go to Arizona,” Aggie head coach Kathy Rodolph said. “We understand the caliber of our opponents and have great respect for them. We also understand that we are not a team that anyone can overlook. We are playing well and ready to get going in the regional.”
The Aggies and Golden Gophers will meet on Friday at a time to be determined later. The winner will play the winner of the Arizona-St. John’s matchup while the two losing teams will meet in an elimination game.
NM State will head into the regional with familiar foes in sight as the Aggies played Minnesota earlier this season in Tempe, Ariz., during the Arizona State hosted Diamond Devil Invitational, and also hosted Arizona for a doubleheader at the NM State Softball Complex.
The Aggies are 9-60 all-time versus the Wildcats after falling in both games this season to the perennial powerhouse. A 6-1 loss to Minnesota (Feb. 20) dropped NM State to 8-9 all-time versus the Golden Gophers. If the Aggies meet up with St. John’s, it will be the two programs first-ever meeting on the softball diamond.
Minnesota pitcher and current finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Sara Groenewegen was dominant during the then No. 15 Golden Gophers’ victory over NM State earlier this season. She only allowed four hits, two each to Staci Rodriguez and Malena Padilla. Padilla marked the only Aggie run on a solo home run.
Versus then No. 17 Arizona (Mar. 21), NM State lost game one in five innings, 14-2, before losing a heartbreaker in extra innings, 11-6. The Wildcats marked 10 runs in the first two innings off of Aggie pitching in game one en route to run-ruling NM State.
Game two went much smoother for the home team. The Aggies actually had a 6-2 lead going into the final inning after a four-run bottom of the sixth. Arizona, however, marked four runs in the seventh to force extra innings and then won the game after a five-run top of the eighth.
NM State set a school record for wins in a season Saturday with its 45th and 46th wins of the season after defeating Bakersfield twice to take the WAC Tournament crown. The old record was held by the 2011 team, the last Aggie softball team to make the NCAA Regionals, which finished with 44 wins.
NM State is led by WAC Player of the Year Staci Rodriguez, who has a .408 batting average, a .769 slugging percentage and a .535 on-base percentage. She has 16 doubles, 15 home runs and 56 RBIs on the season. Teammate Fiana Finau tied the program record with her 24th home run of the season Saturday. All of the NM State starters are hitting above .300 this season, as the team ranks sixth nationally in batting average (.354), seventh in slugging percentage (.616), eighth in home runs per game (1.7), ninth in on-base percentage (.451) and scoring (7.57) and 23rd in doubles per game (1.6).
Danielle Parlich, a finalist for the NFCA Freshman of the Year, leads Minnesota with a .409 batting average and has a team-best 72 hits. Groenewegen has gone 28-5 with a 1.54 ERA, racking up 344 strikeouts. At the plate, the sophomore has a .379 batting average and leads Minnesota with 12 home runs, a .677 slugging percentage and a .487 on-base percentage.