LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Jan. 6) - The New Mexico State softball team steps into the 2013 season as the host of the Hotel Encanto Invitational Friday, Feb. 8 through Sunday, Feb. 10. The Aggies welcome the Nebraska Huskers, the Illinois-Chicago Flames and the New Mexico Lobos to the NM State Softball Complex for the three-day tournament.
Coming off a 24-29 season a year ago, the Aggies look to battle their way back to the top of the Western Athletic Conference with the talent of 13 returners and seven newcomers. Head coach Kathy Rodolph begins her 10th season at the helm of the program and see's unmatched potential for her 2013 team.
"We are really excited about the year," Rodolph said. "The girls have been practicing really hand and they just can't wait to put somebody else in the other dugout. I feel like this team can absolutely vie for a conference title and that starts with this weekend."
The Aggies return 13 from the 2012 squad, including four vital parts to the program, seniors Amber Olive, Alex Newman, Teresa Conrad and Tehani Kaaihue. Conrad and Olive were named to the All-WAC preseason team just weeks ago, while the team was picked to finish third in conference. The leadership of the four seniors sets the stage for the seven newcomers for the Aggies this season.
Five true freshmen, a redshirt and one transfer make up the new class for the Aggies. Lacey Rother comes to Las Cruces after spending one season with the South Carolina Gamecocks. Starting 10 games for the Cocks, Rother will spend time behind the plate for the Aggies this season. Also putting on the crimson and white for her first season is Carlsbad, N.M. native, Thai Ramirez. Helping her high school team to five straight district titles and a second-place finish at state since her eighth-grade year, Ramirez will be a quick contributor for the Aggies. Redshirt freshman Ayssa Vargas was with the Aggies during the 2012 season as a redshirt and will user that experience to her benefit on the field come Friday.
In the circle, NM State brings back Newman and junior Celisha Walker. Newman owns a 4.22 ERA after 2012 and worked for a 10-14 record after a team-leading 137.2 innings. Walker was the least experienced of the pitching staff last season with 86.2 innings under her belt, but she finished with a 7-4 record, good for a 2.85 ERA and two saves on the season.
"Alex Newman has come a long way for us and I feel like the number one strength of our team this year is pitching," Rodolph said. "I think some teams may have a dominating number one, but I don't think they'll have the depth that we have in all four of our pitchers."
Sophomore Karysta Donisthorpe spent just over 116 innings in the circle in her freshman season for a 3.73 ERA and 105 strikeouts. The Aggies add Makayla McAdams this season to round out the pitching staff.
During the weekend at home, the Aggies face Nebraska as the season opener on Friday before battling with the Flames on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. The Aggies wrap the home tournament with the first of three games against Rio Grande rival New Mexico.
Scouting the Huskers: The Aggies welcome the Huskers for the fourth straight season and the Friday meeting marks the first of four games between the teams. The Aggies travel to the land of the Huskers in March for a three-game series. With just a 4-11 overall record against Nebraska, the Aggies fell twice last year to Nebraska while the Huskers were ranked No. 24 in the country.
After a 33-22 finish in 2012, the Huskers spent a portion of the season in the top 25, but missed the mark for an NCAA Tournament bid. The team boasts a group of all-Big Ten selections from 2012 and returns three plays with a batting average above .300. With a .301 average at the plate, Tatum Edwards also had a 2.88 ERA in the circle with a 9-5 record. She pitched 80.1 innings for the Huskers and struck out 57 batters.
Scouting the Flames: Illinois-Chicago opens the 2013 season after an even 26-26 season in 2012. The Flames finished third in the Horizon League after opening last season in Las Cruces as well. NM State topped the Flames in 2012 during opening weekend with a 5-2 win. The team batted .293 as a team in 2012 and collected 37 home runs. Melissa Perish led the Flames last season with a .391 average and was named first team all-conference for her work on the field. Perish also had a .543 slugging percentage and .474 on-base percentage while hitting five homeruns.
In the circle, the Flames return one of their top pitchers from last season, Devin Miller. In 2012 she worked for 192.1 innings and started in 32 of the games for UIC. She posted a 14-13 record and finished the season with a 3.79 ERA.
Scouting the Lobos: The Lobos open the 2013 season with a tournament in Tempe, Ariz., for five games before finishing the weekend in Las Cruces. Last season, the Lobos finished the season 27-25 overall and worked for the top national ranking in home runs per game, second in slugging percentage and 14th in batting average. With a powerful offense in 2012, UNM had a .355 batting average as a team with 72 home runs, 203 RBI and .711 slugging percentage.Top hitter Chelsea Anaya comes back for 2013 after tallying nine homers and seven doubles on the season with a .327 batting average. She also had 33 RBI in 2012. Kaela DeBroeck was tops in the circle for the Lobos with a 13-6 record and a 5.66 ERA. She worked 133.2 innings in the circle for New Mexico.