LAS CRUCES, N.M. (June 1) - The 2011 New Mexico State softball season started off with a home tournament title and ended with the Aggies' first NCAA Tournament appearance in a year marked by numerous program records and historic milestones.
Here, we take a closer look at some of those standout performances and landmark moments of the remarkable Aggie softball season.
A Solid NCAA Debut
That NCAA Tournament appearance held special significance for the Aggies. Despite appearing for the first time in the program's 37-year history, NM State opened play in the 2011 Tucson Regional, hosted by No. 8 national seed Arizona, like it had been there before.
Sophomore right-handed pitcher Alex Newman threw her first career no-hitter in the Crimson and White's first NCAA game, with a dominating 9-0 shutout in five innings over higher-seeded Texas Tech. With the first Aggie "no-no" since 2007, Newman set an NM State single-season record for wins in a season with her 23rd victory.
Newman was not the only Aggie primed for an NCAA debut. Senior Ashley Maroda finished the Texas Tech win with five RBI after cranking two home runs in a 3-for-3 performance at the plate. Freshman Valerie Swedberg also went 3-for-3 at the dish with a pair of singles and a home run.
Not to be outdone, senior Kylie Randall broke the NM State single-season stolen base record in phenomenal fashion. After stealing second base to tie the record in the top of the third inning, Randall broke the record by stealing home plate during a called double steal for her 38th stolen base of the year. She would finish the year reaching base safely in 40 of 42 attempts. Randall also made a spectacular play on a ball in the gap at shortstop to save the no-hitter and record the out at first.
Randall and Swedberg kept their late-season hitting streaks active at 12 and 11 games respectively against TTU.
The win kept NM State in the winner's bracket and was the Red Raiders' first loss at a neutral site all season.
The Aggies were running on all cylinders. The pitching staff and defense had not allowed an opposing runner to reach third base in two-plus games dating back to a semifinal matchup with Boise State in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) tournament. As a result, NM State held opponents scoreless in 21 straight innings dating back to the WAC quarterfinals against Hawai'i outscoring the opposition 25-0 in the process.
Then the Aggies faced Arizona on its home field. NM State battled the Wildcats close earlier in the season during a doubleheader in Las Cruces that saw the nightcap go into extra innings before UofA secured the sweep.
UofA All-American pitcher Kenzie Fowler was at the top of her game against the Aggies, striking out a season-high of 15 batters. The Crimson and White did post eight hits against UofA but could not bring a run across the plate, stranding 12 runners on base in an 8-0 loss.
The loss snapped a seven-game win streak that saw the Aggies claim their first WAC regular season championship as well as their first WAC tournament title that led to their NCAA debut.
That set up a rematch with the Red Raiders in the double-elimination regional, with each team blemished with a loss.
Texas Tech opened the second encounter by notching three early runs against Newman after not posting a single hit the evening before.
NM State knotted the score at 3-3 in the bottom of the fourth inning after back-to-back home runs by senior Hoku Nohara and Swedberg. Nohara's shot over the wall was her 24th of the season and 64th of her career, both Aggie records.
Tech responded with three runs in the top of the fifth for a 6-3 advantage. NM State added a run in the bottom of the frame to cut the lead to two but the Aggies went down in order the final two innings of the game.
Swedberg finished the NCAA tournament 7-of-9 at the plate, including a perfect 6-of-6 against Texas Tech with a home run in each game.
Despite the 6-4 loss, NM State finished the season with a program record of 44 wins. It marked only the sixth season of 30 wins or more in school history. The Aggies finished the year by winning 25 of its final 32 games.
Walk-off Homer and Pair of Shutouts Lead Aggies to First WAC Tournament Title
Nohara's bat perhaps provided the biggest hit of the Aggies' season in the NM State quarterfinal matchup with Hawai'i at the 2011 WAC Tournament in Fresno, Calif.
With the Aggies down 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning, Nohara entered the batter's box with one base runner at first and no outs. NM State's dream season continued with a two-run walk-off home run that sailed over the left field fence. The homer helped Nohara tie the WAC all-time home run mark of 62 on the home field of former record holder, Fresno State's Christina Clark.
The dramatic ending written by Nohara's homer capped a four-run rally by NM State over the final two innings against UH relief pitcher Jenna Rodriguez. NM State plated a pair of runs in both the sixth and seventh innings. The Aggies never led in the game until Nohara crossed the plate at the end.
The win against Rainbow Wahine, the only WAC team to take a series from the Aggies this season, paved the way for NM State to play "lights out" softball in the tourney semifinals and finals.
Next up, second-seeded Boise State was looking for revenge after a three-game sweep by the Aggies the previous weekend cost the Broncos a WAC regular season title, giving the outright championship to NM State.
Against BSU, freshman right-handed pitcher Celisha Walker was solid in the circle. She blanked Boise State on the scoreboard, allowing just five hits. She faced 26 batters and dealt just 73 pitches including 52 strikes in a stellar performance. The win marked Walker's ninth straight win of the season.
Nohara hammered her 63rd career homer in the bottom of the first that broke the all-time WAC home run record to put NM State up 2-0 early. Later, WAC Freshman of the Year Valerie Swedberg swatted her 11th home run of the season, her fifth in eight games, to bring three runs across the plate in the bottom of the fifth for the final score of 7-0.
To earn its first NCAA automatic bid and conference tournament title, the Aggie would have to defeat perennial NCAA qualifier Fresno State on its home field.
After going up 1-0 early after a Bulldog error Fresno State error, it was junior Tiare Jennings' turn to provide the winning difference maker. The Aggies scored three runs in the top of the second after a two-RBI double by Jennings to push ahead 4-0. Another FS error allowed NM State to score its final run in the top of the third frame for the final score of 5-0.
Fresno State could not solve NM State starter Alex Newman who pitched a complete game shutout allowing just four Bulldog hits on their home field.
NM State won all three of its games in the tournament. The Aggies defeated each of the other top four seeds in the tournament, while blanking the second and third seeds in back-to-back shutouts to claim the crown.
Aggies Sweep Broncos to Claim Outright WAC Title
NM State's senior weekend not only was a chance for the program to honor its seven seniors but also an opportunity to clinch the Aggies' first outright WAC regular season title by defeating then-first place Boise State.
The Aggies had been perched atop the WAC standings all season after opening the season with back-to-back sweeps of San Jose State and Utah State. But in the next-to-last week of the season NM State suffered three one-run defeats at Hawai'i while the Broncos swept third-place Fresno State in Boise to give BSU a one-game edge entering the final weekend of the season.
A three-game sweep of the Broncos would give NM State its first outright regular season title and the top seed in the WAC tournament the following week. With two wins, the Crimson and White would share the title with Boise State.
In the opening game Friday, Maroda was the hero with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the eighth inning against BSU for an 11-10 extra-inning win. The victory knotted the teams in a tie atop the WAC with 15-4 records heading into the Saturday doubleheader.
Tied at 3-3 in the opener on Saturday, NM State's bats awoke with fury. The Aggies posted 13 combined runs in the third and fourth innings to stun the Broncos and secure a share of the regular season title after a 16-3 five-inning victory.
The Crimson and White wrapped up its first conference title of any kind in program history by edging the Broncos 7-6 in the finale. The game saw the lead exchange hands a few times. NM State jumped out to a 3-0 lead but BSU roared back for a 5-3 advantage. The Aggies rallied in the bottom of the fifth with six consecutive hits to open the inning that resulted in three runs to provide the difference in the game.
Shining the Spotlight on Seven Spectacular Seniors
The senior class of 2011 is the most decorated graduating class in program history. The numbers posted by the seven seniors are impressive. A big part of the Aggies' success this season was due to the veteran leadership.
Those leaders included a quartet of four-year NM State starters, each with over 220 games played in a Crimson and White uniform. Hoku Nohara is the Aggie all-time home run leader. Kandis Jones tops the Aggie record books in hits and runs scored. Kylie Randall owns the NM State stolen bases career record. Ashley Maroda ranks among the top five in 10 different career categories including second all-time in home runs, behind only Nohara, as well as in assists.
Along with that foursome, fellow seniors Tiffany Autry, Vanessa Valles and Alex Villalobos helped the class of 2011 to become the winningest in program history with 130 victories.
Collectively, the seven seniors own 11 Aggie individual career records, nine NM State individual single-season marks and multiple program single-game records.
This year, the seniors led the Aggies to set 11 team season records in the NM State record books including most wins (44), best winning percentage (.727), most runs in a season (423), most hits in a season (577), most RBI in a season (375) and most home runs in a season (82).
Additionally, NM State matched the .341 team batting average of the 2009 squad that led the NCAA two seasons ago. With one week left to go in the season, NM State ranks fourth nationally in that category this year.
Postseason Awards Galore
NM State received national recognition on several fronts this season: for team performance in the polls as well as individual achievements both on and off the field.
The Aggies received a vote in the NFCA Top 25 poll for four straight weeks, spanning April and early May. The USA Softball poll also recognized NM State for two straight weeks during the same time period. As a result, the Crimson and White acquired votes in both national polls in each of the last three seasons - a program record.
On the field, Nohara claimed just the second All-American honor from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) in program history. She led the nation in home runs in 2011, hitting 24 pitches out of the ballpark. Nohara also led the country in home runs per game and in slugging percentage at 1.007.
As an Aggie first baseman and designated player, Nohara recorded a prolific senior season at the plate. She set new NM State single-season and career home run marks this year. Nohara also broke the WAC career record with 64 home runs over four seasons.
In addition to the new home run mark, Nohara now claims six other career NM State records including slugging percentage (.738), RBI (209), walks (138), total bases (450), on-base percentage (.490) and putouts (1,209). She also notched single-season records in six of those categories this season, excluding putouts.
A few weeks earlier, Nohara first earned NFCA All-West Region First Team honors for the second time in her career.
Jennings claimed NFCA All-West Region Second Team honors in mid-May for her second honor from the Association. Jennings is the current all-time Aggie batting average leader with a .374 clip at the plate in three seasons. She also ranks third on the NM State all-time home run list behind Nohara and Maroda.
Off the field, Jones was honored as just one of 11 Division I athletes to be named to the 2011 Capital One Academic All-America® Softball First Team, as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).
A Community Health major with a 3.88 grade point average, Jones became just the ninth NM State softball player to earn Academic All-America honors and only the fifth to claim First Team accolades. The last Aggie softball player to attain the honor was former home run leader Christine Stephens who acquired first team recognition in 2003.
A native of La Mirada, Calif., Jones set new NM State single-season records in 2011 with 82 hits and 61 runs scored. Primarily hitting in the second position of the batting order, Jones posted a .387 average at the plate while driving in 34 runs this season.
A couple weeks earlier, Jones first earned CoSIDA All-District VI First Team honors for the second time in her career.
Sophomore utility Teresa Conrad claimed CoSIDA All-District VI Second Team honors for the first time. A marketing major with a 3.74 cumulative grade point average, Conrad earned 2010 WAC All-Academic Team honors as a freshman and is on pace to repeat that feat in her second year. This season she almost doubled her batting average from .183 in 2010 to .341 in 2011. She has also quadrupled her home run numbers from two as a freshman to eight in her second year.
Prior to the conference tourney, New Mexico State head coach Kathy Rodolph received WAC Coach of the Year honors, Swedberg won recognition as the WAC Freshman of the Year and six other Aggies earned All-WAC accolades.
NM State freshman Valerie Swedberg's WAC Freshman of the Year Award is just the second claimed by an Aggie in school history. In 2005, Sarah O'Neill took home the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year Award while playing for Rodolph. That same year Aggie pitcher Sarah Seagraves won the Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year honors.
This season the Albuquerque, N.M., native hit .377 at the plate to rank third on the team. Swedberg posted 52 RBI in her rookie season, the fifth-best mark all-time at NM State. Her .748 slugging percentage ranks fourth all-time on the Aggie single-season list.
Swedberg's All-WAC First Team honor was one of six for the Aggies this season. She was the only freshman named to the 13-player conference first team. The seven Aggie All-WAC honors is a team record in a season. All four of the Aggies' four-year starters earned All-WAC recognition with three first team selections and a second team honor.
Nohara earned her third All-WAC selection this year a first team member. Jennings notched her third straight All-WAC selection as an Aggie. Jones registered her second All-WAC selection as a first team selection after earning second team honors a season ago.
Randall also received her second career All-WAC honor after nabbing a second team accolade last season. Rounding out the Aggies' 2011 All-WAC first team selections was Conrad who earned the first postseason selection of her career. Maroda earned her first All-WAC honor as a member of the second team this season.
At the conclusion of the tournament, Swedberg took home Most Valuable Player honors at the WAC Tournament just days after winning the Freshman of the Year Award. Swedberg went 3-of-9 in the tourney with two home runs and five RBI while posting a 1.000 slugging percentage.
Nohara, Jennings and Newman also earned all-tournament honors.
Nohara also went 3-of-9 with two home runs, four RBI and a 1.000 slugging percentage. Jennings drew five walks through three games to go with 3-of-7 at the plate and three RBI.
Newman was clutch in the championship game giving up four hits in a complete game, seven-inning shutout. Her ERA for the week was 0.60 with a win in two appearances. She struck out six while giving up just one earned run.
For a program-record six times this season, a New Mexico State softball player earned a weekly honor from the WAC. Swedberg was named the Hitter of the Week for her performance against Boise State, in the final week of the season.
The sixth conference recognition of the season for the Aggies followed Jennings' back-to-back honors in April, a pair of Hitter of the Week awards given to Nohara in March as well as Newman's Pitcher of the Week honor in late February. The half dozen Aggie conference awards in 2011 topped the previous high of five, set in 2007.
Rodolph Caps Milestone Season as WAC Coach of the Year
At the WAC postseason banquet, New Mexico State head coach Kathy Rodolph received WAC Coach of the Year honors after leading the Aggies to their first regular season title.
Rodolph's recognition by her peers as WAC Coach of the Year was well deserved. The Aggie skipper turned around a team that finished sixth in the league last year into a league championship squad this season. No NM State team had ever finished above third in the WAC prior to 2011. Rodolph led the Aggies to their first title of any kind with a regular season championship while earning the top seed in the conference tournament.
Along the way, Rodolph earned a pair of coaching milestones. She posted her 200th win at NM State as the Aggies defeated North Dakota 14-4 on Feb. 26 at the UTEP Invitational. A few weeks later, Rodolph posted her 400th career win as the Aggies defeated rival UTEP 1-0 on March 9.
Rodolph's Coach of the Year Award was the first for any Aggie field general since 1996 when Rick Gamez won the honor for leading NM State to 40 victories - the record win total the 2011 team toppled this season with 44.
As part of the Aggies' milestone season, Rodolph guided the Aggies to a program best 17 conference victories. NM State won 21 of its final 25 games down the stretch to end the regular season that included a pair of program-best win streaks. The Aggies matched a program record of eight consecutive victories from late March into April. The team then eclipsed that mark with a 10-game win streak later in the month of April.
Rodolph also led NM State to its first tournament title of any kind with a perfect 3-0 record to claim the WAC Tournament crown and the program's first NCAA automatic bid.
The Aggie head coach also claimed success off the field as the Aggies ranked No. 40 nationally by National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) with a team GPA of 3.305. Meanwhile, the softball team led all sports squads at NM State in community service involvement for the third year in a row.
Success Continued Throughout the Season
On the evening of March 9, Aggie fans watched as senior designated player Vanessa Valles' home run sailed over the outfield wall giving NM State head coach Kathy Rodolph her 400th career win and a season sweep of rival UTEP.
The home run marked Valles' first homer as an Aggie and was just one of several milestones in an impressive 2011 campaign.
NM State recorded three victories over top-25 opponents this season including two over then-No. 23 Fresno State in April, marking the first series win over the Bulldogs in program history. Just prior to their 6-0 program-best start in the WAC, the Aggies knocked off their first ranked opponent in then-No. 14 Nebraska.
It all started back in February with a 6-0 start and a Hotel Encanto Invitational title in Las Cruces. A few weeks later, NM State clinched the UTEP Invitational that coincided with a program-best start of 14-3. While in El Paso, Rodolph claimed her 200th victory at NM State with a win over North Dakota.
The Aggies posted a record fifth WAC series sweep by taking three games from Boise State to conclude the regular season.
Nohara Signs with Akron Racers
At the conclusion of the Aggies' season Nohara signed a contract to play professional softball with the Akron Racers of the National Professional Fastpitch (NPF) League.
Nohara is the most recent Western Athletic Conference (WAC) player to join the league, following in the footsteps of Amberly Waits (LA Tech, 2010) and Kate Robinson (Hawai'i, 2008).
On the professional level, Nohara joins the likes of former NM State softball player Stephanie Bonillas, who was chosen in fourth round of the 1997 draft by the Carolina Diamonds of the Women's Professional Fastpitch league.
Now with its first NCAA berth behind them, the Aggies return 13 players from the record-setting 2011 team after losing seven seniors. NM State signed nine newcomers in the offseason that will join the squad in the fall for the 2012 campaign.
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