LAS CRUCES, N.M. - The New Mexico State softball team swept a doubleheader against No. 23 Fresno State with two run-rule victories, 10-2 and 9-1, to move into a tie for first place in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) in windy conditions at the NM State Softball Complex Saturday afternoon.
The pair of victories moves NM State (29-12, 8-1 WAC) into a first-place tie with Boise State atop the WAC standings. Fresno State (23-11, 7-2 WAC) falls to third place in the conference after the two setbacks. The Aggies' doubled their all-time win total against traditional powerhouse Fresno State with its victories Saturday.
NM State also notched its second and third victories over ranked teams this year to go with a defeat of then-No. 14 Nebraska last month. The Aggies' 8-1 conference record is the best mark after nine league games. Prior to this year the best mark was a 5-4 ledger twice. As a result, the Aggies have already eclipsed the seven league wins they posted all of last season.
NM State held the Bulldogs to just three runs on the day and only five hits over two games thanks to the strong pitching of freshman Celisha Walker and sophomore Alex Newman. On offense, the Aggies scored 19 runs and blasted 25 hits. Nine of those hits went for extra bases and four were home runs.
Junior Tiare Jennings hit a walk-off home run in game two to clinch the Aggie series win. It was her second of the game and third on the weekend. Senior Kylie Randall was also an offensive juggernaut with five hits Saturday including two triples and a double.
"I have tremendous respect for Coach (Margie) Wright and the Fresno State program," said head coach Kathy Rodolph. "But today, I think we need to tip our hats to the Aggies because we just came out ready to play. Every game we play means something. We just have to be ourselves so we don't press. I felt like the weather today was a huge factor. We are used to the fact that weather in Las Cruces means wind.
"Alex (Newman) has done a fantastic job for us all year and Celisha (Walker) has been adjusting to the Division I game. But you could see today that she faced an outstanding team today and did a fantastic job. Tiare is an amazing hitter and she was a force to be reckoned with today. That walk-off home run she hit was definitely through that 45 mph gust of wind."
After leading Fresno State to a run-rule victory on Friday night, Michelle Moses started both games for the Bulldogs on Saturday.
Walker started in the circle for the Aggies in game one, allowing just one Bulldog hit in the first.
Meanwhile, the Aggies posted just one hit off Moses in the bottom of the inning.
FS earned its second hit in the top of the second but could not score against Walker.
The NM State offense found its rhythm in the bottom of the second. Senior Vanessa Valles homered to left center for her second home run of the year - and her second career home run as an Aggie -to give NM State a 1-0 lead.
Sophomore Teresa Conrad then singled through the left side. She later stole second. Sophomore Amber Olive singled with two outs to score Conrad and then moved to second on the throw. Next up Randall tripled to left to score Olive and make it 3-0 Aggies.
That forced an FS pitching change as Moses moved to first base and Mackenzie Oakes took over the pitching duties.
But the Aggies kept the two-out rally going as senior Kandis Jones singled to left to bring Randall across for a 4-0 lead. Jennings walked before an RBI single by senior Ashley Maroda that gave NM State a 5-0 lead after two.
Walker did not allow Fresno State a hit over the next two innings, allowing NM State to extend the lead in the bottom of the fourth.
Jennings doubled to left center with one out to begin the inning. After Maroda walked, Valles singled to load the bases. Junior Shaleese Javillo came on to pinch run for Valles.
A wild pitch allowed Jennings to score and the others to advance a base with one out on the board. After a line out, freshman Valerie Swedberg stepped into the batter's box and hit a two-RBI single to give NM State an 8-0 lead heading into the fifth inning.
FS posted their final hit of the game on a single. Walker allowed a walk to put runners on first and second. An Aggie error loaded the bases for the Bulldogs with one out. NM State through a runner out at home on a fielder's choice for the second out of the inning.
Another NM State error cost the Aggies two unearned runs before Walker recorded a strike out to get out of the inning up 8-2.
NM State began another two-out rally in the bottom of the fifth when Jennings walked and Maroda singled to left. Jennings would score on a Valles single to make it 9-2 as the runners advanced on the throw to home. An RBI single by Conrad brought Maroda across for the game-winning run and the 10-2 Aggie victory.
Walker moved to 3-4 on the year with the impressive outing while Moses fell to 9-8.
In game two, Newman started in the circle for NM State against Moses. The Aggie hurler retired the first six Bulldog batters in order across two innings.
Meanwhile, NM State's offense kept on clicking against Moses.
Randall opened the game reaching on an error after a deep fly to left field. She advanced to second on the throw. A bunt single from Jones put runners on the corners. Jennings walked to load the bases with no outs. A single to left from Maroda scored two Aggies for a 2-0 lead after an inning.
NM State doubled its lead in the second. Olive hit a one-out single to left then advanced on a passed ball. Randall struck again with a triple to right center to score Olive and put the Aggies ahead, 3-0. A double to left by Jones scored Randall for a 4-0 NM State lead after two.
Fresno State got on the board after a solo home run to open the third inning to cut the lead to 4-1.
In the bottom of the inning, NM State added another pair to its total. Valles walked to open the inning and Javillo subbed in at first to run. Javillo stole second before a one-out home run to left field by Swedberg to give NM State a five-run lead of 6-1 after three.
Walker entered the game in the fourth inning for the Aggies after Newman put Moses on first with a hit by pitch. Walker didn't allow another base runner to keep the Aggie lead intact.
The Aggies continued its consistency with two runs in the fourth. After Randall doubled to right center, Jones hit a sacrifice bunt to move Randall to third with one out. Next up, Jennings rocketed a home run to right field to make it 8-1 Aggies after four.
After the home run, Moses moved over to first as Nicole Angene came on to pitch for the Bulldogs.
After a scoreless fifth inning, Walker retired all three Bulldog batters in the sixth.
That set up Jennings who powered her walk-off home run to right field - her second of the day - to clinch the win for the Aggies.
Newman earned the win to move to 18-4 and Moses suffered the loss to fall to 9-9.
The Aggies begin a four-game road swing next weekend with a three-game WAC series at Nevada beginning Friday before a trip to rival New Mexico the following Tuesday.