LAS CRUCES, N.M. - With the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) regular season championship on the line, the New Mexico State softball team celebrates its seven seniors and concludes its regular season against Boise State this weekend at the NM State Softball Complex.
The three-game series that will determine the 2011 conference title begins Friday at 6 p.m. MT with a single game and concludes with a doubleheader Saturday with first pitch slated for 2 p.m. at the Complex. The Aggie Senior Weekend celebration will begin after the conclusion of the twinbill on Saturday evening.
NM State (37-15, 14-4 WAC) now stands in second place behind first place Boise State (32-15, 15-3 WAC) in the WAC standings by one game. The winner of the weekend series will win at least a share of the WAC regular season title and clinch the top seed in next week's WAC Softball Tournament in Fresno, Calif. The Aggies would share their first league title with the visiting Broncos with two wins this weekend. With a sweep of BSU, NM State would claim its first outright WAC regular season title.
NM State could still claim a bye in the conference tourney as the second seed with one win against the Broncos and a loss by Fresno State to Nevada this weekend. In the advent of a BSU sweep, NM State would need two losses by the Bulldogs and one setback by Hawai'i at San Jose State to keep the bye and two seed. Any Aggie win or UH loss this weekend assures NM State of a top-three seed at the tourney.
This weekend the Aggies will honor their seven seniors, four of which are four-year starters. Senior Hoku Nohara is the Aggie all-time home run leader. Classmate Kandis Jones tops the Aggie record books in hits and runs scored. Fellow senior Kylie Randall owns the NM State stolen bases career record. Fourth-year player Ashley Maroda ranks among the top five in 10 different career categories including second all-time in assists while playing at third base and third on the career home run list behind Nohara and junior Tiare Jennings.
Along with that quartet, fellow seniors Tiffany Autry, Vanessa Valles and Alex Villalobos have helped the class of 2011 to already become the winningest in program history with 127 victories - with at least five games to go. Collectively, the seven seniors own 10 Aggie individual career records, seven NM State individual single-season records and multiple program single-game records.
This year, the seniors have led the Aggies to set eight team season records in the NM State record books including best winning percentage (.711), most runs in a season (359), most hits in a season (319) and most home runs in a season (69).
Last weekend at Hawai'i, NM State suffered its first series sweep in over a year. The last time the Aggies were swept was in late April 2009 at Fresno State. The extra-inning loss to UH on Apr. 29 snapped the Aggies' program-best win streak at 10 games.
The three-game slide matches the Aggies' longest losing streak of the season when NM State dropped the final three contests of a four-game set to No. 14 Nebraska on March 19-20. The Rainbow Wahine became just the fourth team this season to take two games from the Aggies. The others are all current top-15 squads including No. 15 Oklahoma, No. 14 Nebraska and No. 11 Arizona.
The Aggies' 14 WAC victories are a program record with just three conference games remaining. The Crimson and White's overall win total of 37 stands alone as the second-best victory total in program history. NM State has won 18 of their last 23 games.
The Aggies received a vote in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) top 25 poll for the fourth straight week on Tuesday. NM State dropped out of the USA Softball poll after two weeks receiving votes. NM State has achieved votes in both national polls in each of the last three seasons - a program record. In the latest NCAA Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) released Wednesday the Aggies rank No. 64 in the country.
Boise State is riding a six-game win streak after sweeping third-place Fresno State at home last weekend. Prior to that, the Broncos swept three games at fourth-place Hawai'i after dropping two of three games on the road at Utah State.
In 2010 BSU swept NM State in Boise to open the WAC regular season clinching the school's first victories in the young series. The Broncos also knocked off the Aggies in Las Cruces, 9-8, in a first-round game at the 2010 WAC Tournament last May. In 2009, NM State swept three games from Boise State in the Broncos' first year of softball. As a result, BSU leads the all-time series 4-3 having won the last four games contested.
This season BSU is 11-6 in true road games. NM State is 20-9 at home this year. All but one of the Aggie losses have been at the hands of ranked teams this year: Arizona (2), Oklahoma (2), Nebraska (3) and Fresno State (1). The lone outlier was a one-run loss to rival UNM on April 4, avenged a few weeks later in Albuquerque.
The Broncos are led on offense by Devon Bridges with a .387 batting average. Bridges leads the team with 13 home runs, 48 RBI, an on-base percentage of .520 and slugging percentage of .756. Allie Crump ranks second on the team with a .356 average at the plate and is second on the squad with 10 homers. Holly Bourke is next with a .351 batting average and leads the team with eight doubles. Kellie Kaplan leads the Broncos with 57 hits and 35 runs scored while batting .343.
Aubray Zell leads Boise State in the circle with a 14-2 record in 22 appearances and a 1.73 ERA. Crump shares duties in the circle with a 3.73 ERA in 22 appearances and a 13-6 record. Reliever Lela Work leads the WAC with seven saves this year while throwing a 4.02 ERA.
Aggie all-time home run Nohara leads the nation in home runs (21), home runs per game (.45) and slugging percentage (1.051) as of the last NCAA stat release May 1. Just as impressive, Nohara is second in the country for walks (1.19) and on-base percentage (.624). Her career home run total of 61 is one shy of the all-time WAC home run mark of 62.
Last weekend, Jones set a new NM State single-season record of 71 hits, after notching three at Hawai'i. That count leads the WAC as do her 180 at-bats while her 51 runs scored is tied for the conference lead. Jones ranks only behind Nohara with a .394 clip at the plate in the conference. She also heads the WAC with 23 multi-hit games in 2011.
Jennings leads the WAC with 200 plate appearances this year. She ranks in the top four among eight other league statistical categories including home runs (14 - No. 2), RBI (47 - No. 3), on-base percentage (.520 - No. 2), walks (46 - No. 2), total bases (105 - No. 2), runs scored (49 - No. 3), slugging percentage (.709 - No. 3), batting average (.372 - No. 4) and hits (55 - No. 5). In each of those categories she stands second or third on the team this season.
Randall leads the WAC with 32 stolen bases this season to rank No. 20 nationally. With 51 runs scored, she is tied with Jones for the WAC lead. The Aggies' all-time bag robber is 32-of-34 on the season. Randall also leads the WAC with four triples this year.
Sophomore Teresa Conrad is one of three underclassmen tied for third on the team with eight home runs. The infielder also ranks fourth in the WAC with 41 RBI. Her 35 runs scored ranks sixth in the conference.
Classmate Tehani Kaaihue also boasts eight homers this year. Half of those have come in the past two weeks all from the ninth spot in the NM State batting order. Her slugging percentage in conference games ranks fifth overall at .689.
Freshman Valerie Swedberg rounds out the Aggie trio with eight homers this year. Two of those Swedberg swatted last week. She is tied for third in the WAC with 11 doubles this season. Swedberg's slugging percentage ranks fourth in the WAC and her 37 RBI rate fifth in the league.
Sophomore Alex Newman leads the Aggies in the circle with a 20-6 record in 38 appearances and a 3.46 ERA. Newman is among the top 35 nationally with 20 wins - the third-best victory total in program history.
As a team, NM State ranks among the top 10 in four key offensive categories in the latest NCAA stats. The Aggies boast a .338 batting average at the plate to rank seventh nationally. The Aggies are eighth in the country for scoring 6.90 runs per game this year. NM State ranks ninth nationally in home runs per game (1.33) and No. 10 in slugging percentage (.550).
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