LAS CRUCES, N.M. - New Mexico State softball senior Ashley Maroda kicked off the Aggie Senior Weekend in superb fashion with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to give NM State an 11-10 victory over Boise State Friday night at the NM State Softball Complex.
NM State (38-15, 15-4 WAC) never trailed in the game, exploding for five runs in the bottom of the second inning. But Boise State (32-16, 15-4 WAC) rallied to tie the game twice, once at 6-6 in the top of the fourth and again at 10-10 after a four-run rally in the top of the seventh inning. The Aggies used 15 hits, including two solo home runs by Maroda and freshman Valerie Swedberg to plate 11 runs. However five Aggie errors, including three straight in the fourth, allowed Boise State to stay close throughout the game.
The teams' doubleheader Saturday that will determine the 2011 conference title is slated to begin at 2 p.m. on the Complex grounds. The Aggie Senior Weekend celebration will begin after the conclusion of the final game early Saturday evening.
"it was a great battle tonight by both teams," said head coach Kathy Rodolph. "I feel like we played tight and it caused us to have some uncharacteristic errors on defense. But I also feel like part of that was Boise State pushing us tonight. I think all three games are going to be a battle between two very good teams.
"We had Ashley (Maroda) and Teresa (Conrad) coming up for us in the eighth and they've been big for us this year. The more pitches Ashley got to see, the better her at-bat got. She was due, got ahold of it, and thank goodness she did."
With the win, NM State forces a tie with the visiting Broncos atop the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) standings at 15-4, one game ahead of third-place Fresno State at 14-5. If the Aggies sweep the Broncos in Saturday's doubleheader, they clinch their first outright WAC championship and the top seed in next week's WAC Softball Tournament in Fresno, Calif. If the Broncos sweep the doubleheader, Boise State would win its first outright WAC championship and claim the top seed.
If the teams split the twinbill on Saturday, NM State and Boise State would share the title, possibly with Fresno State if the Bulldogs sweep Nevada. However, the top seed would go to the Aggies based on WAC tiebreakers. If Fresno State loses a game with a split, the Aggies would win the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Broncos with the help of tonight's win, 2-1.
In a three-way tie, NM State and Boise State would hold 4-2 head-to-head records against the other two teams; Fresno State would be 1-5 thus giving the Bulldogs the third seed. The Aggies would claim the top seed based on a 2-1 series win over the Broncos this weekend thanks to the NM State win tonight.
The Aggie one-run win snapped a three-game losing streak overall and a four-game string of losses to Boise State. It also snapped Boise State's six-game win streak. The all-time series is now tied 4-4.
The Aggies' 15 WAC victories are a program record with just two conference games remaining. The Crimson and White's overall win total of 38 stands alone as the second-best victory total in program history, two shy of the top total of 40 set in 1996. NM State has now won 19 of their last 24 games.
Aggie sophomore right-hander Alex Newman and BSU's Aubray Zell started in the circle for their respective squads.
The Aggies committed their first error on the opening Bronco at-bat but the Aggie defense retired the next three batters.
NM State threatened in the bottom of the first after a bunt single by senior Kylie Randall. She added her 33rd steal of the season before a pair of walks to junior Tiare Jennings and senior Hoku Nohara loaded the bases with one out. But Zell struck out the next two batters to escape the inning unscathed at 0-0.
A double-play by left fielder Jennings stopped the Broncos from posting a run and got NM State out of the top of the second. After making a catch for the second out of the inning, Jennings threw a strike to catcher Brittany Clifton at the plate who tagged out the Bronco runner for the final out of the inning.
The Aggies batted around in a big second inning against Zell. Swedberg opened with a single through the left side. A sacrifice bunt by Clifton moved Swedberg to second. Sophomore Tehani Kaaihue then singled to right field to put runners on the corners.
Kaaihue advanced to second on a wild pitch before another Randall bunt single loaded the bases. Senior Kandis Jones singled to left field to score Swedberg and give NM State an early 1-0 edge. Zell then hit Jennings with a pitch to score Kaaihue and put the Aggies up 2-0.
Nohara doubled down the left field line to score Randall and Jones for a 4-0 Aggie lead. Jennings scored on another wild pitch by Zell for the final run of the inning.
Down 5-0, Boise State got on the board in the top of the third with a solo home run to close the gap to four runs.
Swedberg's solo shot over the left field wall in the bottom of the third put NM State up 6-1 and chased the Broncos' ace Zell from the circle after just two innings of work. Sophomore Lela Work came on to complete the game for BSU. Work retired the next three batters to end the third frame.
Boise State battled back to tie the game with five runs in the top of the fifth. The Broncos started with a single and a sacrifice bunt before a pair of back-to-back home runs helped BSU get within two at 6-4. Newman registered a strikeout but three straight Aggie errors helped Boise State plate two unearned runs and knot the game at 6-6. Junior Kelsey Schueler came on in relief of Newman to record the final out of the inning.
NM State quickly regained the lead in the bottom of the fourth. Jones opened with a single and then scored on a two-out double by Maroda to put the Aggies up 7-6.
Schueler blanked the Bronco bats over the next two innings before NM State cushioned its lead in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Jones notched her third hit of the evening with a single to start the Aggie sixth. Jennings reached on an error after an attempted bunt; Jones moved to third on the play. Sophomore Teresa Conrad doubled to left field with one out to score Jones and give the Aggies a two-run lead.
Swedberg followed with a two-RBI double to score Jennings and Conrad. With the pair of runs NM State led 10-6 heading into the top of the seventh.
Three outs away from a win, Schueler forced a ground out to begin the inning before giving up a walk. A single to left field put two Broncos on with one out. Newman re-entered the game in the circle for Schueler but soon after a wild pitch advanced both runners to scoring position. A walk loaded the bases before BSU doubled down the left field line to score two and close to within 10-8. A single and an Aggie throwing error allowed two more Broncos to score and tie the game at 10-10. The Aggie defense came up big with the final two outs of the inning.
In the NM State half of the seventh, the Aggies stranded Jones at second after her fourth hit of the game - a two-out double to left field.
In extra innings, Newman forced two pop flies before walking a third batter. A fielder's choice got the Aggies out of the BSU half of the eighth, setting up Maroda's heroic walk-off home run in the bottom of the frame.
At the conclusion of the series Saturday night, the Aggies will honor their seven seniors, four of which are four-year starters. Nohara is the Aggie all-time home run leader. Jones tops the Aggie record books in hits and runs scored. Randall owns the NM State stolen bases career record. Maroda ranks among the top five in 10 different career categories including second all-time in assists while playing at third base and is tied for second with Jennings on the career home run list behind Nohara.
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 128 victories - with at least four 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 (.717), most runs in a season (370), most hits in a season (334) and most home runs in a season (71).
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