FRESNO, Calif. - Behind strong pitching and two home runs, the New Mexico State softball team blanked second-seeded Boise State, 7-0, in the 2011 Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Softball Tournament at Fresno State's Bulldog Diamond Friday afternoon.
Senior Hoku Nohara ripped her 63rd career homer in the bottom of the first that broke the all-time WAC home run record of 62 held by former Fresno State player Christina Clark. The homer put NM State up 2-0 early. The Aggies went up 3-0 in the third after two Bronco errors allowed a run to score. 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.
Freshman right handed pitcher Celisha Walker was equally good in the circle as the Aggie offense was at the plate. Walker blanked Boise State (33-19), 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 after starting out 0-4.
"We were able to get timely hits today," said head coach Kathy Rodolph. "All year long we have stayed pretty steady. Whoever appears in the opposing dugout, we look forward to playing them. We just want to play up to our ability. I think our kids are playing poised and confident. If our pitchers keep hitting their spots from the circle and we defend behind them, we're going to be tough to beat."
With the win, NM State (42-15) advances to the WAC Tournament Championship Game on Saturday at 3 p.m. MT. The Aggies are the only undefeated team remaining in the tourney. NM State will face the winner of Boise State and third-seeded Fresno State. Either way, the Aggies' opponent would have to beat NM State twice on Saturday to claim a championship. The Crimson and White take home a title and an NCAA automatic bid with just one more win.
The Aggies' victory over BSU extends a new program record for wins in a season, besting the previous mark of 40 set in 1996. NM State has now won 23 of its last 27 games and defeated Boise State four straight times this season.
In the circle, Walker started against Boise State's Aubray Zell.
In the Aggie half of the first inning, junior Tiare Jennings reached on a Bronco error with two outs. Nohara then ripped her record-setting blast off of Zell over the fence in left center to put NM State up 2-0 early.
NM State added a one-run cushion to its lead after two more BSU errors in the bottom of the fourth. Senior Vanessa Valles reached on an error with two outs. Classmate Ashley Maroda then singled to put two runners on. Sophomore Teresa Conrad also reached on an infield error that allowed Valles to score and put the Aggies up 3-0.
BSU threatened to score in the top of the fifth with runners on the corners and two outs. But Aggie senior Kandis Jones made a sliding catch on a shallow ball to center field to prevent a score. The inning marked BSU's only frame with two hits on the day.
In the bottom of the fifth, NM State put the game away. Senior Kylie Randall led off with a bunt single.
Then play was halted for about five minutes when the BSU coaching staff asked the home plate umpire to have the batter's boxes chalked again. Fresno State's ground crew quickly completed the request. But the delay didn't stop the Aggie bats from rallying.
When action resumed, Randall stole her 35th base of the year on Zell. Jones followed with a fielder's choice that saw Randall safe at third. Jennings hit a bloop single to right to score Randall and increase the Aggie advantage to 4-0. Next up, Swedberg swatted her home run with one out to clear Jones and Jennings from the base paths and serve up the final score of the Aggie victory.
Bronco reliever Lela Work came into the game for Zell after Swedberg's blast. Work got BSU out of the inning with runners on the corners and retired the Aggies in order in the bottom of the sixth.
However, BSU could not score against Walker as she improved to 9-4 on the year while Zell dropped to 14-4.
NM State faces the winner of Boise State and Fresno State on Saturday at 3 p.m. MT. The Aggies will have two chances to clinch a WAC Tournament title and an NCAA automatic bid against their opponent. Fans can listen to the game live in Las Cruces on KSNM 570 AM with play-by-play from Kyle Doperalski.
For all of the latest NM State softball news, click NMStateSports.com.