FRESNO, Calif. - The New Mexico State softball team made history again Saturday afternoon by clinching the program's first NCAA Tournament bid after defeating Fresno State 5-0 in the 2011 Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Softball Tournament Championship at Fresno State's Bulldog Diamond.
With its first tournament title, the Aggies earn an automatic bid into the 64-team NCAA tournament to be announced Sunday, May 15 at 8 p.m. MT on ESPNU. The team invites all of the Aggie faithful to a Selection Show Watch Party Sunday night at The Game beginning at 7 p.m. MT.
NM State (43-15) went ahead 1-0 early in the game's first at-bat after a Fresno State error. The Aggies scored three more in the top of the second after a two-RBI double Tiare 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.
"In the bottom of the seventh after we got the leadoff out, we felt a lot better," said head coach Kathy Rodolph. "Then we knew one could not hurt us by themselves and then got the next one out and then it was just elation on the third out.
"We have taken to the fact that we are a big family and that everyone contributes in one way or another. We couldn't have better team chemistry and we're just glad we have another week to play."
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. With the victory Newman tied the single-season win mark by a pitcher in program history set by Sarah Seagraves in 2005.
Senior Kylie Randall also approached a single-season record with her 36th stolen base of the season - one shy of the mark of 37 set by Andrea Benford in 1996.
Freshman outfielder Valerie Swedberg won Most Valuable Player honors at the WAC Tournament just days after winning the Freshman of the Year Award on Wednesday. Swedberg went 3-of-9 in the tourney with two home runs and five RBI while posting a 1.000 slugging percentage.
Three other Aggies earned all-tournament honors including senior Hoku Nohara, junior Tiare Jennings and sophomore Alex Newman.
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.
NM State won all three games in the tournament, defeating the other top three seeds of the tournament, blanking the second and third seeds in back-to-back shutouts. After a 5-4 walk-off victory over fourth-seeded Hawai'i on Thursday, NM State toppled second-seeded Boise State 7-0 Friday afternoon before knocking off the third-seeded Bulldogs 5-0.
"I feel like today was Newman's most consistent game all year long," added Rodolph. "We really talked about a game plan going into it and I was extremely really proud that she stayed with it the entire time.
"Val (Swedberg) has come through big for us this year. I felt Tiare (Jennings) did a really nice job with her double in the second, going the other way with it. She has a great eye at the plate and she can really pick up the ball early and send it where it needs to go."
The Aggies' victory over Fresno State extends a new program record for wins in a season, besting the previous mark of 40 set in 1996. NM State has now won 24 of its last 28 games and defeated Fresno State a record three straight times this season.
In the circle, Newman battled against Fresno State starter Mackenzie Oakes.
In the top of the first, senior Kandis Jones reached on an error with one out. Jennings drew a walk as did Nohara to load the bases. Swedberg came through with a single to shortstop to score Jones unearned.
NM State cushioned its lead in the second. Sophomore Teresa Conrad capped a terrific tournament with a one-out single to left. Junior Brittany Clifton followed with a single to center. Randall then singled to move the runners; Conrad scored on the play after a Bulldog error. Jennings then ripped a two-RBI double to score Clifton and Randall to put the Aggies up 4-0 after two.
The Aggies posted their final run of the game in the third frame. Senior Ashley Maroda reached on an error. Conrad then doubled to right center to put two Aggies in scoring position. Clifton then hit a sacrifice fly to center field to score Maroda.
Newman and the Aggie defense allowed only five Bulldogs to reach first base; none advanced beyond that first bag through seven innings. The Aggie starter moved to 22-6 on the season while Oakes dropped to 18-5 on the year.
NM State will now wait to see its seeding and regional pairing from the NCAA Selection Committee on Sunday evening. The Aggies could play as close to home as Arizona but could also travel to any of the 16 regional host sites across the nation.
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