TUCSON, Ariz. - The New Mexico State softball team plays its inaugural NCAA Tournament contest in program history at 5 p.m. MT Friday, May 20, against Texas Tech at the Tucson Regional hosted by the University of Arizona at the Wildcats' Hillenbrand Stadium.
The game will be called live over the air on KSNM 570 AM and on AggieAccess by Kyle Doperalski of the Aggie Sports Radio Network. Aggie faithful can also tune into a live video webstream of the game at no cost with ambient crowd noise by clicking the live video link for the game on ArizonaWildcats.com. Live stats are also available during the game and linked on NMStateSports.com.
Fans lucky enough to garner tickets to the nearly sold-out regional this weekend will see an attractive doubleheader to begin the double-elimination tournament Friday evening. In the early contest, it's a battle of powerful bats. The NM State (43-15) and Texas Tech (40-14) offenses have consistently ranked among the top 10 in offensive output this year, setting up a potential slugfest between the schools. However, the Aggie pitching staff has not allowed a run to cross the plate in the past two games during the team's Western Athletic Conference (WAC) title run over Boise State and fellow NCAA tournament participant, Fresno State.
Host Arizona (40-16), the No. 8 national seed overall, will battle Ivy League champion Harvard (36-14) in the nightcap. The four-team regional is a double-elimination tournament with opening games on Friday. Three games will be played on Saturday. Game one pits Friday's winners against one another while game two has the losing squads matching up in an elimination game. The third tilt Saturday features the loser of the early game and the winner of the day's second game in another elimination game. The regional championship will be held Sunday for the right to advance to the 16-team NCAA Super Regionals.
An Aggie win Friday keeps NM State in the winner's bracket with its next game slated for Saturday's opener. If the Aggies stumble Friday evening they would play later on Saturday in the regional's first elimination game.
NM State won its first WAC Tournament title last weekend after defeating third-seeded Fresno State 5-0 in the championship game at Bulldog Diamond in Fresno, Calif. The Aggies claimed their first outright regular-season title the weekend prior after a sweep of Boise State. The Aggies' title is the first of any kind in the program's 37-year history.
The Crimson and White first eclipsed the previous program-best victory total of 40, set in 1996, with a three-game sweep of BSU to end the regular season. NM State's current win total of 43 now stands as the program record. This season's record marks just the sixth season of 30 wins or more in NM State history. The Aggies' 17 WAC victories this season is also a program record. Entering the NCAA tourney, the Aggies have won 24 of their last 29 games.
NM State posted a record fifth WAC series sweep by taking three games from the Broncos on Aggie Senior Weekend. The champs also boast a record six series wins in the conference including their first series win against Fresno State in school history April 8-9 two games to one. NM State is 20-6 away from Las Cruces this year with an 8-2 neutral site record. The two neutral site losses came early in the season against fellow tourney squads Texas State and East Carolina.
The Aggies battled seven teams selected to the 64-team NCAA Tournament this season, compiling a 4-11 record skewed by five losses combined to No. 1 seed Arizona State, No. 8 seed Arizona and No. 9 seed Oklahoma. In addition to the aforementioned TSU and ECU, Nebraska and Fresno State round out NM State's foes in the 2011 tourney. Those two will face each other in an opening-round matchup on Friday in the Stanford Regional.
Texas Tech of the Big XII will suit up as the home team in the regional on Friday versus the Aggies. TTU opened up the season at 24-0 before suffering its first loss to Alcorn State at home on March 11. The Red Raiders improved to 35-1 before entering play in a conference that sent eight teams to the NCAA Tournament. Tech lost seven of its final eight games to end the season and finished with a 5-13 conference ledger.
The last time the teams met was in the 2009 season at the San Diego State Tournament. The Aggies posted a run-rule 9-1 victory to stop a six-game series win streak by the Red Raiders. TTU leads the all-time series 21-18. NM State won nine of 12 games in the 1980s. In the late 1990's TTU swept four of six. In the early 2000s, Tech won eight of 13. Aggie head coach Kathy Rodolph is 2-6 against her Master's degree alma mater since taking over the program in 2004. All six losses occurred in the first two seasons of Rodolph's tenure.
This season Tech is 14-5 away from Lubbock but boasts an unblemished 11-0 neutral site record.
The Red Raiders are led on offense by Emily Bledsoe with a .384 batting average. Bledsoe has started all 54 games for TTU and ranks second on the squad in runs (55), hits (58), doubles (14) and stolen bases (13). Logan Hall ranks immediately behind in batting average at .383. Hall is the team leader in at-bats (162) and hits (62) this season. Sandy James leads Tech in home runs this season with 15 and a .761 slugging percentage. Much like the Aggies, six Red Raider starters bat .340 or better at the plate.
In the circle, Brittany Talley leads TTU with a 14-6 record in 27 appearances. Talley carries a team-best 2.70 ERA and started 21 contests. Kelsey Dennis' numbers are similar with a 12-5 record in 24 appearances. Her 2.84 ERA is second on the team and she started 23 games this year. Both pitchers threw nine complete games this season and are just one strikeout apart on the season at 74 and 73.
Aggie all-time home run leader Hoku Nohara leads the nation in home runs (23) and home runs per game (.43) as of the last NCAA stat release May 15. Just as impressive, Nohara is second in the country for walks (1.15), slugging percentage (1.015) and third for on-base percentage (.612). Her career home run total of 63 now stands as the all-time home run record in the WAC.
Senior Kandis Jones owns the NM State single-season record with 79 hits this year. That count leads the WAC as do her 202 at-bats and her 59 runs scored. Jones ranks third in the league with a .391 clip at the plate in the conference. She also heads the WAC with 25 multi-hit games in 2011.
Junior Tiare Jennings leads the WAC with 225 plate appearances this year. She ranks in the top four among eight other league statistical categories including home runs (15 - T-No. 3), RBI (56 - No. 2), on-base percentage (.524 - No. 3), walks (53 - No. 2), total bases (116 - No. 2), runs scored (58 - No. 2), slugging percentage (.703 - No. 4), batting average (.370 - No. 4) and hits (61 - No. 4). In each of those categories she stands second or third on the team this season.
Senior Kylie Randall enters the regional on an 11-game hitting streak. When on base she is dangerous, Randall leads the WAC with 36 stolen bases this season to rank No. 16 nationally and is one shy of the NM State single-season record of 37. With 56 runs scored, she is third in the conference while her 72 hits rates second in the league. The Aggies' all-time bag robber is 36-of-38 on the season. Randall also leads the WAC with four triples this year.
WAC Tournament MVP and Freshman of the Year Valerie Swedberg comes into the tourney on a 10-game hit streak. Swedeberg cranked two home runs at the WAC Tourney to move into seventh place in the league with 11 round trips. She is tied for second in the WAC with 13 doubles this season. Swedberg's slugging percentage of .704 ranks third in the WAC and her 48 RBI rate fourth in the league. Her 100 total bases are fifth in the conference.
Sophomore Teresa Conrad boasts eight home runs. The infielder also ranks sixth in the WAC with 42 RBI. Her 40 runs scored ranks fifth in the conference. Conrad's on-base percentage of .436 is fifth in the WAC.
Classmate Tehani Kaaihue also boasts eight homers this year. Half of those have come in the past month - all from the ninth spot in the NM State batting order. Her slugging percentage in conference games ranks sixth overall at .673.
Sophomore pitcher Alex Newman matched an NM State record for wins in a season at 22 with her complete game shutout against Fresno State last weekend to lead the Aggies to their first conference title and NCAA bid. She leads the Aggies in the circle with a 22-6 record in 42 appearances and a 3.39 ERA. Newman is among the top 38 nationally with 22 wins.
As a team, NM State ranks among the top eight nationally in five key offensive categories in the latest NCAA stats. The Aggies boast a .342 batting average at the plate to rank fifth in the country. NM State's slugging percentage of .553 rates fifth in the country. The Aggies are sixth in the nation for scoring 7.07 runs per game this year. NM State ranks fifth nationally in home runs per game (1.33) and eighth nationwide in doubles per game (1.6).