Aggie Softball Drops Opening Game At NCAA Regional

Written By: NM State Athletic Dept.

TUCSON, AZ - The New Mexico State softball team began play at the NCAA Championship Tucson Regional by losing to top-20 Minnesota 10-2 in six innings on Friday at Hillenbrand Stadium.

It is the second time this season the Aggies (46-15) have fallen at the hands of the Golden Gophers (47-9) and their superstar pitcher Sara Groenewegen.

The lone highlight of the day for NM State was a two-run home run by senior Staci Rodriguez in the top half of the first. Unfortunately, the long ball was one of only three hits mustered by the Aggies versus Groenewegen. Rodriguez, sister Rachel Rodriguez and shortstop Haley Nakamura, who was celebrating her 20th birthday, all went 1-for-2 on the day for NM State’s only hits.

“I thought we did some good things today that won’t show up in the box score,” Aggie head coach Kathy Rodolph said. “The key in postseason is to do the little things right. We had some moments where we did that and some moments where we didn’t.”

If there was one good thing for NM State that came out of only getting three hits it was that the team has now tied the program record for hits in a season of 577, one of only a few records that remained to be broken this season.

Groenewegen, who only allowed four hits and a run while striking out 11 in an earlier meeting this season between the two teams, pretty much duplicated the first game, allowing two runs on three hits while striking out 10 on Friday.

Rachel Rodriguez began the game by taking a walk and would later score after her older sister knocked out her 16th home run of the season and 56th of her career to give the Aggies an early 2-0 lead.

But the lead was short-lived as Minnesota would counter with four runs in the bottom half of the first off of NM State starter Dallas McBride. The freshman left-hander would then allow three more runs in the second, her final inning in the circle, as the Golden Gophers took away the early NM State momentum to take a 7-2 lead after two full innings. McBride would be saddled with the loss to fall to 18-6 on the season.

Redshirt junior Karysta Donisthorpe would enter in relief in the third but fared no better early as she allowed three hits to the first four batters she faced as the Golden Gophers tacked on another two runs in the inning to increase the lead to 9-2. Donisthorpe, however, would settle down and put Minnesota down in order in the next two innings.

But by that time Groenewegen was cruising with a lead. After allowing the home run to Rodriguez she would not allow a hit to the next 14 batters, erasing 12 of them, including eight in a row, while walking two.

The Aggies did threaten in the top of the fifth however. After pinch-hitter Nue Sivia struck out to start the inning, Nakamura singled and Rachel Rodriguez doubled to put runners on second and third with one out. A pop-up flyball made it two outs, but Staci Rodriguez followed with a walk to load the bases for senior first baseman Kelsey Dodd. She would work the count to 3-2 but struck out swinging to end the threat.

The Golden Gophers would end the game the following inning after a hit batsmen, a walk and a single loaded the bases, setting up Minnesota center fielder Erica Meyer to end the game with a sacrifice fly to center field.

NM State now plays St. John’s, who lost to host Arizona 4-2 on Friday, in an elimination game on Saturday at 4 p.m. (MDT). If the Aggies win that game they will play another game immediately following. Should NM State get two wins on Saturday it will head to the final day needing two wins versus the undefeated team to win the regional.

Although in a tough position, the Aggies recently were in a similar position after losing to Bakersfield, ironically also by a 10-2 run-rule score, at the WAC Tournament in Las Cruces. NM State would come back to win three games in a row, including the final two against the ‘Runners, to take the WAC crown and advance to the regional. The only difference is that this time the Aggies must win four games in a row.

“We have been in tough spots throughout the season and we know how to respond,” Rodolph said. “I have confidence we will find our best effort tomorrow.”

Saturday’s game(s) can be heard live in Las Cruces on 98.7 FM with Hall of Famer Jack Nixon on the call. All regional games also have a live stream and live stats available. Follow the regional central page link provided for access.