LAS CRUCES, NM (KTSM) – The Aggies wasted no time flexing their muscles.
NM State kicked off the Troy Cox Classic in impressive fashion, smacking three home runs and exploding for six runs in the fourth inning to cruise to an 11-6 season-opening win against Nebraska.
The win over the Huskers is the Aggies’ eighth against a Power Five opponent dating back to the 2018 season.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Western Athletic Conference Preseason Player of the Year Nikki Butler got the party started in the bottom of the first inning. The senior catcher swung at the very first pitch of the season she saw, crushing the ball over the left-field tree line and into Presley Askew Field.
Given the early one-run lead, freshman Matalasi Faapito, making her collegiate debut on opening night against a Power Five opponent, went to work. She tossed 3 1/3 innings and kept the Husker offense at bay, allowing two runs on four hits.
Nebraska scored twice in the top of the fourth to take a 2-1 lead, but NM State came out swinging in the bottom half of the inning. The Aggies tagged Husker pitcher Lindsey Walljasper for four runs and did not slow down when Nebraska brought in a fresh arm.
NM State reached base six consecutive times before recording an out in the inning. Two more runs off of Wallace in the inning grew the Aggies’ lead to 7-2.
The Huskers, however, came back with two of their own in the top of the fifth, but sophomore infielder Casie Roberto and sophomore utility player/pitcher Chloe Rivas responded with solo blasts of their own in the bottom half of the frame.
The onslaught continued when Butler stepped up to the plate. She singled, scoring freshman utility player Hailey Tanori from third, and advanced to second on an error, which brought home freshman infielder Maya Martinez from second, as the Aggies broke out to an 11-4 advantage.
Nebraska tacked on two runs in the top of the sixth, but it was too little too late. Junior pitcher Analise De La Roca came on in relief of Rivas, who was credited with the win after going 2 2/3 innings, in the top of the seventh and shut down the Huskers to seal the 11-6 win.
COACH RODOLPH’S TAKE
On tonight’s win
“We’re super excited by how the girls came out confidently. It was a great collective team effort. Offensively, we really put a lot of pressure on [Nebraska’s] pitchers. We started a freshman in the circle, and she had a great outing. It was a great team effort, and, offensively, they did what Coach Heifner asked them to do.”
On Faapito’s outing
“She has a warrior-like mentality. She’s going to be big-time because she really takes her craft serious. She’s a student of the game, and she’s willing to go out and go toe-to-toe with anyone.”
On the offense’s explosive night
“I liked that [Nikki Butler] jumped on the first pitch she saw. That was a statement, and it really gave courage to our younger group to stay within themselves and go up with their approach at the plate.”
The Troy Cox Classic rolls on tomorrow afternoon. The Aggies square off against Bradley at 4:30 p.m. at the Softball Complex.
NM State then faces #20 Arkansas at 4:30 p.m. Saturday before closing out the four-day tournament against Battle of I-10 rival UTEP at 2 p.m. Sunday.