LAS CRUCES, N.M. – This edition of the Battle of I-10 goes to NM State.
Senior Shelby Shultes delivered the knockout blow in the first inning, and freshman phenom Matalasi Faapito homered for the fourth time in four games, as the Aggies routed UTEP, 9-1, in five innings Sunday afternoon at the Softball Complex.
NM State wraps up its season-opening Troy Cox Classic with a 3-1 record, also picking up wins against Nebraska and Bradley.
HOW IT HAPPENED
A seven-run first inning by NM State put the game away early. Six consecutive Aggies reached base before recording an out, and the lead grew to 3-0 before an out was made.
With the bases loaded and two out, Shultes pinch hit for senior Brandy Hernandez and provided immediate impact. The native of Garden Grove, Calif., making her second plate appearance of the season, smacked the fourth pitch she saw over the wall in left.
The seven-run lead after one inning of play was more than enough for junior Analise De La Rocha and sophomore Chloe Rivas. The two combined struck out four, allowing one run and two hits in five innings of work.
Faapito, meanwhile, continued her offensive tear. She went 2-for-3 with two RBI, including a massive solo shot to straightaway center.
The Temecula, Calif., native is slashing .727/.750/1.909 through the first four games of her collegiate career. She leads the team in runs (6), hits (8), home runs (4) and RBI (8).
COACH RODOLPH’S TAKE
On responding to last night’s heartbreaker
“The kids bounced back today, came out hungry and ready to play. It was a tough loss against Arkansas, but, instead of it wounding us, I wanted it to help us grow. I believe I saw that today.”
On Faapito’s weekend
“For [Matalasi] to come out on the opening weekend and just dominate the game the way that she did, it just shows how special she truly can be. She’s hungry, she’s humble, she’s very talented, and she’s going to be big for us all year long.”
On Shultes’ pinch-hit grand slam
“If there was an All-America award for pinch hitter, Shelby would absolutely win it. She didn’t even realize it was a grand slam because she was just so excited to help the team.”
On the team’s depth
“I believe that we’ve got the most depth we’ve ever had. Some of the kids haven’t made it into the game yet, but we’ve got more in cupboard. It’s coming.”
NM State hosts Omaha for a three-game set next weekend at the Softball Complex.
Friday’s first pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. MT. The series concludes with a Saturday doubleheader, which gets started at noon MT.