May 16, 2008
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -
Texas A&M used timely hitting and a strong pitching performance by senior Megan Gibson to take a 2-0 win over Stephen F. Austin Friday in the opening round of NCAA Regional play at the Aggie Softball Complex.
With the win, the Aggies (50-7) advance to take on Louisiana Tech (36-27) Saturday at noon. SFA moved to 36-24 with the loss and will take on Auburn Saturday in the double-elimination regional bracket. The game against the Tigers (37-21) is set for a 2:30 p.m. start.
The Ladyjacks had their chances against Texas A&M, the No. 5 national seed in the NCAA Championships. SFA left seven runners on base, including four in scoring position, and failed to harvest a run from a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the sixth inning.
A&M, meanwhile, stranded just three runners and made the most of the few opportunities allowed by SFA freshman ace Monika Covington.
SFA used small ball to apply some pressure in the top of the first inning. Freshman Monica Hirsch led off by beating out a chopper to third for an infield single. The next batter, sophomore Kendal Harper, bunted her over to second. Hirsch moved to third when junior Benet Higgs reached on an error by A&M first baseman Rhiannon Kliesing, but the Aggies got out of the inning on an infield pop-up and a strikeout.
A&M used a pair of hits to take a 1-0 lead in the first. Kliesing started the inning with a base knock to the right-center field gap. Higgs raced over from center to cut the ball off and hold Kliesing to a single, but Natalie Villarreal followed by bunting her into scoring position. Covington got A&M pitcher Megan Gibson on strikes for the second out.
The next batter, Jamie Hinshaw lined a base hit to right field. Harper fielded the ball cleanly and fired home, trying to cut down Kliesing at the plate. Her strong throw was in time but took catcher Kim Daley up the third-base line, allowing Kliesing to slide around the tag and give the Aggies the lead. Hinshaw stole second, but Covington retired Holly Ridley on strikes to escape further harm.
Junior Moriah Davis led off the second with a single to left field. Freshman Ashley Struchtemeyer sacrificed her over to second, but the Ladyjacks stranded her in scoring position with two straight strikeouts.
Covington retired the Aggies on three straight ground-outs in the bottom of the second, but Gibson answered by retiring all three Ladyjacks she faced in the third on strikes. Covington kept the game's pace moving by setting the Aggies down in order in the bottom of the third, with the last two outs coming on strikes.
Sophomore Briana Bishop drew a one-out walk to give SFA a baserunner in the fourth, but A&M closed the inning out on a fielder's choice and a ground-out.
Neither team put a runner on in their next at-bats, but Erin Glasco led off the bottom of the fifth for the Aggies with a base hit up the middle. She was lifted for pinch-runner Andrea Tovar, who moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Lobpries. Covington sat down Macie Morrow on strikes for the second out, and Kelsey Spittler flew out to right stranding Tovar at second.
The Ladyjacks mustered their best scoring opportunity in the top of the sixth when they took advantage of an A&M error to load the bases with one out. Harper and Higgs led off with back-to-back infield singles -- Harper's to short and Higgs' off the glove of Kliesing at first. The next batter, senior Jessica Tullos, battled hard, fouling off four two-strike offerings by Gibson before she struck out swinging. Bishop reached on a fielding error by Morrow at short in the next at-bat, loading the bases. But Gibson struck out the next two batters on six straight strikes to escape the jam.
The Aggies added to their lead with a run in the bottom of the sixth. Gibson got things started with a two-out double off the wall in straightaway center. The ball caromed off the 220-foot sign just over Higgs' outstretched glove. The next batter, Hinshaw, singled back up the middle scoring Gibson. Hinshaw stole second but was stranded there when Covington struck out Ridley to end the inning.
Gibson recorded three straight outs in the seventh to take the win. She allowed four hits and a walk and finished with 14 strikeouts in seven innings pitched. Gibson improved to 34-1 on the season.
Covington's record moved to 20-13 with the loss. She was touched for two earned runs on five hits with seven strikeouts through six innings.
Hirsch, Harper, Higgs and Davis accounted for all four of SFA's base hits.
The winner of the Ladyjacks' game against Auburn Saturday will advance to meet the loser of the day's first game between A&M and Louisiana Tech. The final game is set to begin at 5 p.m. with the winner advancing to Sunday's regional championship round.
-- SFA --
SFA Head Coach Gay McNutt
On allowing A&M to score an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth...
"The sixth inning I knew was going to be a big inning for us. You go Megan Gibson coming up and she's a tough out. We wanted to keep her to a single but that's tough against her. When she got the double against us we had to tighten up and play good solid defense. You're playing the fifth-ranked team in the country and with what seems like 3000 fans behind you screaming. It was a heck of a ballgame. We needed to keep it to one run, unfortunately that didn't happen."
On Monika Covington's pitching...
"I'm blessed to have Covington. You're looking at one of the best. She's a freshman and she's going to take us a long way. She's a tough kid and she did a nice job. When you hold Texas A&M to five hits then you're in the game."
On the game overall...
"It just didn't go our way. The ball just didn't have eyes for us tonight. Hopefully we can come back tomorrow and meet Texas A&M later in the tournament. We've got to put this behind us and focus on tomorrow."
Freshman pitcher Monika Covington
On her game plan coming in...
"Just to make sure I hit my corners really well. And to keep it low and away mainly. That's just what I aim for."