COLLEGE STATION, Texas- Texas A&M freshmen Rhiannon Kliesing and Natalie Villarreal combined for a six-hit, five-run effort at the plate as the fifth-seeded Aggies (54-7) punched their second-consecutive ticket to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City with a 9-4 victory over the Stanford Cardinal (49-15) on Sunday.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our team and the way our kids came out and played this weekend,” A&M head coach Jo Evans said. “We took care of business the second we walked on the field and put a lot of pressure on their pitching staff and on their defense.”
Keeping in rhythm from last night, A&M used longballs by Macie Morrow and Kliesing to plate the first three runs of the game. Morrow hit a two-run shot in the top of the second scoring Holly Ridley who’d reached on a single up the middle. Leading off the third, Kliesing hit her fourth round-tripper on the year.
“I really felt that Rhi set the tone for us in these games as a leadoff hitter,” Evans noted. “She may not be the prototypical leadoff hitter but she’s gone up their and really gotten hot at a time when we’ve needed her.”
The 1,416 in attendance on a hot and humid afternoon at the Aggie Softball Complex saw A&M manage yet another run in the third as Villarreal logged a single and came home on an Erin Glasco basehit into center.
Kliesing and Villarreal would factor into the scoring for the Aggies again in the fourth inning. With two outs Kliesing hit a hotshot at the Erin Howe who deflected the liner into shallow rightfield. Villarreal drove a double deep into the right-centerfield gap scoring Kliesing from first. Megan Gibson traded places with Villarreal drilling a double of her own down the leftfield line. Shannon Koplitz rushed a throw to try and get Jamie Hinshaw out at first but wasn’t successful as Hinshaw was called safe and Gibson scored. The Aggies took a 7-0 lead into the bottom of the fourth.
Stanford tried to chip away at A&M’s lead in the bottom half of the frame. With one out Maddy Coon hit a solo homerun, her 10th of the season on a 2-2 pitch. The Cardinal would plate another run in the inning, this one coming off a walk and back-to-back singles by Howe and Melisa Koutz, cutting A&M’s lead to five runs.
The 7-2 score held until the top of the sixth when Kliesing recorded her third hit of the game, a double over the head of rightfielder Anna Beardman. Kliesing moved to third on a bunt single by Villarreal and came home on a single by Ridley. Glasco posted her third hit of the game in the sixth, as well, scoring Villarreal with the bases loaded.
The Cardinal countered again in the bottom of the frame, cutting the Aggies’ lead back to five runs with a two-run dinger by Smith. Scoring on the homerun was pinch runner Autumn Albers who was brought in for Rosey Neill.
Coon, Howe and Koutz tallied six of Stanford’s eight hits, each with two.
Both A&M and Stanford sat down quietly in the seventh with both Gibson and reliever Ashley Chinn retiring the side in order.
Chinn replaced Missy Penna (37-13) after just two innings of work. Penna was again charged with the loss, surrendering four runs on four hits and one walk. Chinn worked five complete allowing five more runs to score on nine hits. She struckout seven Aggie batters.
Gibson earned her 38th victory and 37th complete game in the circle. The two-time NFCA All-American worked seven complete giving up four runs on eight hits.
“I can’t say enough about what Megan’s done all season long,” Evans said. “She was true to form today. I thought she really fought hard today. To me it showed so much about her mental toughness. I thought Stanford did a nice job of continuing to come back. I kept thinking, ‘This is it. We’re going to put the game away, possibly run-rule them.’ And they would come right back.”
It was the third time this season A&M has posted a 13-hit game. It was the 19th time the Aggie batters combined for double-digit hits.
The Aggies will face Virginia Tech on Thursday at 2 p.m. in the opening round of the 2008 Women’s College World Series at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. The seven-day event kicks off on Thursday, with the national champions being crowned the following Tuesday or Wednesday in a best-of-three series.
“I think in a way we expected to be back [in the World Series],” Gibson said. “This is a different feeling than last year. Last year we were more excited. Don’t get me wrong, we are really excited to go back but I feel like this year it was a little more expected. I think this going to start becoming a routine for this program.”