COLLEGE STATION, Texas- The third-ranked Texas A&M softball team (25-4) beat Illinois, 7-3 on Saturday afternoon before falling, 2-1, to No. 18 Louisiana-Lafayette in extra innings in day two action of the Aggie Classic presented by HoneyBaked Ham and Café.
“I thought our kids played well,” A&M head coach Jo Evans said. “In the first game, I likd how our batters were aggressive at the plate. They did a nice job of getting themselves on and into scoring position.
“In the second game, I thought Rhi was terrific. ULL hung in there and their pitcher threw well. I like the way our kids battled. We had a bunch of strikeouts but we found ways to kind of scramble and get that big run in and I’m proud of our kids. Obviously ULL is really excited.”
Illinois (13-10) third baseman Shanna Diller got the Illini on the board in top half of the first inning with her fourth homerun of the year, a two-out shot over the wall in right field. The homer was the first earned run A&M starter Megan Gibson had allowed in 39 innings of work.
A&M fired back with a three-spot in the bottom half of the frame. Jami Lobpries laced a line-drive single up the middle and moved to third on Gibson’s double to right. With one out and runners in scoring position Jamie Hinshaw hit a sharp grounder back to Illini pitcher Claire DeVreese who threw to the plate, catching Lobpries in a run-down. Lobpries escaped however, sliding in safely when DeVresse couldn’t hang on to the ball and apply the tag. Gibson advanced to third and Hinshaw moved over to second on the play. A fielder’s choice from Amanda Scarborough plated Gibson and allowed Hinshaw to slide over to third. A pass ball by the catcher Lana Armstrong brought Hinshaw in, giving the Aggies the 3-1 advantage.
“I was really excited about Jami,” Evans said. “She was on base all day long. Jami was really terrific today; her on-base percentage was great. I really like what we are seeing out of her. She is a fighter and is very, very competitive. I like the way she plays the game a lot. She gave us a chance to win, she was on all night in scoring position.”
Danielle Vaji entered as a pinch hitter for first baseman Audrey Gallien and drew a 3-2 walk to leadoff the top of the third for Illinois. Gibson retired the next batter but could not manage to escape the inning unscathed. Third baseman Audrey Mexicano battled to a full-count and drove the fifth pitch she saw, a two-run, one-out blast into the netting over the left field fence to tie the game at three.
Texas A&M scratched two more runs across in the fourth when Erin Glasco and Macie Morrow drew back-to-back bases loaded walks to plate Gibson and Hinshaw.
A&M would add another pair of runs in the six to put the game out of reach for Illinois. Lobpries walked on a 3-1 count to start the inning. Gibson then unleashed on the third pitch of her at-bat sending her seventh homerun of the season roughly 20 feet over the wall in straight-away center.
With the win, Gibson remained perfect at 14-0 on the season. She allowed three runs on five hits, striking out seven through seven complete innings of work.
DeVreese dropped to 9-7, surrendering seven runs on six hits. She struckout two and allowed eight free passes through six complete.
Louisiana-Lafayette (14-4) scored the first run of the nightcap in the bottom of the fourth. Right fielder Holly Tankersley chopped a high grounder to Morrow at short for an infield single to start the inning. Melissa Verde followed with double to left field to score Tankersley from first. Kliesing retired the next three ULL batters in order, all going down on strikes to avoid any further damage.
Texas A&M evened the score in the sixth as Lobpries and Gibson drew consecutive one-out walks and moved into scoring position on a wild pitch. Hinshaw lifted the ball to centerfield giving Lobpries enough time to score from third but not before the Ragin’ Cajuns caught Gibson in a run down between second and third to end the inning.
At the end of seven the score remained deadlocked at 1-1 forcing the game into international tiebreaker. A&M placed leftfielder Kelsey Spittler on second to start the top of the eighth inning. Morrow laid down a solid bunt but third baseman Verde fielded the ball cleanly and threw out Spittler trying to take third. ULL starting pitcher Ashley Brignac coaxed the next two batters into a fly out and a foul out to end the inning unharmed.
The Cajuns started the bottom half of the frame with centerfielder Karli Hubbard at second. Katie Smith drew a walk and Brooke Brodhead grounded out to shortstop to move runners into scoring position. Tankersley walked on four straight pitches to set up bases loaded for the three-hole hitter, Verde. Verde sent the first pitch she saw into the gap in left-center to plate Hubbard and pick up with 2-1 win for ULL.
Despite striking out a season-high 11 batters, Kliesing shouldered the loss, dropping to 7-2 on the season. She allowed two runs, one earned, on four hits and surrendered four walks.
“I thought Rhi was really, really good tonight on the mound,” Evans ended. “She gave us a chance to win. It is tough in that situation when you put a runner on second. We didn’t execute and we didn’t get it done and they did.”
Brignac improved to 9-2 on the year, allowing one run on four hits while striking out 11 and walking four.
The Aggie Classic presented by HoneyBaked Ham and Café will conclude Sunday with a doubleheader between Illinois and ULL. First pitch of game one is scheduled for 10 a.m.
A&M returns to action against Utah on Friday at the San Diego Classic at the USD Complex.