LINCOLN, Neb.- Behind the hot bat of junior Holly Ridley, the fifth-ranked Texas A&M softball team (45-7, 16-1 Big 12) swept the two-game series (6-0, 6-3) against the Nebraska Cornhuskers (19-25, 1-12 Big 12) and picked up at least a share of its second Big 12 Conference title since 2005.
“I’m so excited to win the Big 12 Championship,” A&M head coach Jo Evans said. “It is such a big deal. We have so many great teams in our conference and to come out here and just do what we did this weekend, it is a big deal. In 2004, we had a chance to win it here and we didn’t get the job done, we came here and lost two. So it was nice to come back this year and have a chance to win two, to really clinch it, and it was nice to see our kids play so well.”
A&M attacked quickly in the top of the first inning sending nine batters to the plate. With one out Aggie first baseman Rhi Kliesing poked a Texas-Leaguer into shallow leftfield. Megan Gibson sent a shot into rightfield where Haley Long dove for the ball but was unable to come up with the catch giving Gibson her team-leading 13th double of the season. Jamie Hinshaw drew a walk to load the bases for Ridley. The junior rightfielder lined a 1-0 pitch back up the middle for RBIs No. 20 and 21 on the season.
With two outs and Hinshaw on third, catcher Erin Glasco looped a single into rightfield for the third run of the inning. Senior centerfielder Jami Lobpries ripped a ball through the left side to drive home Ridley from second base, giving the Aggies a 4-0 lead.
The Huskers countered in the bottom of the frame, coming within two runs of tying after Gibson hit the leadoff batter in Darcy Rutherford. A pitch high and out of the reach of Glasco allowed Rutherford to move to second. With a 2-2 count Meghan Mullin dropped a shot just inside the rightfield line for her first triple and second RBI of the year. A strikeout and passed ball allowed Crystal Carwile to take first and bring Mullin home for NU’s second run off the inning.
“We gave them a couple of cheap runs in the first inning and when that happened, I thought ok this is not going to be an easy day,” Evans said. “I thought Nebraska came out with a really good approach at the plate. They made some adjustments. They knew they would see Gibson again, I’m sure. They did a better job of putting the ball in play; making us make plays. I thought our defense was terrific.”
In the top of the third the Aggies increased their lead to 6-2 as Ridley crushed her fourth longball of the season over the right-centerfield fence. The two-run blast scored Hinshaw who punched a shot through the leftside of the infield to start the inning.
“Holly was the difference in the game,” Evans noted. “Her nickname is Difference-Maker. To start the year she didn’t know what her role was going to be, but she knew she would make a difference no matter what. If it is coming off the bench or being in the lineup; you can see what she’s done for us. Today she was fantastic. The one she hit over the fence was the back-breaker really. She really put us back on top with a decent lead.”
After just two complete innings of work Molly Hill was lifted for relief pitcher Alex Hupp. Hill (9-14) was responsible for all six of the Aggies’ runs in the first three innings and shouldered her second loss in two days to A&M
Nebraska chipped away again at A&M’s lead scratching one run across in the third.
Down 6-3, the Huskers had runners on first and second with just one out in the seventh, but Gibson coaxed both Ashley Guile and Brittany Pascale to groundout to earn her 12th victory in the circle in conference play.
With the win Gibson improved to 29-1 on the season, working seven complete, surrendering just three runs on eight hits. She struckout six Husker hitters.
Ridley ended the afternoon going 2-for-3 at the plate with two runs scored, a walk and drove in four runs. Kliesing, Glasco and Lobpries also posted a multi-hit game for the Aggies. On the weekend, Ridley drove in six of the Aggies’ 12 runs..
The Aggies return home to face the University of Texas Longhorns on Wednesday in the State Farm Lone Star Showdown. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Aggie Softball Complex and will be televised on ESPNU.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere, our kids are so great at home and play really relaxed, Evans ended. “The atmosphere is going to be nuts. I want to challenge our fans to break the attendance record. We broke the record for a single in 2005 when we played Texas. Let’s break it again. I really want our fans to come out and congratulate our kids, and watch us hoist up that Big 12 trophy and be a part of something really special.”