COLLEGE STATION, TX -- For the second season in-a-row, the No. 8 seed Texas A&M softball team prepares to host a four-team NCAA Regional at the Aggie Softball Complex this weekend. This is the Aggies’ 11th-straight NCAA Tournament appearance and the team’s 23rd postseason berth.
The Aggies welcome the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats at 7 p.m. Friday. The Texas State Bobcats and LSU Tigers will face off before the A&M-BCU matchup at 4 p.m. The Regional is a double-elimination tournament and will be broadcast in its entirety on ESPN3. Cara Capuano will provide play-by-play action with Cheri Kempf analyzing the games.
A&M has hosted four NCAA Regional rounds in the past six years (2007, ’08, ’11, ’12) and has advanced to the Super Regional round each time. In 2007 and 2008, the Aggies also hosted a Super Regional and advanced to the Women’s College World Series (WCWS) on the power of the 12th Man. The Aggies are the No. 8 seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament – their highest seeding since 2008.
Last season the 16th-seeded Aggies swept the 2011 College Station Regional and traveled to Tempe, Ariz., for Super Region against No. 1 seed Arizona State. The Aggies dropped the first two games to the Sun Devils, who advanced to the WCWS and were crowned the 2011 National Champions.
LAST TIME OUT
The Aggies are now on a season-high six game winning streak after ending the regular season with a three-game sweep of Boise State in Idaho. The Broncos played two close games with the Aggies in the first two matchups before A&M pounded out a 9-2 victory in game three. Junior Captain Mel Dumezich led by example with a .625 average on the weekend, going 5-for-8 from the plate with two home runs, while dominating in the circle. The right-hander tossed 17 strikeouts as she grabbed two wins and a save in 16 innings of work.
FOLLOW THE ACTION
Live stats and live audio are provided for every game this season on AggieAthletics.com, while live streaming video will be offered at each of the Aggies’ home games. Fans can also listen to all of the Aggies’ games live on AggieAthletics.com or 95.1-3 The Zone HD, making it available worldwide on any Smartphone or HD radio. Log on to RadioAggieland.com for more information. Each of this weekend’s games will be aired locally on Sports Radio 1150 AM and broadcast worldwide on ESPN3.
AGGIES IN THE POLLS
Texas A&M is ranked 13th in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 Poll and 14th in the USA Today/NFCA rankings. This season, the Aggies faced 12 top 25 teams in 23 contests, coming out ahead at 14-9. A&M was 6-8 against top 10 opponents and fell to two No. 1 schools, Florida and California. Of the Aggies’ conference foes, five were ranked at the time of play, three of them in the top 10. A&M only dropped two conference series, both to top 10 teams and never suffered a sweep. LSU is receiving votes in both polls this week.
ALL-BIG 12 TEAM
A&M led the Big 12 with seven players selected to the 2012 All-Big 12 teams. Dumezich and sophomores Cassie Tysarczyk and Nicole Morgan were named to the All-Big 12 first team, and sophomore Emily Albus, juniors Meagan May and Brittany Walker, and senior Natalie Villarreal were second-team honorees.
NFCA ALL-CENTRAL REGION TEAM
The Aggies placed four student-athletes on the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Division I All-Central Region teams. Dumezich and Tysarczyk took honors on the first team and May and Albus were second-team selections.
Dumezich’s two grand slams vs. BYU on Feb. 24 tied an NCAA single-game record. Only three other players in the history of Division I softball have hit two base-clearing long balls in a single game, the most recent being in 2007. Dumezich joins sophomore Amber Garza at No. 3 on the single-season grand slams list with three, as she powered a grand slam in the Aggies’ home opener against Sam Houston State. Garza hit three grand slams last season, two of them in the NCAA College Station Regional.
Dumezich has also shined in the circle this season, breaking her career strikeout record twice. She threw 14 strikeouts against No. 18 Hawaii on March 16 and bested that record during Friday’s OSU game when she fanned 15 batters in eight innings.
HOME RUN HITTERS
The Aggies have hit 67 home runs so far this season, including four grand slams. The Aggies have had at least one long ball in each of their last six games and hit 18 in the last two weeks alone. Over half of A&M’s bombs – 30 – have been slugged during conference play. Dumezich leads the team with 17 home runs this season, three of them grand slams. May is also in double digits with 11 long balls.
Evans welcomed a group of five freshmen to the team this season. Lauren Ainsley (RHP – La Vernia, Texas), Brittany Clopton (OF – Montgomery, Texas), Kayla Klein (RHP – Whittier, Calif.), Sara Mireles (LHP – New Braunfels, Texas) and Lauren Tamayo (UT – Roanoke, Texas) put on the Maroon & White in 2012.
The Wildcats (30-29, 11-4 MEAC) rebounded from a 6-20 start on the season to break .500 and earn a third-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament this season. Bethune-Cookman was an automatic qualifier after winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Tournament last weekend. Michelle Banuelos-Smith (.360) leads the team from the plate with 19 doubles and eight home runs for 34 runs scored and 37 RBI. She is also perfect on the base paths, stealing 11 bags in as many attempts. Shanel Tolbert (30-24) has tossed 340 innings for the Wildcats, fanning 120 batters and allowing 146 earned runs on 396 hits for a 3.01 ERA and six solo shutouts.
SCOUTING TEXAS STATE
The Bobcats (38-15, 18-2 SLC) were also automatic qualifiers, winning the Southland Conference Tournament on a no-hitter by senior ace Chandler Hall. Texas State is now on a 13-game winning streak. Anna Hernandez (.309) and Brooke Baker (.304) are both hitting above .300 this season. Hernandez owns seven doubles, three home runs, 19 runs and 21 RBI, while Baker records three doubles, a triple, 20 runs, 13 RBI and 14 stolen bases. Hall (22-6) has a 1.57 ERA in the circle with 12 solo shutouts. The hurler has thrown 208 strikeouts and allowed just 41 earned runs on 127 hits in 182 2/3 innings of work.
The Tigers (34-22, 15-13 SEC) received an at-large bid for their 14th NCAA Tournament. Head Coach Beth Torina is in her first season with LSU after legendary Tiger head coach Yvette Girouard hung her visor up in retirement at the Aggie Softball Complex during the 2011 College Station Regional. None of the Tigers are hitting above .300 and Ashley Langoni leads the team from the plate with a .275 average. The outfielder has 10 doubles, a triple, six home runs and 42 walks for 32 runs and 29 RBI. Rachele Fico (16-11) continues to dominate in the circle, earning a 0.98 ERA this season. She has struck out 192 batters and given up just 27 earned runs in 192.1 innings of work for 11 solo shutouts.
VS. THE FIELD
A&M is 64-12 all-time (5-2 vs. LSU, 1-0 vs. Bethune-Cookman, 58-10 vs. Texas State) against the teams at the College Station Regional.
The Aggies have met the Tigers in the NCAA Region for the past three seasons, hosting LSU in 2011 and traveling to Baton Rouge in 2010. Last season A&M defeated LSU, 3-1 in nine innings to win the College Station Regional. Then-freshman Amber Garza hit the game-winning single in the top of the ninth.
A&M and Bethune-Cookman have only met once, in a tournament in Boca Raton in 2009. The Aggies won, 1-0.
The Aggies hosted Texas State earlier this season in the Texas A&M Invitational. A&M took a 3-2 victory to extend to the program’s best home winning streak at 34 games. That streak was snapped by Houston the next day.
HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE
The Aggies ended the regular season with a 20-4 home record, and were 47-4 at the Aggie Softball Complex in the last 51 games. A&M ended a program-best 34-game home winning streak this season, starting April 25, 2010. The streak was also the longest active home winning streak in the nation as the Aggies went undefeated at home in 2011. This is the longest home winning streak A&M has had since the program’s inception in 1981. The previous record holder by Aggie softball was a 21-game ride from Feb. 19, 2005-May 22, 2005.
In the latest RPI rankings (through May 14), A&M sits at No. 8 in the nation, behind only two Big 12 schools – No. 5 Texas and No. 6 Oklahoma. The Aggies are among the best in the nation in several categories this season, through games of May 14. As a team, A&M ranks 22nd in fielding percentage (.973), 34th in win-loss percentage (.709), 24th in slugging percentage (.471) and 11th in home runs per game (1.22). May has drawn a national fourth-highest 0.96 walks per game. Dumezich is among the top 25 in the nation in four categories, with 0.31 home runs per game (25th), 28 victories (12th), 17 home runs (22nd) and 294 strikeouts (10th).
In 2011 Dumezich was named to the Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-American second team after earning a 1.92 ERA in 247 1/3 Innings pitched. The junior gave up only 68 runs while fanning 262 batters as a sophomore and ranks ninth on the Aggies’ career strikeouts list.
May earned All-America second team honors in 2010 as a freshman. The standout catcher broke the team and Big 12 records for home runs in a season after clearing the fence 24 times. She also posted a team-leading .405 batting average, 66 hits, 16 doubles, 62 RBI, a .945 slugging percentage and a .557 on base percentage. May was one of only six Aggies to earn the honor as a freshman.
BIG 12 PRESEASON POLL
A&M was picked to finish fifth in the Big 12 Preseason Coaches’ Poll. The Aggies received 37 points and finished behind preseason favorite Missouri (59), and Oklahoma (56), Texas (50) and Baylor (45). A&M was selected as the frontrunner for three consecutive years, from 2006-08, and was picked fourth last season, ending 2011 in third place. Oklahoma State placed sixth with 32 points, followed by Texas Tech (22), Kansas (13) and Iowa State (10).
GET IT LIVE
Live audio and live stats are featured in every A&M game in 2012. Several contests will be aired on Sports Radio 1150 AM. All other games will be broadcast live on AggieAthletics.com and on 95.1-3 The Zone HD, making it available worldwide on any iPhone, iPod Touch, Blackberry or PDA free of charge. Log on to RadioAggieland.com for more information.
Texas A&M met with members of the media on Thursday as practices took place prior to the start of the NCAA College Station Regional. MP3 audio is available through the link to the right and a video recap will be posted soon.
Head Coach Jo Evans
We're really excited to be hosting Regionals. We're really impressed with the group of teams that are meeting here. It's a great pitching Regional. It's going to be fun to see all of the great pitching and we're excited to play in from of all of our home fans.
On being confident or complacent at home
I've never known our team ever to be complacent at home so I don't worry about that a bit. We get really fired up to play at home. We feed off of our fans, but we always say that it's our job to get our fans in it and not their job to get us in it. I think our team does a really good job responding here at home and playing very relaxed. Last year we were undefeated at home and this year we've dropped four at home and three of those are to two of these teams in the top 16, and the other was Houston, who's in the Tournament as well.
On hitting well
Our kids have worked really hard at it. As a coaching staff we sat down and said that we need to get better with our strikeouts. Last year I thought we struck out way too many times. We've certainly improved in that area and I think that makes a big difference. We're a better two-strike hitters than we were last year, and the other thing is we're a year older. You don't see any new faces on our field starting for us, but we're still a young team. Last year you saw a bunch of freshmen and sophomores and this year you're seeing a lot of sophomores and juniors and a couple of seniors and I think that that experience has made a big difference as well.
On senior left fielder Natalie Villarreal
She's just a great all-around player. She's as great offensively as she is defensively. She's just one of those quiet, silent assassin kind of players. She doesn't say much. She just shows up and really cares. She really has great passion for the game, even though you won't see her be real emotional. That's not her style. She's a steady, steady player, one of the most consistent players we have day-in and day-out. She got in a little slump during conference and we had her in the leadoff spot, which we love her at. We ended up moving her down to the eighth and she's just caught fire down there. It's been really nice to have that kind of punch down there in the bottom of the order. Emily Albus bumped in there at leadoff and she did such a great job that now I can't switch it. I've got to stick with what's working. Natalie is a very committed ballplayer and she wants this really bad. She wants to be in the World Series and play for a Championship. In the first at bat when we moved her into the eighth I think she hit a double. She got over to third and I said 'Geez, if I had known that I would have put you in the eight hole a long time ago.'
On sophomore Nicole Morgan
I'm excited for Nic. Last year she kind of struggled just to be a consistent. It's a tough transition from the summer ball/high school into college ball, especially at this level. I'm excited for her work ethic this year. She's really worked a lot harder at it and been committed and it's fun because she's reaping the benefits of that, so she understands that now: what I put into this, I'm going to get out of it. She's turned into a real threat up at the plate and you can see that. Her on base percentage is crazy high. She takes a lot of walks now, too. She's a threat to hit the ball out. Teams now fear her and it's nice to see her transition. She would love to be behind the plate catching but she plays first for us when Mel's out there pitching and she does a nice job for us. It's always hard for people to understand their role and Nic's doing a good job of understanding how she can help our ballclub.
We had the opportunity to watch them on film in conference play. That's all we know really, is what's in the scouting reports we've been able to get from other games and then that's the only video we've seen. I see them as a very aggressive, athletic, speed-type team. They're a team that's scary because they come in here with no fear. They're going to be a team where people don't expect them to win and people need to understand that Bethune-Cookman is a great program and they have been to the postseason before. This isn't some fluke that this team came out of nowhere. We understand that and we respect that and we respect them. Their coach, Chris Cochran, was in the Big 12 for many years as an assistant coach for Iowa State and then went to Brown as a head coach and is now at Bethune-Cookman. We need to understand that we need to make sure that we stay on top of our game and take nothing for granted here.
Junior Pitcher Mel Dumezich
On playing in her third NCAA Tournament
I feel that the junior class, we know what we're out here to do. My freshman year I didn't really have an idea about Regionals or Super Regionals or anything like that and I felt a little bit lost. But now we're a top 8 seed. This means a lot to us to host Regionals and Supers and we're going to go out with a bang here. We're going to make a run for it.
On why she works well with Meagan May
Since my freshman year she's been catching me a lot. She's a great catcher and I trust her with everything. She's one that studies the hitters and I study the hitters too. If I don't like a pitch and I shake her off, she usually knows what I want to call.
On potentially playing Missouri in the Super Regional
Missouri is a big rivalry for us. I think all of our games with them were by one run so (if we play them) it's going to be close.
Junior Catcher Meagan May
On learning from ending the season at National Champion Arizona State in 2011
Last year really showed us that we have the fight. We have what it takes. We just have to execute when it needs to be executed. Being at home is going to take a lot off of our shoulders because we just tend to do a lot better her. We're really excited to see how all of those dominoes falling into place are going to help us.
On potentially playing Missouri in the Super Regional
We love playing Missouri. It's that atmosphere of both teams really wanting to beat the other team. Those tend to be the most fun games. I don't know how they feel about it but I am really glad that they are going to be playing us here if they do come to Super Regionals.