PVAMU draws Texas A&M to open NCAA Softball Tournament
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - On the heels of their first Southwestern Athletic Conference softball championship in 20 years, Prairie View A&M heads to College Station, Texas to begin NCAA Softball Championship regional play versus #15 overall national seed Texas A&M.
Prairie View (20-21, 11-6 SWAC) will face the Aggies in one half of the bracket, and the Lady Panthers are joined by McNeese State and Baylor in the regional.
The Lady Panthers come into the national tournament having won six straight games -- all coming under the 'win-or-go-home' scenario -- to earn the program's first conference title since 1998. Prairie View A&M downed 2017 champion Texas Southern and defeated 2016 titlist Alabama State twice on Saturday to clinch the SWAC's automatic qualifier bid. Prairie View A&M has won nine of its last 11 contests.
Leading the charge was 2018 SWAC Softball Tournament Most Valuable Player Laurisa Hernandez. The junior first baseman was dominant during the tournament, going 10-of-21 with 10 RBI, a grand slam, three doubles and five runs scored. Hernandez is batting .382 thus far, leading the team in home runs (6) and RBI (29). Flanking her in a formidable, multi-faceted lineup that features five players hitting .280 or better is Kelsey Coronado (.359 batting average, 16 R, 28 H) and Destinee Williams (.286 BA, 21 R, 19 RBI, 6 2B, 2 HR).
Pitching-wise, 2018 All-SWAC first-teamer Crystal Castillo has emerged as the Lady Panthers' ace, collecting all-tournament honors thanks to three victories during the fray. The sophomore right-hander is 8-6 on the season with a 3.09 ERA in 81.2 innings of work. She's struck out 43 hitters and has limited opponents to a .238 batting average on the season. Ashley Higgins (5-7 W/L, 4.59 ERA) and Vannessa Castro (4.81 ERA, 84.1 IP, 38 K) flesh out the pitching corps.
Texas A&M (40-16, 13-11 SEC) comes into the tournament on a four-game skid, including a first-round exit from the SEC Softball Tournament at the hands of Mississippi State. Prairie View A&M is tasked with putting the clamps on a hitting order that features one of the better power-hitting trios in the field in senior Tori Vidales (.346 BA, .599 SLG% 11 HR, 8 2B, 53 RBI, 56 H), junior Riley Sartain (.275 BA, 10 HR, 31 RBI, .558 SLG%), and sophomore Sarah Hudek (.329 BA, 53 H, 11 2B, 6 HR, .522 SLG%). However, TAMU only averages 4.61 runs per game.
Texas A&M also has two top-flight arms in Lexi Smith (9-2 W/L, 1.50 ERA, 64 K) and Trinity Harrington (13-5 W/L, 81 K, 6 shutouts) that anchor a pitching staff that has amassed a combined 2.14 ERA.
Despite a somewhat middling offense, the Aggies boast one of the top fielding defenses in the country, as the Aggies' .976 clip -- PVAMU has a .959 percentage by comparison -- in the category is 11th-best in the nation. Additionally, Texas A&M has been tough to beat at home this season, as evidenced by a 34-4 record in friendly confines.
PVAMU will square off against Texas A&M Friday at 6 PM on ESPN3.