SEATTLE — Jo Larios had three extra-base hits in her two-season Cal State Bakersfield softball career when she batted with two outs and none on in the seventh inning of a scoreless game Saturday.
On a full count pitch, Larios blasted her first home run since her freshman year at a junior college, and CSUB senior pitcher Amber Mills made it stand up in a 1-0 win over New Mexico State in the championship game of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament.
The win propels CSUB (16-32) into the NCAA Tournament, a first for softball in the school’s Division I history.. The Roadrunners will learn their first-game opponent and where they’ll play during the NCAA Selection Show tonight at 7.
“I can’t even describe how it felt,” said Larios, a junior catcher from Holtville of the San Diego Section. “It was probably the most memorable thing that has happened in my career. Just to help my team out made it more exciting.”
CSUB went 3-0 in the WAC Tournament and beat regular-season WAC champion New Mexico State twice.
Mills (9-14) was the winning pitcher in each game. Saturday was her first complete game shutout of the season and only the second in her CSUB career. It was only the second shutout this season by the Roadrunners, and it came against an Aggies team that was the WAC’s top hitting team and has the seventh-best team batting average in the nation.
Mills only allowed four singles. She walked one, hit two batters and struck out four. She was much sharper than Friday, when she allowed six hits and walked two in four innings of CSUB’s 2-1 win over NMSU.
The Aggies’ best scoring threat Saturday came in the sixth when they loaded the bases with one out. CSUB coach Crissy Buck-Ziegler went to the circle to talk with Mills and the infielders. The decision: keep Mills pitching.
“When she came out there and let me know that she had faith in me to get the job done, I knew then I was going to get it done,” Mills said.
Mills responded by striking out cleanup batter Tatum Reedy and inducing an inning-ending flyout from Corrin Green.
“I knew my team would have my back the entire time to get the job done,” Mills said.
Mills wrapped it up in the seventh by retiring the Aggies in order. She struck out pinch hitter Fahren Glackin to end it.
“I’m just so proud of Amber, Sydney (Raeber), Jo and just all of our seniors,” Buck-Ziegler said. “We had three games winning by one run. That’s how our program has been for the last five years. We either win by one or we lose by one. It kind of brings everything together in this moment. It’s a little surreal.”
Raeber had two spectacular catches in the second inning Saturday to prevent extra bases.
All-WAC pick Karysta Donisthorpe was the losing pitcher in both of NMSU’s losses to CSUB.
Donisthorpe had a dominant game. She held CSUB hitless after the second inning until Larios’ home run and finished with a three-hitter.
The NCAA Tournament’s 64-team field will be broken down into 16 four-team, double elimination regionals that will be hosted on campus sites beginning Friday. The selection show will be broadcast on ESPNU.