AMHERST, Mass. - Texas A&M couldn't dig out of an early hole and fell to Lehigh, 4-3, on Friday, putting the Aggies on the brink of elimination just one game into the NCAA Tournament regional at the UMass Softball Complex.
A&M (33-18) dropped into the losers' bracket where the Aggies will face Albany in an elimination game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Albany's Great Danes (36-12-1) were no-hit by Massachusetts in the first game of the regional. The A&M-Albany winner will advance to face the loser of the UMass-Lehigh game at approximately 4 p.m.
"I tip my hat to Lehigh," A&M coach Jo Evans said. "I thought they played great softball, were really aggressive and took advantage of opportunities.
"I want our kids to get mad. I just took a pretty good bite out of them. I'm hoping that will be motivation for them to come back and really fight."
Lehigh coach Fran Troyan surpassingly didn't start Ivy League pitcher of the year Lisa Sweeney, instead opting for Kate Arico because of her ability to change speeds. The senior kept the Aggies off-balance for most of the game, allowing just two hits through the first five innings.
Trailing 4-0, the Aggies rallied in the sixth. With one out, Sharonda McDonald beat out a slow grounder to short. Jamie Hinshaw followed with an RBI double to left over a drawn-in outfield to put the Aggies on the board.
Megan Gibson belted the next pitch over the 220-foot sign in center for a two-run homer that cut the deficit to 4-3.
Arico walked Amanada Scarborough to put the potential tying run on base, but she induced two groundouts to escape the jam.
Sweeney took over in the seventh and allowed a leadoff walk to Jami Lobpries. Ronda Smith bunted Lobpries to second, but Sweeney struck out Joy Davis and McDonald to end the game.
A&M starting pitcher Scarborough had lost four consecutive decisions entering the game, and the Mountain Hawks jumped on her in the first inning. Kate Marvel led off with a line-drive double, and with one out, Scarborough plunked Lauren Haney. After a wild pitch, Julie Sterrett delivered a two-run double to the wall in left-center field to give Lehigh a 2-0 edge.
"They came out very aggressive," Scarborough said. "I don't know if I was expecting that. Lehigh had nothing to lose. We came out tentatively. We played back on our heels. It obviously showed."
The Mountain Hawks (42-12) increased their lead in the second when Arico scored from third on a wild pitch.
Three straight Lehigh hits made it 4-0 and chased Scarborough in the fifth inning. Reliever Lisa Gorzycki quieted the Mountain Hawks bats, but the Aggies couldn't make up the difference.
Evans thinks her team can bounce back.
"I still firmly believe we can come back and win this tournament," Evans said. "We haven't made it easy on ourselves, but I think we have enough talent to get this done."
NOTES - Gibson's home run was the 30th of her career, moving the sophomore into sole possession of third place on the A&M career home run list. She trails only Selena Collins (39 from 2000-03) and Liz Mizera (34 from 1985-88).