Friday, March 23, 2018

SJSU shuts out Broncos, while Fresno State powers past Rams

Friday began week two of Mountain West play, and weather permitting, a lot of great ones are on the docket.  Of the five teams who entered the week with one or zero losses in conference play, four are meeting head-to-head in big weekend series.

Fresno State 9, Colorado State 3 - In Fresno, the host Bulldogs spotted Colorado State a 3-run lead before roaring back with the game's final nine runs to win going away.  CSU ace Bridgette Hutton, who entered the game with a sterling 1.80 ERA and a 9-4 record, was staked to that 3-0 lead in the second inning against Fresno State starting pitcher Savannah McHellon.  The Rams' three runs all came on one swing of the bat - a 3-run home run by Danni Klein. But that was virtually the entire extent of CSU's offense for the night, as the Rams were held hitless by the Bulldogs after the second inning.  After McHellon walked a pair to begin the fourth inning, she was replaced by sophomore Samantha Mejia, who completely shut down the Rams offense.  Mejia did not allow a hit to CSU over the final four innings and gave the 'Dogs heavy-hitting offense the chance to win.  A 4-run bottom of the third, capped by a bases-loaded double by Rachel Minogue and RBI double by Vanessa Hernandez, put Fresno State in front to stay.  In the sixth, the Bulldogs broke the game open with a 5-run frame.  McHellon, fourth in the nation in home runs and the Mountain West leader with 12, was intentionally walked to load the bases with one out.  Catcher Hayleigh Galvan, the Oklahoma State transfer who leads the league in on-base percentage and hits directly behind McHellon in the lineup, made CSU pay.  Galvan's bases-clearing double again plated three runs to break the game open.  Minogue followed with another RBI double and the rout was on.  Mejia pitched a 1-2-3 top of the seventh for her third win of the season and second in six days.

San Jose St. 2, Boise State 0 - In Boise, it was all about San Jose State pitcher Madison Aurin. The Spartans got a complete-game 4-hitter from her, and she also accounted for the game's only earned run with a solo homer.  Kelsey Broadus allowed only five hits for the Broncos, but a key error by BSU's infield in the third led to the game's first run.  That unearned run came home on a Cassidy Clark single, and it was all Aurin would need.  An inning later, she launched a solo home run to complete the scoring in an odd pitcher's duel in a park where the ball usually flies out.  Boise State came into the game fifth in the nation in team batting average (.350), but saw its bats quieted.  BSU wasted early scoring chances, stranding runners in scoring position three times in the first five innings.

UNLV 8, Utah State 0 (5 innings) - In Las Vegas, the host Rebels strung together 14 hits as every UNLV batter had at least one hit in a run-rule decision over the struggling Aggies.  Utah State sophomore right-hander Kellie White, the only returning all-conference pitcher in the Mountain West this season, was charged with eight runs on 13 hits in 3 2/3 innings.  Janine Petmecky, who's off to a very hot start for first-year head coach Kristie Fox, limited Utah State to just three hits.  USU has lost nine of its last 10.  The Rebels picked up their 20th win of the season.

First RPI of the season has 6 Mountain West teams in top 100

The first Ratings Percentage Index reveal of the season has a mixed bag of results for Mountain West teams.

First the good news.  Six of the nine MW teams rank among the top 100 teams in the country in the RPI.  A year ago at this time, five ranked in the top 100.  Six top 100 teams matches the all-time high for the Mountain West.

Now the not-so-good news.  No MW team ranks in the top 50.  Last season at this time, two teams (San Diego State and Fresno State) were ranked among the top 50.  The Bulldogs would go on to capture an NCAA at-large bid a season ago, while SDSU opened with - and finished with - a top 50 RPI, but was snubbed in 2017.

The Bulldogs were 30th in the initial RPI of 2017, but find themselves at No. 62 this season.  To put it in historical perspective, consider this:  Only one time since the introduction of the RPI as a measuring tool in softball has Fresno State finished outside the RPI top 60.  That was in 2013, Trisha Ford's first season as Bulldog head coach when the team played, by far, the weakest schedule in school history and won 30 games, the lowest win total for a Fresno State softball team since the NCAA began sponsoring the sport.  Ford's 2013 team finished a shockingly low 116th in the final RPI, when no other Bulldog team before or since had finished outside the top 60.

In 36 seasons of the NCAA holding a Division I softball tournament,  Fresno State has missed making the NCAA field just three times, and it happened in a consecutive, 3-year period from 2012 to 2014.  Along with that No. 116 finish in the RPI in 2013, the Bulldogs failed to make the NCAA Tournament with final RPIs of 60 in 2012, and 59 in 2014.  So coach Linda Garza's team knows it must start winning now if it wants to avoid becoming only the fourth Fresno State team ever to miss the NCAA Tournament.

Still, to have an RPI of 62 with an overall record of just 15-13 says a lot about the quality of the Bulldogs' schedule.  Fresno State has missed several chances to improve that RPI though, losing big, late leads twice against Illinois and a 2-run, fifth inning lead against Wisconsin.  Those three potential top 50 wins all slipped through the hands of the Bulldogs, who find themselves with just one top 50 victory this season (against Notre Dame, 28th in the RPI).

Defending MW champion San Jose State comes in at No. 55 in the rankings, slightly behind where they finished a season ago (53rd).  The Spartans have the best non-conference win among MW teams (at least according to the RPI), having beaten No. 19 Long Beach State.  Still, an RPI of 55 will have to improve if SJSU wants an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament should it become necessary.  At this point, the Spartans look  to be the early favorite to win the league regular-season title and automatic NCAA berth, however.  That prediction comes with a caveat: there's a whole lot of season left.

Boise State is 85th in the RPI, a couple of spots ahead of where it finished last season.  At No. 90 is UNLV, the biggest mover in the last year.  The Rebels finished the 2017 season 122nd in the RPI under former head coach Lisa Dodd. Now with Kristie Fox at the helm, UNLV has improved its RPI position an impressive 32 spots.

Colorado State, with a pair of top 50 RPI wins already under its belt, is 92nd.  The Rams have wins over No. 38 Texas and No. 43 Wisconsin.

San Diego State is 97th, rare and uncharted RPI territory for the Aztecs under Kathy Van Wyk.  It is the lowest RPI the Aztecs have had since its inception as a tool for NCAA selection. At just 9-20 overall and already 0-3 in Mountain West play, SDSU must go on a long winning streak in order to have any hope for a MW title and NCAA bid. The Aztecs are 52 spots behind where they finished a season ago when they ranked 45th in the RPI and did not receive an NCAA at-large bid.

Nevada is 122nd in the RPI, 27 spots behind where it finished (95th) last season.  Utah State has taken the steepest one-year fall in the RPI among Mountain West teams, coming in at No. 172 this week.  That's 105 spots down from where the Aggies finished (67th) last season.  We pointed out in our preseason schedule rankings that USU was facing the weakest slate of non-conference opponents in the MW, and it seems to correlate with the Aggies' current RPI positioning.  New Mexico is 186th in the RPI, 18 spots below where it finished last season.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Broncos, SJSU complete 3-game MW sweeps; Fresno St. sweeps Cal Poly

Another wild day of action in Mountain West softball took place Sunday.  Consider all of this just happened today:

  • San Jose State completed a 3-game sweep of San Diego State with a run-rule win.
  • The Aztecs were swept in a conference series for just the second time since the league implemented the 3-game series format in 2012.  Fresno State was the only team to sweep SDSU in a 3-game series prior to this weekend.
  • When San Jose State swept the Aztecs, it marked the first time a team selected by Mountain West coaches as the preseason favorite was swept to begin a conference season.
  • Coach Kathy Van Wyk's team has started 0-3 in league play for the first time since 2005.
  • Boise State scored 30 runs Sunday in a doubleheader sweep of Utah State in Logan.
  • Utah State committed a staggering nine errors in 10 innings, and allowed 18 unearned runs in being swept by BSU.
  • Fresno State scored 19 runs in sweeping a non-conference doubleheader from a Cal Poly team that entered the weekend on a 7-game winning streak.
  • Savannah McHellon hit her fourth home run of the weekend and Mountain West-leading 12th home run of the season, while also pitching a complete-game 3-hitter for Fresno State.
  • Madison Aurin hit two home runs and pitched a complete-game 2-hitter for San Jose State.
  • All seven Mountain West teams in action today were involved in at least one run-rule game that went five innings.
It all adds up to what should be a very interesting next weekend of play in the Mountain West.  San Jose State and Boise State, the only two teams to sweep series this week, will face off in Boise in a 3-game series.  Meanwhile, Fresno State will open conference play next weekend by hosting Colorado State, which won two of three against Nevada.

San Jose St. 9, San Diego St. 1 (5 innings) - Aurin allowed only two hits and hit two home runs with six RBI in the rout of the struggling Aztecs.  San Diego State, off to one of its worst starts in school history after being selected to win the MW title in the preseason, already has 20 losses.  The Aztecs have lost 10 of their last 11, were outscored this weekend 20-4, and have now scored two or fewer runs in 17 games already this season. This weekend, only four Aztecs players had a hit in the series as SDSU.  Emma Entzminger hit her second home run of the season for San Jose State, and Aurin now has seven.

Boise State 15, Utah State 7 (5 innings) - The Broncos erupted for 13 runs in the top of the fifth inning to win a wild one. Brina Buttacavoli hit a grand slam as Utah State powered on top 7-2 early in this one, and it looked like Boise State might be the team getting run-ruled. Things turned around quickly in the fifth though as USU ran into all kinds of trouble with four errors in the inning that led to the 13 runs. Boise State had nine hits in that single inning, and USU finished with five errors in the game. Delaney Hull took the loss and was charged with 10 runs, but only four earned. Boise State reliever Micaela Leal took the win, allowing two hits in 2 2/3 innings.

Boise State 15, Utah State 6 (5 innings) - Things ended badly for Utah State in the opener, and it continued into game two as Boise State erupted for 14 runs in the first two frames. Again, errors played a key role as USU had four more, giving them nine errors in the doubleheader. All in all, the Aggies gave up a stunning 18 unearned runs on the day. Kellie White gave up 14 runs (6 earned) on nine hits in two innings to pick up the loss. Kelsey Broadus picked up the win in just three innings of work. The top three hitters in BSU's lineup - Madison Anthony, Kora Wade and Rebekah Cervantes - finished with six hits and eight RBI in the game, and 11 hits and 14 RBI in the doubleheader.

UNLV 9, New Mexico 1 (5 innings) - The Rebels got a 2-hitter from Janine Petmecky to run-rule the Lobos in Albuquerque and win the series.  UNLV hit nine singles in the game, to go along with one extra-base hit (a Brooke Stover double) en route to the win. Jensen Main took the loss.

Fresno State 10, Cal Poly 2 (5 innings) - The Bulldogs rode the arm and bat of hot-hitting Savannah McHellon to rout the Mustangs in game one of a doubleheader. McHellon threw a complete-game 3-hitter, and had two hits, including her fourth home run of the weekend to lead the way.  McHellon's homer was her Mountain West-leading 12th of the season, and she has now homered six times in the past 10 days. Rachel Minogue had two hits, including a 3-run double with the bases loaded to finish with four RBI in the game (and six for the doubleheader). The Bulldogs handed Cal Poly ace Lindsey Chalmers (9-4) a loss for the second time in two weeks, and Fresno State became the first non-Top 25 team to run-rule the Mustangs this season.

Fresno State 9, Cal Poly 5 - In game two, pitcher Samantha Mejia limited the Mustangs to one hit and no earned runs over the final 4 1/3 innings to pick up the victory.  The Bulldogs got doubles from Vanessa Hernandez, Hayleigh Galvan (on her birthday), Katie Castellon and Dominique Jackson in this one as their 19 runs for the day came on 19 hits.  Castellon and Minogue had two RBI apiece, and the 'Dogs had a pair of 4-run innings.  Cal Poly, which has five wins this season over teams from the Big Ten, had entered the weekend as one of the country's hottest teams, having won seven games in a row.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Late-game uprisings a theme throughout the Mountain West Saturday

A pattern that began on Friday seemed to continue into Saturday in the world of Mountain West softball as games went to the wire with dramatic finishes.

Colorado State 2, Nevada 0 - In the second game of a doubleheader and the third game of this season-opening series in Fort Collins, the host Rams came out on top in walk-off fashion. Amber Nelson hit a 2-out, 2-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning for the game's lone runs and sent CSU to the series victory. Nelson's homer came just an inning after Nevada starting pitcher Kali Sargent had a perfect game intact entering the frame. Sargent would have that perfect game and no-hitter broken up in the bottom of the sixth when the Rams had a pair of hits, but neither team was able to score until that fateful seventh inning. Bridgette Hutton earned the complete game win.

Nevada 4, Colorado State 2 - In the first game of Saturday's doubleheader, Nevada scored a pair of unearned runs in the fifth to tie the game at 2-2, and single runs in each of the final two innings to grab the win. Erika Hansen had two hits, including a double and triple for the Pack in support of freshman pitcher Julia Jensen, who tossed a 4-hitter. Jensen pitched the first 17 innings of the weekend for Nevada, after taking the loss in Friday's 10-inning opener. Larissa Petakoff took the loss Saturday in relief of starter Kaylynn Pierce, who allowed just one earned run.

San Jose State 6, San Diego State 1 - In a game that featured two separate rain delays, the Spartans clinched the series win by handing the Aztecs their ninth loss in 10 games. SJSU hit three home runs and SDSU one, as the round-trippers accounted for every run of the game. Madison Aurin hit a 3-run home run, Jacey Phipps a 2-run shot, and Cassidy Clark a solo blast for the Spartans. SDSU's lone run came on a homer by Taylor Adams. Alex Formby took the loss, while Caroline Bowman picked up the win. San Diego State must win Sunday's series finale to avoid its first 0-3 start in Mountain West play since 2005. The Aztecs have suffered just one 3-game conference sweep (vs. Fresno State in 2016) since the MW switched to a 3-game weekend series format six seasons ago. San Jose State will look to become the second team to accomplish the feat Sunday.

UNLV 6, New Mexico 0 - The lopsided final score is a bit misleading, since the Lobos were an out away from heading to the bottom of the seventh inning locked in a scoreless tie in Albuquerque. But UNLV had other ideas. The Rebels erupted for six runs, all with two outs in the top of the seventh inning, to win in game two of this 3-game series. Pinch-hitter Kiley Harrison's infield single plated the game's first run in the seventh and UNLV pushed five more runs across on a total of five hits in the frame. New Mexico pitcher Alexis Ruel had carried a 2-hit shutout into the seventh. Charlie Masterson earned the complete-game win for the Rebels, tying the series at a game apiece heading into the series finale on Sunday. Brooke Stover's bases-loaded double scored three runs and was the big hit of the seventh. Masterson limited New Mexico to three hits in the game.

Elsewhere - Utah State's home game against Boise State was postponed by weather and will be made up as a Sunday doubleheader (weather permitting). Fresno State had the day off and will host Cal Poly in a non-conference doubleheader Sunday starting at 11 am.

Broncos the lone MW team to win a road opener; Bulldogs' troubles continue

It was opening day of the Mountain West season for every team except Fresno State, which is limping into the league season that begins next week for the Bulldogs.

Boise State was the only MW team to win a road game Friday, crushing Utah State in Logan. Elsewhere, the three home teams prevailed, including a major upset as New Mexico pulled off a late win in dramatic fashion.

Boise State 11, Utah State 1 (5 innings) - The Broncos routed the Aggies in Logan and got to USU ace pitcher Kellie White early with seven runs (six earned) in 2 2/3 innings. Kelsey Broadus allowed only two hits for Boise State. A 3-for-3 day by Adams and 3-run home run by Anthony were the difference-makers for BSU.

San Jose State 5, San Diego State 2 - A key error by the Aztecs paved the way for the Spartans' win. SDSU starter Marissa Moreno was the tough-luck loser after that 2-out Aztecs miscue in the second was followed by three straight hits, including a 3-run Avila home run. Madison Aurin got the win, giving up three hits. Taylor Stewart hit a 2-run shot for SDSU.

New Mexico 5, UNLV 2 - After the Rebels took the lead with a run in the top of the seventh, Chelsea Johnson hit a grand slam with one out in the bottom of the inning for New Mexico's walk-off win. Jensen Main earned the victory while Janine Petmecky (10-2) took the loss.

Colorado State 4, Nevada 3 (10 innings) - The Rams won it in walk-off fashion and were able to overcome four errors as Bridgette Hutton outdueled Julia Jensen. Donaldson had three hits, including the game-winner and three RBI.

Illinois 10, Fresno State 9 - In game one, the Bulldogs blew a 7-0 lead and allowed 10 straight runs to the Fighting Illini.  Fresno State was cruising with a 7-run lead in the fourth inning when the Bulldogs' pitching fell apart. Reliever Samantha Mejia, who's now seen appearances in 16 games, saw her record fall to 1-4 and ERA increase to 7.45 with the loss.  Savannah McHellon hit a grand slam and Katie Castellon hit a home run as the Bulldogs roared to the big lead before faltering.

Illinois 8, Fresno State 5 (9 innings) - In game two, Fresno State was unable to hold a 3-0 lead as a costly outfield error allowed three runs to score and changed the direction of the game.  Four of Illinois' eight runs were unearned as the Illini scored 18 runs in the doubleheader.  That's 10 more runs than Illinois had scored in the previous four games combined between the two schools, a series FS led 3-1 entering the day.  Savannah McHellon hit two home runs, giving her three for the day, and 11 for the season. While the top of the Bulldog batting order was having a successful day, the bottom portion of the order went 0-for-13 in game two and 4-for-25 in the two games combined.  Only 702 fans attended the doubleheader, and Fresno State fell to 13-13 overall. The Bulldogs have lost three of their past four home games, and Linda Garza's team has lost 10 of its last 16 contests overall.  In the two games, Fresno State saw its staff ERA rise to 4.58, second worst in the Mountain West just a year after leading the league at 2.95.  The Bulldogs' record for worst ERA in program history (3.49) is more than a point better than this season.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Marquee wins or fluff? Let's see who they've really beaten

Mountain West play begins today for every team in the conference except Fresno State, which hosts Illinois and Cal Poly this weekend for four games.

It's time to take a look at who teams have really beaten in the non-conference portions of their seasons.  Are the stats padded from beating up on bad teams? Or are there a lot of quality wins in there?

The answers are a bit surprising, quite frankly.

UNLV has eight wins over teams that had winning records as of yesterday, March 15.  That leads the Mountain West. None of the names (aside from maybe Syracuse and DePaul) actually jump out and grab you, but wins over quality opponents is an important stat.  The Rebels have the most wins over teams with current records over .500.

And to be clear, a team had to be above .500 in order to be considered in this chart. This is far from an exact science, and even a winning record doesn't necessarily mean you've beaten a quality team.  In fact, some wins that don't show up here (for example, Colorado State's victory over Texas) are better than some that do show up here.

But still, this gives everyone an idea of who's had a majority of their wins over bad teams and who hasn't.  Take San Diego State, for example.  The Aztecs have been a disappointment overall, going 9-17 as we head into league play.  But the preseason Mountain West favorites have beaten six teams that had winning records as of March 15.  That means 67% of the Aztecs' wins this team came against winning teams.  SDSU has played the strongest overall schedule among MW teams, with Fresno State a close second, according to overall winning percentage. Linda Garza's team has played four of the nation's top nine ranked teams in this week's NFCA/USA Today Top 25.

The Bulldogs are third behind the Rebels and Aztecs among MW teams with three wins over teams with winning records.  By Fresno State historical standards, it's not great though.

But things could be worse.  No other MW team has more than two wins over teams that were above .500 at the close of play Thursday.

And some of these stats are deceiving. For example, Utah State's win over Texas Southern shows up here because TSU has an 8-4-1 overall record. It comes with an asterisk because Texas Southern has three non-Division I victories among its eight wins. And by the end of the season, it's doubtful that would be considered a quality win for Utah State.  In the 2017 final RPI, Texas Southern finished 274th despite having a winning overall record.

The bottom line is this:  the Mountain West this year is considerably behind where it stood at this point last season in terms of quality wins.  A lot can change between now and May, but the MW needs to pick up some additional non-conference victories this season in order to have a shot at coming close to last season's five postseason bids (two NCAA, three NISC).

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Weekend recap: Six of the nine MW teams have winning weekends

It was a mixed bag again this weekend for the Mountain West, which continues to have an overall up and down season filled with some extreme highs and lows.  Fresno State, San Jose State, Colorado State, Boise State, UNLV and New Mexico had the most success as each finished with a winning record in games played this weekend.

Fresno State - The Bulldogs went 4-1 at their own Fresno State Invitational, with the only loss coming to a red-hot, 17th-ranked Cal (24-3 overall) team. The 'Dogs pitched well, holding their opponents scoreless for the first 17 innings of the weekend. Perhaps most impressive: Fresno State's four wins this weekend came from four different pitchers.  Freshman Dani East threw a complete-game shutout in a 9-0 win over Cleveland State Friday, and freshman Savannah Berkowitz threw a complete game in her first collegiate start and just her second-ever appearance for the Bulldogs in a 6-1 win over Cleveland State a day later. Senior Savannah McHellon made just her second start of the year in the circle for Fresno State and was specacular, tossing a complete-game 1-hit shutout in an 8-0 victory over UC Santa Barbara. McHellon's weekend overall was special as she hit two home runs, a pair of doubles, and had five hits and eight RBI. Junior Dominique Jackson went 3-for-3, including a home run, and had five RBI in Sunday's 10-4 win over Monmouth, a game where sophomore pitcher Samantha Mejia picked up her first win of the year.  McHellon has hit eight home runs this season, and the Bulldogs have already smacked 25 homers.

San Jose State - The Spartans went 3-2 at the Louisville Slugger Classic against a demanding slate of opponents. The most impressive win of the weekend came against Long Beach State in a 7-3 victory Saturday.  SJSU had a late meltdown against Ohio State when it appeared on the verge of victory. A bases-loaded hit-by-pitch, with two outs in the seventh inning, allowed the Buckeyes to tie the game. Ohio State would go on to post a 3-run eighth inning and prevail 6-3. Against unbeaten UCLA, the Spartans were run-ruled 10-0 in five innings. San Jose State erupted for a 9-run top of the sixth to snap a 6-all tie on its way to a 15-6 win over Cal State Fullerton, and the international tiebreak rule was in effect when SJSU defeated Boston University in 10 innings.

Boise State - At the Highlander Classic, the Broncos split a pair against host UC Riverside by 18-8 (a win) and 3-0 (a loss) scores. In finishing the weekend 4-1, Boise State defeated North Dakota State 1-0, Colgate 4-0, and Columbia 6-1.

Colorado State - The Rams, after going 0-5 last weekend, did the opposite this weekend, finishing 5-0 at their own tourney, albeit against weak competition. Four of the five wins came against St. John's and Idaho State, two teams with a combined 6-30 record. The other win was a 5-3 decision against Utah Valley.

UNLV - The Rebels lead the Mountain West in victories with 17 heading into conference play, and UNLV went 3-1 at their home tournament. Rebels pitching remained impressive as it has been most of the preseason in a 2-1 victory over DePaul and a 5-2 win over New Mexico State. UNLV also defeated Portland State 9-1, and suffered a setback to the nation's No. 1-ranked team, Washington, by an 8-0 score.

San Diego State - The Aztecs continue to struggle in stunning fashion. After leading the nation in batting average (.356) a season ago, and returning the vast majority of its team, SDSU is hitting just .217 this year following another winless weekend.  The preseason Mountain West favorites have lost seven consecutive games after going 0-5 at the Louisville Slugger Classic. Two of the losses this weekend came by shutout (7-0 to Ohio State and 5-0 to Long Beach State) and the Aztecs have suffered eight shutout losses already.  SDSU was beaten by Boston University for the second time this season, and Michigan State and Cal State Fullerton handed Kathy Van Wyk's team 1-run losses.

Utah State - At the UC Davis Aggie Invitational, Utah State went 1-4. After winning its opener against the hosts, USU lost four in a row, all in low-scoring, tight games.  Two of the losses came to Northern Colorado, one was to Valparaiso, and the finale came in a rematch against tourney host UC Davis.  A year after winning 33 games, Utah State has just nine this time around as we enter conference play (pending a midweek game in Logan versus Weber State).  USU is 0-6 this season in games decided by one run.

New Mexico - The Lobos doubled their entire season win total in a single weekend, going 3-2 at their home tourney against light competition. UNM beat St. Mary's (8-18) twice, and routed a 2-21 Howard team by a 17-1 score. The losses both came to Sacramento State, including in a wild, 15-12 game cut short by wild weather that included a rain and snow mix on Sunday in Albuquerque.

Nevada - The Wolf Pack played just three games this weekend, going 1-2 at the Aggie Invitational in Davis.  Nevada fell 9-4 to host UC Davis, and also lost to Valparaiso 3-1.  The win came in Nevada's final game of the weekend as the Pack rallied for a 2-1 victory over Northern Colorado.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Weekend recap: Rams go 0-5, while Bulldogs and Aztecs remain under .500

In recapping this past weekend of Mountain West softball, you may want to avert your eyes if you're looking for a feel-good story.

Colorado State went into the weekend on the verge of a Top 25 national ranking and off to its best start in 21 years. The Rams limped home having lost five consecutive games and going winless at the San Diego Classic I.

Coach Jen Fisher's Rams fell to Oregon State, No. 20 Minnesota, Cal State Northridge, Boston University and the USD Toreros.  Colorado State scored a total of only eight runs in the five combined games.

Fresno State and San Diego State continued to struggle, and both will head into the second weekend of March with losing records.  Only once in Bulldog history has Fresno State had a losing record this late in the season.  The only previous time it happened (2003), the Bulldogs started the season 7-14, but quickly turned things around by winning 26 of their next 32 games to reach the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Linda Garza's squad went 2-2 at the Judi Garman Classic this weekend, with freshman pitcher Dani East picking up both wins.  The victories came via scores of 3-2 over Cal Poly, and 5-2 over Loyola Marymount. One of the losses was a 7-2 setback to No. 17 Louisiana-Lafayette Sunday.  It was the Bulldogs' eighth consecutive loss to a ranked opponent, and Fresno State is just 1-11 vs. ranked teams since Garza's arrival last season.

But only six days after being run-ruled by Cal State Northridge for the first time in the 61-game history between the schools, Garza's Bulldogs were run-ruled this weekend by Cal State Fullerton for the first time in the 78-game history between those two schools as well.  The Titans blasted Fresno State 11-3 in five innings on Saturday, marking the first time ever that Fullerton run-ruled the Bulldogs in a series that began in 1981.  Against Northridge six days earlier, it was a 12-2 run-rule loss for the 'Dogs.

Fresno State has lost seven of its past nine games overall, has been run-ruled five times already in 2018, and is currently 9-10 on the season.

Meanwhile, things are no better at preseason Mountain West favorite San Diego State. The Aztecs are 8-12 overall after hosting their own San Diego Classic I this weekend. The Aztecs picked up a solid 6-2 win over Minnesota, which struggled in losing three straight games in San Diego.

Aside from that victory over a Gophers squad that will likely see its national ranking disappear when polls are released Tuesday, SDSU went 1-2 in its other three games. The Aztecs edged UCF 3-1, but were shut out by both Boston University and Cal State Northridge in 1-0 and 2-0 losses. San Diego State, which led the nation in batting average a season ago and returned six starters this year, has now been shut out in each of its last four losses. The Aztecs have been shut out six times this season, and will enter this week having been held scoreless in 16 consecutive innings ... all on their home field.

Boston University's shutout of the Aztecs Sunday came when Terriers freshman pitcher Cali Dolfi was making her first collegiate start. This weekend marked the first time in more than five years that SDSU was shut out in consecutive home games.  And being shut out at home by Cal State Northridge and Boston University pales in comparison to the teams that blanked the Aztecs in February 2013 (then-No. 1 ranked Oklahoma and No. 22 Kentucky).  No San Diego State player is currently hitting over .300 this season, a shocking stat for a team known for its offensive firepower.

UNLV went 3-2 at the Lopes Up Classic, beating Grand Canyon, Princeton and Valparaiso, and losing to Valparaiso and South Dakota. Nevada went 4-1 at the Red Desert Classic, beating Southern Utah twice, Weber State and Utah Valley, while losing to Montana. The Wolf Pack were on both the winning and losing sides of 16-3 decisions, getting the win over Southern Utah and taking the loss against Montana. Boise State went 4-1 at the same tourney against the same set of teams, posting wins over Montana (twice), Southern Utah and Weber State, but falling to Utah Valley.

San Jose State beat Wagner 3-0 and Providence 4-2 in a rain-shortened weekend in Stockton. And New Mexico went 1-4 at the Texas Tech tournament, beating the host Red Raiders 14-13 in a wild, 10-inning game on Friday. The Lobos have won only three of 20 games this season.

Overall, the Mountain West through four weeks of play remains under .500 as a whole, struggling just one year after it reached a top six ranking in conference RPI at one point.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Colorado State improves to 8-1, closes in on Top 25 ranking

Colorado State's impressive start to the 2018 season continued Tuesday.

The Rams improved to 8-1 on the season with a 9-4 victory over Northern Colorado in CSU's home opener.  The game was played in sunny conditions and temperatures near 50 degrees.  In February in Fort Collins, that's a win in itself.

Colorado State's Kaylynn Pierce earned the pitching win and also helped her own cause with a hit and two RBI.  The Rams got back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning from Hannah McCorkhill and Madison Kilcrease.

Off to their best start in 21 years, the Rams received four votes in this week's USA Today/NFCA Top 25 poll (down from 14 a week ago for an inexplicable reason) to rank 34th.  In this week's Softball Top 25 media poll, Colorado State earned eight votes, for the second week in a row in that poll, to rank 32nd.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Fresno State, San Jose State combine to go 1-9 at the Mary Nutter Classic

It was a mostly forgettable weekend at the Mary Nutter Classic in Palm Springs for the Mountain West as the top three projected teams in the league had rough outings all the way around, winning four of 15 games. The MW's two 2017 NCAA tournament teams - Fresno State and San Jose State - won just once in 10 combined games, and the Spartans' head coach has been suspended by the conference offices for his actions in one of those games.

Fresno State coach Linda Garza, in just her second season at the helm of the Bulldogs, saw her team finish 0-5 at the prestigious tournament in the desert. It was the first time in program history that a Bulldog softball team went 0-5 at a single weekend tournament. And it was record-setting.

The Bulldogs tied a long-standing school record for most consecutive losses (5), which had been reached only twice previously in the 37 years the Bulldogs have been playing softball as a Division I sport.  The last time Fresno State lost five straight was 25 years ago during the 1993 season. But that year was much different. Under head coach Margie Wright that year, four of those five losses came against the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams - Arizona and UCLA - who would go on to meet in the NCAA title game later that year.

Fresno State's five losses this weekend came against Wisconsin (a 6-5 loss Friday), No. 7 LSU (a 10-2 run-rule loss Saturday), BYU (a 7-3 loss late Saturday night), and today versus No. 3 UCLA (a respectable 7-3 loss), and in a shocking and humbling, run-rule rout to Cal State Northridge.  Garza's questionable decision to remove pitcher Danielle East from Friday's tourney opener vs. Wisconsin, when the freshman was tossing a 4-hitter and the Bulldogs were leading 3-1 in the fifth inning, seemed to set the tone for the weekend.

The loss to CSUN was basically an implosion as Fresno State gave up 10 runs to the Matadors in the fifth and sixth innings en route to a 12-2 (six innings) run-rule loss.  Northridge entered the game 5-10 overall and already having lost just last weekend to New Mexico, the projected last-place finisher in the Mountain West.  The Lobos have lost 22 of their last 24 games spanning two seasons, but still managed to beat CSUN 5-2 on Feb. 18.

Garza's squad suffered the first run-rule loss to Cal State Northridge in the 61-game history between the Bulldogs and Matadors, a series that began nearly 40 years ago.  Making CSUN's run-rule win even more stunning was the fact the Matadors entered the game on a downward note, having been run-ruled three times themselves in the 48 hours leading up to Sunday, and outscored 30-7 in their first four games of the tournament.

Fresno State actually had some bright spots that centered around hitting the long ball. The Bulldogs hit four home runs Sunday, but all four were solo shots. Hayleigh Galvan hit home runs in both losses today, while Vanessa Hernandez hit one against UCLA and Savannah McHellon hit one against Northridge.  As it has all season though, Fresno State had trouble manufacturing runs that didn't coincide with the long ball.

Bulldog pitching was another story, as the team ERA soared to 5.05 for the season. In program history, never has a Fresno State softball team ERA finished above 4.00, let alone above 5.00.  The Bulldogs currently rank next-to-last in the Mountain West in team ERA, a shocking stat for a team that led the league in ERA last season.

Fresno State pitchers issued 32 walks in the five games this weekend, giving them 63 in just 15 games. The Bulldogs are currently on pace to obliterate the school record for most walks given up by a Fresno State pitching staff in a single season. The dubious record (178 walks) was set last season in Garza's first year as Bulldog head coach.

The two run-rule losses this weekend by Fresno State (against LSU and Cal State Northridge) means the Bulldogs have been run-ruled in four of their first eight losses this season. This marks the first time in school history a Fresno State softball team has been run-ruled four times in the same month. Over the past five seasons, the Bulldogs haven't been run-ruled that many times during an entire season.

San Jose State finished a 1-4 weekend and now has lost six of its past seven games. During a game against nationally-ranked Oregon, Spartans head coach Peter Turner was ejected, and it prompted the Mountain West offices to issue a one-game suspension.  Turner will have to sit out the Feb. 28 game at Santa Clara after what the MW offices deemed, "A violation of MW Rule 4 - Sportsmanship." Read the full text of the MW press release here.

You can read the full Sportsmanship rules as set forth by the Mountain West here.

The Spartans' lone win of the weekend came over St. John's.  In the game against Oregon where Turner was ejected, a 1-0 game in the sixth inning turned into a 7-0 Ducks lead in the seventh. With one out in the bottom of the inning, the game ended via a 2-hour rule agreed upon prior to the start of the game.  Thus, the score reverted from the 7-0 Ducks lead to a designated final score of 1-0 when the previous inning concluded.

San Diego State, which has now lost 10 games in the month of February for the first time in 14 years, had the best weekend of the three by finishing with three wins.  A 2-1 upset of Notre Dame was the major highlight, and SDSU's other wins came in extra innings against Bethune-Cookman and versus Liberty.  The Aztecs were shut out on a 1-hitter by UC Davis to cap their weekend Sunday.

The Bulldogs, Spartans and Aztecs are a combined 22-25 overall after three weeks of play.