Thursday, May 7, 2015

Fresno State clinches tie for MW title, eliminates Aztecs

Fresno State has moved to the brink of its first outright Mountain West softball title, its first conference crown in six years, and its 22nd in school history.  Coach Trisha Ford's red-hot Bulldogs won their ninth consecutive game and were winners for the 14th time in their last 15.  Fresno State is 18-4 in conference play and two games ahead with two to play.

The Bulldogs clinched at least a portion of the regular-season Mountain West championship Thursday with a 10-2 (6 innings) run-rule win over UNLV in Las Vegas.  In the process, 3-time defending conference champion San Diego State was officially eliminated from the race to claim the automatic NCAA bid that goes to the Mountain West winner.

Fresno State's magic number is now 1.  One Bulldog win, or one San Jose State loss in its series with New Mexico, during the remainder of the weekend will give Fresno State the outright Mountain West championship and the accompanying automatic NCAA bid.

The Spartans kept their slim hopes alive, outlasting the Lobos 12-9 in a slugfest.  In other games, road teams Colorado State and Utah State run-ruled Nevada and Boise State.

Fresno State 10, UNLV 2 (6 innings) - The Bulldogs secured at least a piece of their 22nd softball conference championship and moved to the brink of the school's 31st NCAA Tournament bid with a run-rule win over the Rebels in Las Vegas.  Fresno State pounded out 14 hits in a game that could have even been more lopsided on the scoreboard.  The Bulldogs stranded 11 base runners in just the first four innings alone, and left the bases loaded in both the third and fourth innings.  Jill Compton's outstanding junior season continued as she won her 13th consecutive start, pitching a complete-game 5-hitter and striking out eight.  Compton is now 27-10 with 229 strikeouts.  It came on a very windy Las Vegas night with the wind blowing out of Eller Media Stadium.  Brenna Moss hit her first home run of the season, a 2-run shot in the sixth, and finished with three hits, two RBI and a pair of runs scored.  It was just the second home run of Moss' sterling 4-year Bulldog career. Junior Bria Kennedy launched her first career home run -- a solo shot to left in the third off UNLV starter Morgan Ettinger, who absorbed the loss.  Kennedy had a pair of RBI and hit a deep sacrifice fly to left in the first inning.  Malia Rivers had three hits, joining teammates Moss and Alyssa Villalpando in the 3-hit parade.  Villalpando, who had two RBI, got them on one of the most important hits of the game with a 2-run single in the top of the first inning.  It was part of a 4-run first for the Bulldogs and set the tone for the night.  All nine Bulldog batters had hits or scored runs.  Kierra Willis' hot bat continued with a pair of hits and an RBI, while Whitney Smith and Michelle Solomon had a hit and RBI, and hit and run scored, respectively.  Solomon narrowly missed a grand slam on a ball that just went foul down the left field line in the third.  Emily Haslinger had both UNLV RBI in the game, with a groundout and solo home run.  Already assured at least a co-championship, the Bulldogs obviously want this one all to themselves.  One Fresno State win or one San Jose State loss over the next two days gives the Bulldogs the automatic NCAA bid that goes to the Mountain West champion.  Fresno State (38-14), which is two wins shy of a 40-win season for the first time in five years, did not have a batter who struck out in the game.

San Jose State 12, New Mexico 9 - This one looked like it was going to be all Lobos early, before the Spartans responded with eight unanswered runs midway through the game before having to hold off New Mexico at the end.  UNM stormed to a 5-2 lead after two innings and had little trouble against San Jose State starter Allison Lang, who lasted just 1+ inning and gave up those five runs (all earned).  New Mexico had four big hits in the first when it scored three times to take a 3-0 lead.  Shelbie Franc singled, while Jasmine Casados and Karissa Haleman doubled, and freshman Chelsea Johnson smacked a 2-run home run over the fence in right.  The lead wouldn't last long as UNM ran into some pitching troubles of its own and senior starter Carrie Sheehan didn't make it out of the third inning.  San Jose State put up 4-spots in both the third and fourth innings to take a commanding 10-5 lead after getting down 5-2.  Jessica Madrid hit a 2-run homer in the third, while Jessie Hufstetler and Sharon-Renae Estrada both hit 2-run doubles in the fourth.  In the sixth, the Lobos rallied with an RBI single by Michala Erickson and a 2-run home run by Brandi Heimburg.  That made it a 10-8 game before SJSU added two more in the seventh with Madrid and Hufstetler causing the damage.  In the bottom of the seventh, Karissa Haleman went deep with a solo blast as UNM saw all three Spartans pitchers in the game.  Katelyn Linford, who went four innings of middle relief, grabbed the win, while Madison Fish entered in the sixth and finished the game.  Despite the win, SJSU moved to the brink of elimination in the conference race with Fresno State's road rout of UNLV.  Both the Lobos and Spartans finished with 12 hits each.

Colorado State 10, Nevada 2 (5 innings) - In Reno, a 10-run top of the second inning was all the Rams needed in a rout of the Wolf Pack.  Colorado State's 10 runs in the frame came on eight hits, including a pair of multi-run homers.  Danielle Wikre blasted a 3-run shot, while Taylor Hutton smashed a grand slam.  Holly Reinke scattered six hits to pick up the win.  Nevada's McKenna Isenberg took the loss and the Pack got a home run from Alyssa Mendez.

Utah State 16, Boise State 3 (5 innings) - In Boise, this matchup of struggling teams went the way of the Aggies, who snapped an 11-game losing streak.  Utah State hit five home runs as Hailey Froton, Alleyah Armendariz, Brina Buttacavoli, Paxton Provost and Noelle Johnson all hit round-trippers.  Johnson also scattered nine hits to pick up the pitching victory, while Nicole Wilson took the loss.  The Broncos and Aggies have combined for 76 losses this season against just 29 wins.