Wednesday, March 30, 2016

No. 25 Fresno State has won 13 straight MW games after 18-2 rout

25th-ranked Fresno State ran its Mountain West winning streak to 13 straight Wednesday afternoon with another blistering day of offense in Boise.

The Bulldogs routed host Boise State 18-2 (five innings) in a third-straight, run-rule win over the Broncos on the road.  For the 3-game series, Fresno State hit 8 home runs and put up an astonishing 49 runs, setting a new Mountain West- and school-record for runs in a series.  It marked the first time Boise State had ever been run-ruled in three straight games at Dona Larsen Park in Boise.

When combined with last year's conference championship squad that won 10 straight league games to wrap up the 2015 season, Coach Trisha Ford's team has now won 13 Mountain West games in a row.  Perhaps even more impressive, Fresno State has reached double-figures in runs in seven consecutive league contests.

The offensive fireworks and superlatives were stunning, especially against a Boise State team that held leads last weekend heading to the final at-bats of two different games at Nevada.  And this was a Broncos team that had run-ruled Stanford and won in Lubbock against Texas Tech just two weeks ago.

But Boise State was no match for the Bulldogs this week.  Consider this:  for the second straight day, Fresno State set a new season-high runs total and finished with 49 runs in three games.  The 'Dogs scored 17 runs in the series opener Tuesday, followed it up with 14 in yesterday's nightcap and then pushed 18 across Wednesday.  Also for the second straight day, the Bulldogs got a first inning grand slam from a player who finished the day with nine RBI.

In its long and storied history, Fresno State had never had two different players have 9 RBI days back to back.  After Alyssa Villalpando did it in Tuesday's doubleheader sweep, it was junior Lindsey Willmon's turn Wednesday.  Willmon launched a grand slam deep over the wall in center field to give the Bulldogs a 4-0 lead in the first inning and they never looked back.  Willmon later added a 2-run double and a second home run, this time a 3-run blast, to finish with 9 RBI, a career high and new, single-game, school and Mountain West record.

Bria Kennedy homered for the second day in a row, sophomore Claire Stucker had her first career hit (a pinch-hit double), and the Bulldogs put together a pair of 7-run innings.  How lopsided did it get?  Kennedy already had made three plate appearances by the time the second inning rolled around.

This was more than enough for Jill Compton, who eased to her second complete-game win in as many Mountain West starts.  The reigning Pitcher of the Year, despite missing more than two weeks of playing action due to injury, moved into a tie for the league lead in victories with 11.  Compton did not walk a batter in either of her complete-game outings in Boise.

Along with Willmon's nine RBI, Kennedy finished with three RBI, freshman Dominique Jackson had a pair of RBI, second baseman Malia Rivers had two hits and scored three runs, and Whitney Smith added a pair of hits.  Ford substituted liberally as 15 Bulldogs saw action in the five innings.  Boise State used five different pitchers in an attempt to derail the Fresno State offense.  Starting pitcher Jenna Bassler fell to 1-9 with the loss.

Of the first six completed series of the season in the Mountain West, five were won by the home team.  Fresno State is the lone team to win a conference road series thus far, and obviously the only one to sweep one as well.

San Diego St. 1, Nevada 0 - In San Diego, the Aztecs prevailed over the Wolf Pack thanks to a complete-game outing from pitcher Alex Formby, who scattered five hits.  Nevada left runners at second and third base in the seventh inning when Formby struck out pinch hitter Amanda Weis.  Brooke Bolinger took the loss.

San Jose St. 6, UNLV 3 - In San Jose, the Spartans (14-17 overall) won to complete a 3-game sweep of the Rebels.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Bulldogs score 31 runs on 32 hits and hit 5 HRs in doubleheader sweep

Fresno State became the first Mountain West team this season to assure itself a series win away from home, rolling to a 17-8 (five innings) win at Boise State in Tuesday's opening game, and following it up with a 14-4 win (six innings) in the nightcap.

Elsewhere, San Jose State took advantage of eight UNLV errors to claim a doubleheader sweep in San Jose in front of a crowd listed at 75 in the official boxscore.  San Diego State and Nevada split a pair in San Diego.

No. 25 Fresno State 17, Boise State 8 (5 innings) - The Bulldogs scored a season-high in runs and had 16 hits, including three home runs, to power past the Broncos.  Fresno State set the tone in the first inning as Bria Kennedy, Malia Rivers and Kierra Willis all singled to begin the game, and Alyssa Villalpando followed with a grand slam to make it 4-0 just moments into the contest.  Villalpando, on a day where she would finish with nine RBI, cleared the bases a second time in the game with a bases-loaded double in the third before coach Trisha Ford pulled nearly all of her starters.  Jill Compton picked up the win (her 10th of the year), while Nicole Wilson took the loss.  For Compton, it was her first complete-game outing since being hit by a line drive March 6 in a win over Cal. Freshmen Morgan Howe, in a pinch-hitting role, and Vanessa Hernandez both hit their first career home runs in the game.  Howe, Villalpando, Whitney Smith and Kierra Willis all had two hits, while Bria Kennedy was 3-for-3.  Three of Boise State's nine hits came from Morgan Lamb, who homered.

No. 25 Fresno State 14, Boise State 4 (6 innings) - Freshman pitcher Kamalani Dung earned the complete-game win in her first ever start in a Mountain West game, and the Bulldogs pounded out 16 hits for the second game in a row.  Villalpando had two more RBI to finish with nine on the afternoon, and five Bulldogs had multi-hit games.  Willis and Bria Kennedy each hit home runs and finished with two hits.  Willis had three RBI, while Kennedy had a pair of RBI and scored three runs.  Hernandez, after hitting a homer in the opener, had a key, 2-out, 2-run double to break the game open in the fifth and finished with two hits and three RBI.  Lindsey Willmon and Malia Rivers had a pair of hits each.  The Bulldogs' five homers on the day gave them 31 for the season, surpassing their 2015 team total for the year.  Rebekah Cervantes supplied nearly all of BSU's offense with two home runs and all four RBI.  Dung allowed just six hits in improving to 4-0 on the season.  Mackenzie McGill took the loss.

You may read about games involving other teams at their respective web sites.

New RPI & polls: Fresno State in the Top 25 of both

The latest Ratings Percentage Index numbers are out, along with the new Top 25 polls for the week.  Defending Mountain West champion Fresno State finds itself squarely in the mix for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid (should it become necessary) and in line to be considered for a regional host spot if things continue.

That's not to say the Bulldogs are a lock for any of that, because there is a lot of season still left.  But as of right now, coach Trisha Ford's team is looking good.  The Bulldogs are the lone MW team in the Top 25 or Top 50 of the RPI, but one of five in the RPI Top 100.  And there's more:  The Mountain West now has seven teams in the Top 110 of the RPI for the first time in league history.

Having seven RPI teams that highly rated could give an indication that this is another NCAA multi-bid year for the conference, but we'll have to see how things shake out.  For now though, the RPIs stack up this way:

Fresno State is at No. 22, down two spots from last week when it played just one game -- a non-conference, midweek tilt at Cal State Fullerton.  San Diego State is at No. 59, down four spots from last week after going 1-2 at UNLV.  The Bulldogs, for the time being at least, are an NCAA lock with an RPI that high, against the nation's 7th toughest schedule.  The Aztecs, meanwhile, would be in the at-large conversation, but clearly on the bubble.

Nevada is at No. 78, up 15 spots after sweeping Boise State last week.  The Wolf Pack would be much higher if it had played a more difficult non-conference schedule, even by losing several games.  Nevada is 16th nationally in win-loss percentage, but just 263rd (of 295 teams) in strength of schedule.

Making the leap of the week in the RPI among Mountain West teams:  UNLV.  The Rebels jumped 29 spots to No. 97 after taking two of three from San Diego State.  Right on the heels of UNLV are New Mexico (98th) and San Jose State (101st).  The Lobos moved up two spots after taking two of three from Utah State last week, while the Spartans jumped 10 spots without playing.  Colorado State, which also didn't play, moved up six spots to No. 108.

Utah State and Boise State round out the RPI at Nos. 215 and 218, respectively.  The Aggies moved up five spots and the Broncos four, despite going a combined 1-5 last week.

In today's newly-released USA Today/NFCA Top 25 coaches poll, Fresno State held at No. 25.  The Bulldogs have been ranked for seven consecutive weeks in the coaches poll.

And, in national Strength of Schedule numbers, Fresno State is No. 7 this week against a daunting slate.  San Jose State remains in the SOS Top 50 at No. 44.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Saturday recap: SDSU loses MW-opening series for first time in 9 years

The opening week of league action in the Mountain West Conference concluded Saturday with one big result.  San Diego State, which had won three straight league titles before being dethroned last season by Fresno State, suffered its first series loss to begin conference play in nine years.

UNLV emerged a winner in Las Vegas in games two and three of its series with the Aztecs, and San Diego State dropped below .500 in league play for the first time since 2007.  In other games, Nevada completed a 3-game sweep of Boise State, which has now lost 26 of its past 30 league games, dating back to the 2014 season; and New Mexico wrapped up a series win over Utah State in Albuquerque.

UNLV 7, San Diego St. 2 - Rebels pitcher Janine Petmecky entered the week having won just one game this season, but picked up her second win in two days against the Aztecs (1-2, 19-12) Saturday.  Petmecky entered in relief of starter Kwyn Cooper in the third inning and didn't allow a run the rest of the way, scattering six hits for UNLV (2-1, 18-14).  San Diego State, which took advantage of six UNLV errors in its lone win of the series in Thursday's opener, committed three of its own Saturday.  Four of the Rebels runs were unearned.  Sam Camello's 2-out error in the third proved to be very costly because of what followed:  an infield single by Alyssa Cordova and a 3-run home run by Francesca Foti that broke the game open.  San Diego State catcher Jenavee Peres, leading the Aztecs at the plate in both average and power, did not start any of the three games in Las Vegas.  Peres made one appearance in the series, hitting into a fielder's choice as a pinch-hitter in Friday's 4-2 UNLV win.

Nevada 5, Boise State 2 - In Reno, freshman pitcher Brooke Bolinger scattered seven hits and struck out 10 to pick up the win over the Broncos.  Boise State has won just four its past 30 Mountain West games spanning two-plus seasons and has lost nine straight league games. Nevada got a pair of hits from Jennifer Purcell (both doubles) and Aaliyah Gibson in completing the 3-game sweep over the Broncos (0-3, 8-23).  Nevada (3-0, 22-5) will put its perfect league record on the line Tuesday and Wednesday at San Diego State.  When the Wolf Pack face the Aztecs, it will end a stretch of 45 days since Nevada has played a team ranked in the current RPI Top 100.  Just one of Nevada's 22 wins has come over a team listed in the most recent NCAA RPI Top 100, and the Pack haven't faced such a team since the opening weekend of the season.  Mackenzie McGill took the loss for Boise State.

New Mexico 4, Utah State 0 - Krissy Fortner earned the complete-game win by tossing a 3-hitter and also picked up the Lobos' first shutout of the year, beating the Aggies (1-2, 13-13) in Albuquerque.  For the third straight season, New Mexico (2-1, 17-12) claimed the 3-game series over Utah State after losing game one.  Fortner gave up a pair of hits in the third, and one more in the fifth -- all singles -- but that was it, moving her record to 3-1.  Noelle Johnson took the loss for the Aggies.  Chelsea Johnson made her case for being named Mountain West Player of the Week with a home run for the third straight game.  Her 2-run shot in the fifth provided the game's final margin, and all but sealed the win because of how Fortner was able to shut down Utah State's offense.

Friday Mountain West recaps

UNLV 4, San Diego St. 2 - In Las Vegas, the Aztecs stranded a season-high 14 base runners and the host Rebels picked up the win.  SDSU out-hit UNLV 11 to seven, but continually left runners aboard in a frustrating defeat.  The Rebels, meanwhile, got seven hits from seven different players, including doubles from Francesca Foti and Chrissi Omalza.  UNLV reliever Janine Petmecky escaped a bases loaded, no out jam in the fourth and earned the win.  Alex Formby took the loss for San Diego State.

New Mexico 13, Utah State 6 - In Albuquerque, the Lobos and Aggies combined for 28 hits in a game won by the home team.  This was a game of runs and streaky hitting.  New Mexico broke to a 5-1 lead before a 5-run rally by Utah State put the Aggies in front 6-5.  From there, the Lobos scored the game's final eight runs in a blowout.  Chelsea Johnson went 4-for-4 with a home run, double and six RBI to pace UNM.  Mariah Rimmer also homered, had three hits and added four RBI, while Michala Erickson had four hits.  Tess McPherson threw 3-hit ball in three innings of scoreless relief for the win.  Losing pitcher Alleyah Armendariz struggled, allowing three earned runs and failing to record an out in the game after entering in relief trying to hold a 1-run lead.

Nevada 11, Boise State 10 - In Reno, the Broncos fell apart after nearly run-ruling the Wolf Pack in five innings.  Boise State led this one 9-2 and had a runner in scoring position in the fifth for that magical 8-run lead, but it wasn't to be.  Nevada came back with a 5-run bottom of the fifth to make it close.  And then, for the second consecutive game, Boise State was unable to hold a 2-run lead heading into Nevada's final at-bat.  The Pack scored three in the bottom of the seventh, with two runs scoring on a bases-loaded walk and hit-by-pitch by losing pitcher Mackenzie McGill.  McKenna Isenberg, who was rocked early by a Boise State offense that pounded out 16 hits in the game, re-entered later and picked up the win.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Thursday Mountain West recaps

Conference play began Thursday for six of the nine Mountain West teams.  Defending conference champion Fresno State, ranked 23rd and 25th in the major polls this week and picked to repeat this season, was idle.  And one league-opening series -- San Jose State at Colorado State -- was snowed out and postponed.  No makeup date has been announced.

San Diego State 6, UNLV 2 - How does a team score six runs on only four hits, especially when three of those hits are singles?  Well, it helps when the opposing team commits a season-high in errors.  That's what happened in Las Vegas as UNLV (0-1, 16-14) committed a whopping six errors to hand the victory to the Aztecs (1-0, 19-10).  SDSU's lone extra-base hit was a 2-run home run from Jaylene Ignacio, and the Aztecs broke a 2-2 tie in the sixth.  The third and fourth innings were the only two innings where the Rebels did not commit an error.  Alex Formy threw 2 2/3 innings of hitless and scoreless relief to pick up the win after starter Erica Romero gave up seven hits and two runs in 4 1/3 innings.  Betrayed by her team's defense, Kwyn Cooper was the tough-luck loser, going the distance and allowing just the aforementioned four hits for UNLV.

Nevada 4, Boise State 3 (8 innings) - In Reno, the Wolf Pack came from behind twice to rally past the Broncos.  Boise State (0-1, 8-21) took a 2-run lead in the top of the eighth inning when Teauna Hughes hit a 2-run home run off eventual winning pitcher Brooke Bolinger.  As has been the case often this season, the Broncos were unable to hold a late lead.  Amanda Nicholas tied it in the bottom of the eighth on a 2-run home run, which was preceded by a walk issued by losing pitcher Paige Reimann.  With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Kwynn Warner delivered the walk-off home run to win it for Nevada (1-0, 20-5).  Reimann had only allowed a single in 2 2/3 innings of relief prior to the two home runs in the eighth.  Bolinger allowed seven hits.

Utah State 7, New Mexico 4 - A 5-run top of the fifth inning proved to be the difference as the Aggies (1-0, 13-11) surprised the Lobos (0-1, 15-12) in Albuquerque.  New Mexico hit a pair of home runs and had a seemingly comfortable 4-2 lead heading into the fifth inning before Utah State's uprising.  The Aggies got an RBI double from Noelle Johnson (the game's eventual winning pitcher) to cut the Lobos lead to 4-3 in the fifth, and then Libby Pederson tied it with an RBI double of her own.  Sarina Jaramillo pushed USU in front with a run-scoring single, and Victoria Saucedo followed with a 2-run home run to cap the frame.  Johnson threw 6 2/3 innings of relief to pick up the win after UNM scored three runs against Aggies starter April Brown to knock her from the game after just one-third of an inning.  Freshman Colette Robert allowed nine hits and six earned runs to pick up the loss for UNM.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

EXCLUSIVE: Our interview with former Lobos assistant Jennifer McKibben

Left to right:  Jennifer McKibben, Erica Beach, and Lyndsey Angus

The Mountain West Softball Blog sat down recently with Jennifer McKibben, a name very familiar to those who follow college softball.  The former assistant coach at New Mexico and standout softball catcher at Virginia Tech, McKibben earned all-conference honors twice with the Hokies and was the team's Defensive Player of the Year in 1997 and MVP in 1998.  After spending eight years as an assistant at Tallahassee Community College, where she helped guide the Eagles to six appearances and two championships in the NJCAA Region 8B/FCSAA Gulf District Tournament, McKibben joined the Lobos staff as a volunteer assistant in the Fall of 2013.

After the 2015 season, McKibben left the Lobos to become an assistant coach at junior college power Pensacola State under head coach Lyndsey Angus, also a former assistant at New Mexico. 

In this interview, we discuss with McKibben the sport of college softball in general, her time with the Lobos softball program, her new position, and -- among other things -- how the Mountain West is perceived nationally.  We hope you enjoy it.

Hi coach! First of all, thanks for doing this interview. How are you enjoying life in Pensacola?
Thanks so much for having me be a part of this!  Pensacola is great!  We have all settled in really well in the athletic department and with the team, and it definitely is a plus being 10 minutes from some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Makes it a fun day when you get to do team conditioning and activities in paradise! 

How was the transition, on either a personal or professional level, in making the move from Albuquerque to Pensacola? 
I'm originally from Florida so it was smooth sailing getting back to the south surrounded by family and longtime friends (and sweet tea!).  Professionally, junior college softball is something that has always been in my blood, both since I played and then coached in it for so long.  It presents a healthy challenge that always keeps you satisfied that you are continually changing lives and helping players get to a level maybe no one gave them a chance to ... whether it be athletically or academically, or lost in the recruiting process. It's a passion to get these athletes better and better in all aspects of their lives that makes being here so rewarding every single day.

Describe the biggest differences going from an NCAA Division I softball program to a junior
Pensacola State coaching staff 
college program that competes in the Panhandle Conference.
The University of New Mexico taught me so much in my time there.  That was the one level that I hadn't coached at yet, and Erica Beach gave me so much experience to learn at the highest level.  At the D-I level you have a roster of athletes that are so phenomenal and understand what a privilege it is to play and train on that level, day in and day out. Here in the Panhandle, we have teams that can compete with some mid-major D-Is, but there are always those spots here and there in the lineups you can work around. We all have amazing facilities like fields and weight rooms, but sometimes not the personnel, such as field crews, strength and conditioning staff, for example, that the D-Is have.  So it's a lot of extra work for our athletes and us as coaches to make sure we are doing everything in our power to prepare them when they move on to play 4-year ball. The Panhandle Conference, though, is if not the best, at least one of the top two JC conferences in the country for softball and all sports.  If you look at some rosters at some major D-I baseball/softball/basketball schools across the country, you will more times than not see an athlete that transferred from a Panhandle school.  Needless to say, there is no "off game" when competing in this conference.

What's a typical gameday experience like at Pensacola State compared to your former home, the University of New Mexico? 
The 2016 Pensacola State softball team
It's actually almost exactly the same.  Lyndsey Angus [former New Mexico assistant coach and now head coach at Pensacola State] has coached D-I softball her whole life (5 years at UNM) and has implemented 90 percent of those gameday routines into our program here. We have such a great community that supports all of our athletes so the crowds are great and it's always fun when the Blue Angels happen to be practicing and they fly overhead (they are based out of Pensacola).

You were a volunteer coach with the Lobos and now an assistant coach with the Pirates. How different are those two positions? 
First off, Coach Beach was so gracious and I never felt like just a volunteer.  She ingrained me in the staff so much and gave me so much input and it was so rewarding and helped me grow.  BUT my most favorite thing I now get to do -- and what is my passion is -- I get to recruit again.  For eight years when I was at Tallahassee Community College, I was the recruiting coordinator and all of it fell in my hands and I thrive off that.  I love building relationships with future players and coaches.  It's great to be back out at tournaments and watching games and making phone calls and building our team with the athletes we want to be a part of our family. We have some great Californians coming in next year.  Also a Canadian and a couple of Australian players in the works too.  We are super excited about what the future holds.

How did you first become a volunteer assistant at New Mexico?  Take us through that a little.
I had been great friends with Erica for a long time and it was something she would always talk to me about. My old boss lady -- and still, to this day, my mentor and favorite person in all the world -- Patti Townsend at TCC (I was with her for 8 years -- a University of Michigan alum, All-American, Team USA) told me three years ago that now is the time for me to go and see if it's something I would love. So I made the move, which was not easy, and it was so rewarding and I gained so many valuable lessons on the field ... and beautiful relationships with the players and their families and our staff and Lobo community.  It was such a dream come true.  I can't thank Erica enough for giving me the opportunity, or Patti enough for pushing me in the direction of a longtime dream.  Now that I'm back, we face TCC and Patti in conference games.  Her two assistants are two of my former players, so talk about tough and heart wrenching!  (laughs)  But... Go Pirates!

What do you miss most about your time at UNM? And what did you learn there that you've carried with you to your new position? 
I miss every day the players and Coach Beach.  Coaching at UNM helped me calm down a bit and learn to take a step back and not be so intense and hard on my players every time they made a mistake or swung at a bad pitch.  Patience is what I needed to learn and now it's helped me become a better coach and I owe it all to Beach and Angus and the girls at UNM for teaching me to chill out a bit.  (laughs)  I miss the early season tournaments, facing off against UCLA and Arizona State, and all the schools you always dreamed of playing and coaching against.

In your college playing days, you were a catcher. How was your college experience as a player, and did any coaches in your playing days inspire you to get into coaching? 
I had phenomenal coaches all through travel and high school ball that taught me how to play the game hard and the right way.  I played two years at Tallahassee Community College before my time at Virginia Tech and they were the most pivotal in my playing career as far as growing and learning the game better mentally.  Virginia Tech was icing on the cake, and Scot Thomas, who is still there by the way, gave me the freedom to call my own pitches and run the show.  So I took ownership of every game and every pitch call, which is what I love to pass on to my catchers I work with now.  I honestly didn't think I wanted to coach in college because my passion outside of softball lies with working with severe special needs students in the classroom (which I did in New Mexico, and now again here in Pensacola), but all it took was one of my former VT teammates to get me out helping her high school team.  I was hooked!  It's so much more than coaching to me.  It's about the relationships and hoping you get the chance to change someone's life.

Is there any talk in the state of Florida about the Mountain West?  Do softball fans or coaches in the south actually pay attention to an NCAA Division I conference in the west outside of the PAC-12? 
Actually,  down here it's, "You mean there is someone besides the SEC?"  (laughs)  Well of course! You know how many southern softball fans follow Lobo softball now? (laughs again)  No, but there were some questions.  When they think Mountain West Conference down here, they think Boise State football if anything.  But with former Florida State softball player Carly Wynn and former Florida State assistant Sarah Pickering now at Fresno State, people down here (especially in the Panhandle) absolutely know what a great conference it is.  You also have former Florida State standout Windy Thees at Utah State as an assistant, so people have continued to follow their whereabouts because they are amazing people as well as athletes.  Now you have Shelby Pendley coaching at UNM, and of course Stacey Nuveman at San Diego State to add in the mix of some outstanding athletes and gold medalists changing the game in the Mountain West. Also add in what players like Fresno State's Jill Compton and San Diego State's Jenavee Peres have done for our conference on the national level and the Mountain West is definitely in the mix of great softball conferences. 

You're coaching now under former New Mexico assistant coach Lyndsey Angus, who, like you, was a catcher in college. And you're also alongside an assistant coach at Pensacola State -- Jordan Sjostrand -- who played at UNM very recently.  How did this New Mexico to Florida thing work out so well? 
Coach Angus knew my experience in junior college softball and recruiting.  We are bringing in eight to nine players per year, plus being from Florida, it was a no-brainer that I was willing to make the move back home ... not easily or without being sad leaving the Lobos, but it was really a perfect fit. And with Jordan, we knew it would be a great opportunity for her since she was questioning if she wanted to coach college softball.  Her work ethic as a player really sealed the deal, because she works even harder to learn the game and the ins and outs of the business side of coaching.  She has been a blessing.  We also added Lauren Gaskill, who was a 4 year starter at shortstop and center field, and lead off hitter for Virginia Tech.  She brings this crazy energetic, "let's get after it" type of attitude, and is a natural coach.  She will make a D-I head coach and team very lucky one day when she is ready to move on to be an assistant at that level.  We have a great staff of former players, some younger than others, that would do anything to compete on the field again with a uniform on.  And I think it transcends to our players to understand our love for the game that has done so much for us.

What kind of player is a perfect fit for Pensacola State? 
Someone who loves the game of softball and understands that it's a privilege, not a right, to be able to play at the college level.  Blue collar, not afraid to get dirty, and someone who knows how to meet the moment in tough situations and through adversity.  Someone who is ready and committed to train every day in the classroom and on the field, in our running workouts and in the weight room. Selfless players who understand it's always team and family first.  We will also take a 6'2" lefty pitcher that throws 65 mph+ and someone that can hit 20 bombskies for us too.  (laughs).  Just kidding, not really.  (laughs again)

It seems like every year, softball has a rule change here and there. If you could change anything about the sport of softball, what would it be?  Or do you think the game is fine just the way it is?  
I love the game and we could sit here all day and nitpick details.  I just hope that they continue to give the umpires good education and give all conferences the ability to succeed with the resources they need.

You've been around the sport for awhile now.  How has the game changed in the past 10 years?
Man, if I could use the bats we have now, I may have had a few more long balls to my name.  The athletes are so much stronger and faster and more educated.  With that, I've also seen more burn out because of the number of games these high school girls are playing in the Summer and Fall.  I also remember every tournament in travel ball playing for a championship, and now showcases for the most part have taken over.  But it is what it is.  Softball is still softball and the same game I fell in love with so long ago.

What was your most memorable moment during your time coaching at New Mexico? 
McKibben and the 2015 Lobos team
If I have to pick one, it was a game two years ago when we played San Diego State at home and we just were on fire against Danielle O'Toole.  We ended up losing the game 12-11 I believe, but it was a game that really turned the corner for some players like Mariah Rimmer, Jasmine Casados, and Michala Erickson, and for our young team.  Just helping them all start to understand and gain the mental toughness to compete with the best in the conference, day in and day out. 

If you could say one thing to your former Lobo players, what would it be? 
How amazingly humbled I am to have been able to be a part of their lives and thank them for teaching me how to grow and be better at what I do as a coach.  They are a tremendous group of women who I stay in touch with and watch.  I ponied up and bought a subscription to FloSoftball so we don't have to miss a game. They changed my life and gave me another level of passion for the game I didn't know I had.  They are one of a kind.  Our current team would also like to thank them for bows being allowed, because I was a strictly NO bow coach.  but pitcher Princess Lauren Soles taught me it's all better with bows. So now... I'm a sucker -- but the size of the bow is definitely limited.  (laughs)

That's hilarious.  Well, thanks so much for giving us some great insight, Coach!  And best of luck to you and your Pirates team.
And thank you too!

Note:  You can follow Coach McKibben on Twitter at @kibn08

Race for the title begins Thursday as Mountain West play begins

With the non-conference season largely over, it's time for conference play to begin in Mountain West softball.  So let's take a look at the state of the race as we begin league play.  Some of it may be surprising.

Four series begin Thursday through Saturday.  And with the Easter holiday coming Sunday, conference play begins this year with the one week that most schools dread.  It's the lone 10-day period of the season where most Mountain West teams play nine league games during that brutal stretch.

Opening series this weekend:  San Diego State at UNLV, San Jose State at Colorado State, Utah State at New Mexico, and Boise State at Nevada.  The only team idle this weekend:  Fresno State.

Here's an honest and realistic look at where each team stands heading into league play.

Fresno State - The Bulldogs have been ranked in the Top 25 of both major polls every week this season and, more importantly, are No. 20 in the RPI.  They've played the country's 10th toughest schedule, according to the latest NCAA stats. Things are rosy, right?  It's a slam-dunk to think the Bulldogs will win the Mountain West going away, right?  Nope.  Despite being ranked in the Top 25 and the overwhelming preseason favorite to win the league, something is amiss in Bulldog land lately.  Fresno State has won just eight of its past 18 games and has been hit by the injury bug.  Since opening the season 10-0, coach Trisha Ford would probably be the first to tell you the Bulldogs haven't played all that well since then.  At times, the pitching has been very un-Bulldog like.  Other times, it's been a lack of timely hitting.  And it's also been shaky defense at times too.  If the team's current ERA of 3.47 sounds alarmingly high, it should.  For a program known for elite pitching, it is the highest ERA in school history this deep into a season, and almost a full point higher than last year's team ERA of 2.50.  The team batting average of .278 is nearly 50 points lower than last season's .325 as well.  The good news: there is still time to turn things around.  And let's be honest:  the Bulldog stats are skewed due to the incredibly tough schedule.  With the target squarely on their back this year, the Bulldogs routinely faced every opponent's ace pitcher in non-conference play.  When pitted against Oregon, the Ducks sent All-American Cheridan Hawkins to the circle.  When the foe was BYU, the Cougars tabbed All-American McKenna Bull as its starting pitcher.  Utah sent first-team All-Pac 12 pitcher Katie Donovan to the circle vs. the Bulldogs.  Oklahoma? The Sooners sent first team All-Big 12 pitcher Kelsey Stevens to the mound.  You get the picture.  Perennial NCAA tournament teams Tennessee, Washington, Northwestern, Oregon State, Cal, Ohio State, Kansas, and others were all on the non-league slate, and all sent their No. 1 pitchers to the circle to face Fresno State.  There were no Santa Claras, Bakersfields, Colgates, Idaho States or Montanas on this schedule to ease the pain or give the Bulldogs a look at a series of average pitchers or average teams.  At Fresno State, that's just not the way things work.  So it's difficult to say whether Fresno State's recent struggles are a direct result of the team being 'off its game,' so to speak, or just a byproduct of a tough-as-nails schedule.  It seems to be more a result of a crazy slate of marquee opponents than anything else.  Time will tell.  On the plus side, the Bulldogs have far more power at the plate this year than usual, having hit 26 home runs already after hitting 29 all of last season.  The team is on pace to challenge the school record of 51 home runs in a season.  Star pitcher Jill Compton's injury three weeks ago -- on a line-drive comebacker to her face, where she tried to deflect it with her hand -- caused her to miss two weeks of action, and she has struggled a bit since returning.  Keep in mind, "struggling" is a relative term when you're talking about one of the country's top pitchers.  Compton continues to rank at the top of nearly all MW pitching categories. In her absence though, freshman Kamalani Dung has been a pleasant surprise.  Dung has shown moments of brilliance, holding a powerful Top 10 Washington team scoreless for five innings in one game, and earning a complete-game win over Big West favorite Long Beach State.  In her win over the 49ers, Dung held Long Beach to just one single and no earned runs over the game's final six innings.  Dung is one of several freshmen having strong seasons for the Bulldogs.  One scary thought for Mountain West opponents:  Fresno State has not come close to playing its best softball of the season.  Last year, the Bulldogs won 11 straight down the stretch to pull away and win the conference title.  If this team plays as well as it is capable of playing, the sky is the limit.  Getting the rest of this week off and having a bye during the opening week of conference play is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Bulldogs.  They should head into league action next week rested and ready.

San Diego State - A case can be made for San Diego State being considered a co-favorite in the race for the Mountain West title, and no longer a clear No. 2 choice in the league.  The Aztecs have improved their pitching from a season ago and finally have some depth.  Erica Romero no longer has to pitch every inning of every game in order for San Diego State to win.  Last season, it was Romero or nothing.  Literally.  The only games SDSU had a realistic chance of winning a year ago were when Romero was in the circle.  This season, she's only started nine of the Aztecs' 28 games.  Contrast that with the 2015 season when Romero made 47 starts, and no other Aztec pitcher had an ERA under 5.00.  This time, coach Kathy Van Wyk has four pitchers who all have ERAs under 4.00.  And that's the big difference this year:  Aztecs pitching.  Hitting is another story.  Yes, star catcher Jenavee Peres remains one of the most difficult outs in the league and is hitting .444 with a team-best 6 home runs.  But overall, San Diego State's power is way off from a year ago.  How far off?  The Aztecs hit 65 home runs last season.  This year, they've hit just 11, which ranks last in the league.  It's a stunning drop-off and requires SDSU to manufacture runs this year rather than rely on one or two big pops of the bat.  San Diego State enters conference play having won five in a row, including three 1-run games.  There are potential warning signs, however.  The Aztecs have had several head-scratching losses.  SDSU has lost games against the likes of Texas-San Antonio, Weber State, Illinois-Chicago and St. Joseph's, the last two taking place on the Aztecs' home field.  Overall, the schedule has not been as difficult as in the past, ranking outside the top 100 in terms of toughest schedule, according to the latest NCAA stats.  That slate resulted in an RPI outside the top 50 for San Diego State for the first time in several years.  If the Aztecs' pitchers continue to perform as well as they have so far this season, the lack of offensive firepower may not be a big problem.  With SDSU opening league play in Las Vegas, where the ball tends to fly out of the park, we will get a better idea of how the Aztecs' hitters will fare in league play.

San Jose State - The Spartans were predicted to finish third in the Mountain West by league coaches, but fourth here at the Mountain West Softball Blog.  In the preseason, we noted that no team in the conference lost as much on both sides of the ball as SJSU, and the record this year reflects that.  San Jose State went 20-12 in non-league play last year, but enters conference action just 11-17 this season.  Like Fresno State though, the Spartans played a difficult and demanding non-league slate this time.  Coach Peter Turner's team had a strength of schedule of 44 (out of 295 teams) in the most recent NCAA stats.  SJSU's struggled in a major way against top teams and the problems have been across the board statistically.  The biggest problem:  pitching.  After losing their top two pitchers from a season ago, San Jose State's team ERA has ballooned from 3.94 in 2015 to 7.77 this year.  Turner has used six different pitchers this season and none are holding opponents under a .300 batting average.  Two pitchers -- freshman and Australian National Team member Chantelle Ladner, and junior Katelyn Linford -- have combined for 20 of the team's 28 starts, and both have thrown more than 50 innings.  Their ERAs:  6.75 and 8.71, respectively.  Offensively, the team is down significantly too.  After batting a school- and Mountain West-best .350 as a team a year ago, San Jose State is hitting .304 this season.  It's certainly a respectable team batting average, but not nearly enough to offset the 7.77 team ERA.  SJSU has hit 14 home runs (after hitting 31 a year ago) and already has committed 40 errors in 28 games.  Still, one has to wonder:  How much of the overall drop-off is due to playing a quality non-conference schedule?  The pitching must improve if SJSU intends to contend for the Mountain West title.

New Mexico - If there is a team that could come out of nowhere to win the Mountain West this year, it could very well be the Lobos.  Last season, coach Erica Beach's squad was predicted to finish last, but surprised everyone by finishing fourth.  We predicted the Lobos would be a third-place team in the preseason, while the conference coaches selected them fourth.  The non-conference schedule has been a good mix of tough opponents at big-time tournaments and a few winnable (dare we say cupcakes?) games mixed in.  New Mexico enters league play coming off one of its better weekends in recent history.  UNM beat a quality Nebraska team 6-3 in Fullerton last week for its first win over a Top 25-ranked team in three years.  Winning 1-run games and closing out games has proven to be difficult at times for this team, but the win over the Huskers suggests this is an improving team that could be playing its best at exactly the right time.  New Mexico lost a pair of 1-run games to Arkansas, blew a 4-run lead in the seventh inning in a game versus a strong Texas A&M team, and has had some difficulties in losses to the likes of Idaho State, Cal Poly and rival New Mexico State.  But the team does seem to be resilient and a reflection of its quality coaching staff.  Still, the question remains:  Was the win over Nebraska a sign of things to come?  Or was it an outlier?  There weren't a ton of quality wins in the preseason for the Lobos.  For the second straight season, UNM has improved numbers statistically and it's the only school in the conference that can make that claim.  The team ERA is down to 3.93 (it was 4.11 last season), and the batting average has improved to .305 after being .299 in 2015.  Like so many other Mountain West teams, the power numbers are off though.  UNM hit 43 home runs last year, but is tied with San Diego State for fewest in the league with 11 this season.  The Lobos look solid and will be a factor in the race for the Mountain West crown.  No one should take this team lightly.

UNLV - The Rebels were picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the preseason and there is nothing, based on UNLV's non-conference performance, to suggest that prediction is wrong.  The Rebels enter conference play with a 16-13 overall record, which sounds good until you look at who they played and where.  UNLV has just three wins away from home this year, and if that sounds like the fewest in the Mountain West, it's because it is.  The Rebels' three wins away from home were all at neutral sites (over Arkansas in Fullerton, over Loyola Marymount in Riverside, and over Wisconsin in Tampa).  The good news for UNLV?  Those are probably their three best wins on the season.  Coach Lisa Dodd's team was ranked as one of the bottom 25 in the country in the most recent strength of schedule stats released by the NCAA.  UNLV has played a conference-high 19 home games with few eye-popping wins.  The Rebels are 0-4 against their four most high-profile opponents of the season, falling to Washington, South Florida, Nebraska and Florida Atlantic by a combined margin of 27-3.  Statistically, the team looks good on paper, batting .317 with an ERA of 3.41.  Those are good numbers, but the lack of notable wins and the not-so-great schedule don't tell us enough to predict that UNLV could be at or near the top of the Mountain West standings.  Opening at home against San Diego State will tell us a lot though.  In fact, the Rebels can make their biggest noise of the season with a series win over the Aztecs.  

Colorado State - The Rams are an intriguing team.  Not a whole lot was expected of CSU this season, but it seems like the team is improved from a year ago.  With that said, we thought the Rams were going to contend for the league crown at this point last season too.  Pitcher Holly Reinke has returned to her 2014 form after a down season a year ago.  The reigning Mountain West Pitcher of the Week, Reinke has an ERA of 2.41 and is holding opponents to a .218 batting average.  She's also got 12 complete games under her belt this season, and her ERA has dropped nearly three full points, a stunning amount.  She gives the Rams hope.  And so does Colorado State's defense, which is where the Rams have improved the most.  Last year, CSU gave far too many games away with shoddy defense and a staggering 105 errors.  The Rams have committed 35 errors this season.  Colorado State enters league play having won seven of its past eight games against a decent schedule.  CSU played nationally-ranked UCLA tough, falling 6-5.  And 2-1 losses to Cal and 3-0 to Texas A&M are quality losses too.  Few of the Rams' 14 wins to this point scream, "Wow," though.  In fact, nothing about the non-conference slate suggests CSU will win the Mountain West, but an upper-division finish looks within reach.

Nevada - Here's an excerpt from our January 2016 preview of the Wolf Pack schedule: "This is a soft and disappointing schedule, but one that gives Nevada an opportunity to pick up a number of wins.  The good news:  Nevada has a legitimate shot to have the best record among Mountain West teams entering conference play.  The bad news:  the RPI, in all likelihood, will be poor."  And that's exactly what happened.  Nevada enters league play at 19-5 overall, the best record in the Mountain West.  But as bad as we thought the schedule was in the preseason, it's turned out to be even worse.  The schedule ranks 281st of 295 Division I schedules, according to NCAA stats released this week.  And the gaudy 19-5 record has told us nothing about how good this Wolf Pack team actually is.  Predicted to finish eighth in the league by Mountain West coaches to begin the season, 18 of Nevada's 19 wins have come over teams ranked outside of the RPI top 100.  The Pack is 1-2 vs. RPI top 100 teams, and all three of those games came on the opening weekend of the season at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe.  It could turn out that Nevada is a really good team that played a very bad schedule.  The truth is we just don't know at this point.  Two losses to Sacramento State and a loss to Montana suggest this is a team that could be in trouble once it gets into the thick of a conference race against teams that have challenged themselves a lot in non-league play.

Utah State - Mired again with an RPI in the 200s (at No. 220 in the initial release), one has to wonder how much of a factor the Aggies will be in the league race.  This is a program that many people predict to be on the rise each season, only to be disappointed.  Utah State enters conference play 12-11 overall, including wins over Wisconsin and Weber State.  While the Badgers and Wildcats aren't exactly superpowers in the world of college softball, they are quality wins nonetheless.  Bothersome are six non-conference games against lowly Santa Clara and Northern Colorado, both of whom were able to beat Utah State once.  This is a team that just hasn't been able to get over the hump the last few seasons.  And with a strong senior class headlined by Noelle Johnson and Sarah Chow leaving after this season, one has to wonder:  If not now, when?  Johnson, surprisingly, is just 3-6 with a 5.21 ERA pitching this year, but is still one of the team's leading hitters at .343 and leads USU in home runs and RBI.  Chow is not only the team leader in batting average (.431) but one of the best in the MW as well.  Junior transfer pitcher April Brown (3.20 ERA) has been a pleasant surprise.  If Utah State truly wants to contend for the Mountain West title, it probably must win its series in Albuquerque this weekend. That would make the rest of the conference stand up and take notice.

Boise State - The Broncos are 8-20 overall, but coming off perhaps their best win of the season -- an 8-4 victory on the road in Lubbock over Texas Tech.  The Red Raiders aren't exactly a power, despite their Big 12 pedigree, but it was a good win.  The Boise State record is deceiving.  To coach Cindy Ball's credit, she could have taken the easy route for a team that struggled mightily last season by scheduling a bunch of easy games.  She didn't.  Boise State challenged itself in the non-conference of the portion of the season, and while the record isn't good, the RPI is nearly identical to Utah State (222 vs. 220).  The Broncos lost eight 1-run games and have been snakebitten at times with a series of tough losses.  If there is a tough way to lose a game, Boise State has found it.  Walk-off losses and the inability to hold late leads has been a problem.  But there are positive signs too.  A 9-1 run-rule rout of Stanford is a highlight, as are wins over quality teams like Loyola Marymount and New Mexico State.  A few baffling losses aside, Boise State seems like an improved team from a season ago.  Is it ready to contend for the Mountain West title?  Probably not, at least this year.  It does appear likely, though, that Boise State will pull an upset or two along the way.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tuesday news and notes around the Mountain West

Conference play begins Thursday with four league series.  San Diego State opens on the road in Las Vegas at UNLV, New Mexico will be at home in Albuquerque to face Utah State, San Jose State travels to Fort Collins to meet Colorado State, and Nevada is set to host Boise State in Reno ... In the lone non-conference game of the week, Fresno State fell 5-0 on the road at Cal State Fullerton.  The Titans made it a clean sweep of the top four projected Mountain West teams this season, adding the Bulldogs to a list of victims that already included San Diego State, San Jose State and New Mexico.  Fullerton was playing its 18th home game of the season and won for the 11th time in its last 12 games.  The Titans have defeated nationally-ranked Oklahoma and Arizona State, in addition to the Bulldogs, who showed up at No. 23 and No. 25 in the two national polls this morning ... The Mountain West named its Player and Pitcher of the Week honors this morning and the awards went to Holly Reinke (Pitcher) of Colorado State and Jennifer Purcell (Player) of Nevada.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Initial RPI release: Fresno State is 20th; 4 MW teams in Top 100

The first Ratings Percentage Index of the season was released Monday morning, and Fresno State's impressive non-conference performance against one of the nation's strongest schedules is paying off.

Trisha Ford's Bulldogs arrive at No. 20 in the initial RPI release of 2016.  That's 24 spots better than a year ago at this point for Fresno State.  It's also the Bulldogs' highest RPI ranking in eight seasons.  The last time it was higher:  2008, when Fresno State was awarded one of 16 national seeds in the NCAA Tournament and named a regional host.

Notable teams ranked behind the Bulldogs in the RPI include perennial softball powers Tennessee (21st), Nebraska (22nd), Georgia (24th), Notre Dame (25th), Oregon State (26th), Arizona State (30th), Mississippi State (31st), Texas (37th), and California (43rd).

RPI Top 25 (click to enlarge)
In addition, the NCAA released strength of schedule numbers today, and it's easy to see how Fresno State is ranked so high in the RPI.  The Bulldogs have played the 10th toughest schedule in the country, according to the latest NCAA stats.  Also in the NCAA top 50 in strength of schedule:  San Jose State at 44.

In the RPI, Fresno State is the lone Top 25 or Top 50 team ranked from the Mountain West.  At this point last year, both the Bulldogs and San Diego State appeared in the RPI Top 50.  This time around, the Aztecs come in at No. 55, a somewhat precarious spot in in terms of NCAA at-large possibilities.

San Diego State was 30th at this point in the RPI a season ago.

Nevada ranks 93rd in the RPI, while New Mexico comes in at No. 100, giving the conference four Top 100 teams.  The Wolf Pack are an interesting case, entering Mountain West play with a 19-5 record, but against one of the nation's poorest schedules.  In the latest NCAA stats, Nevada's schedule ranks as the 15th worst in the country (281st of 295), and 18 of the Wolf Pack's 19 wins are over teams ranked outside the RPI Top 100.  Nevada has played just three of its 24 games against RPI Top 100 teams and is 1-2 in those contests.  When the Wolf Pack meet San Diego State on March 29 to begin a 3-game conference series, it will be the first time Nevada has faced an RPI Top 100 team in 45 days.

New Mexico, for the second straight season, has improved its RPI.  The Lobos are at No. 100 this season after being No. 144 at this point last year.  UNM joins Fresno State and San Diego State as teams with at least one win over a team in the RPI Top 25.  The Lobos defeated Nebraska 6-3 Saturday in Fullerton.

The Mountain West has seven teams in the top 130 of the RPI, compared to five a season ago, signifying a deeper overall league this year.  Bunched together are San Jose State at No. 111, Colorado State at No. 114, and UNLV, which comes in at No. 126.  From there, it's a steep drop-off, with Utah State (220th) and Boise State (222nd) languishing near the bottom of the RPI.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Compton returns and No. 24 Fresno State pounds San Diego 13-3 in rout

When reigning Mountain West Pitcher of the Year Jill Compton was hit by a line-drive comebacker a couple of weeks ago in the second inning of a game against the Cal Bears at the Judi Garman Classic, it looked scary.

Compton had to leave that game in the top of the second inning -- a game Fresno State would eventually go on to win 7-0 over Cal.  But for the past two weeks, it's been nothing but uncertainty.  Compton did not throw a single pitch in the Bulldogs' home tournament last weekend, and was nowhere to be found when starters were named for the first four games of this week in San Diego either.  But Bulldog fans, and fans of the game in general, could breathe a sigh of relief Sunday as Compton returned to make her first start in two weeks.  One of the country's top pitchers returned and made her team whole again.

Compton made her first start since March 6, and it seemed to spark the No. 24-ranked Bulldogs, who scored a season-high in runs in a double-digit victory.  Fresno State struck early and often, and pounded San Diego 13-3 in a five inning, run-rule rout in San Diego.  Compton allowed two earned runs in the contest to earn her ninth win of the season and first in 16 days.

Lindsey Willmon homered for the second straight game, and ended Sunday's contest with a walk-off grand slam to invoke the run rule.  It was Fresno State's 26th home run of the year, just three shy of its entire 2015 season total.  Willmon was 3-for-4 with three runs scored, in addition to her four RBI performance.  Freshman Vanessa Hernandez had a pair of RBI and scored three runs, Whitney Smith had a pair of hits, including a double, and Malia Rivers had two hits as well.

In a way, the Compton injury may have been a blessing in disguise and made the Bulldogs stronger as they enter conference play.  Freshman pitcher Kamalani Dung, off to a 3-0 record, saw a lot of pitching action that she may not have seen otherwise, adding another dimension to an already-deep pitching staff.

Dung tossed a complete-game Friday in Fresno State's win over a strong Long Beach State team, which is favored to win the Big West Conference in preseason forecasts.  Dung held the 49ers to just one single and no earned runs in the final six innings of Friday's Bulldog win.  Similarly, Dung threw well against No. 7/8 Washington a week ago, holding the powerful Husky bats without a run for five consecutive innings.  Likewise, Hannah Harris saw more playing time and threw a complete-game shutout against 2015 NCAA Tournament team Weber State during Compton's absence, and earned the complete-game win Saturday in a victory over Princeton.

The scheduling gods may have worked in the Bulldogs' favor too.  While the rest of the Mountain West opens play Thursday and plays nine games in a 10-day span due to the Easter holiday, Fresno State is the lone MW team not to open this week.  The Bulldogs play a non-conference tilt at Cal State Fullerton Tuesday, but then rest up before opening MW play the following week at Boise State.  For a team that has played a rigorous and demanding juggernaut of a schedule (deemed 3rd-best in the nation by the latest NCAA stats), it could prove to be important.

Among other highlights from games Sunday involving Mountain West teams, New Mexico got a fine effort from freshman pitcher Colette Robert, but ultimately fell at Cal State Fullerton 2-0,  Robert scattered nine hits in the complete-game outing, but only one of the Titans' two runs was earned.  San Jose State scored the game's final 10 runs to erase a 4-run deficit and defeat Seattle University 12-6.  The Spartans had been 1-hit until the fourth inning when the bats woke up.  (More updates coming)

Saturday, March 19, 2016

New Mexico shocks No. 23/25 Nebraska in 6-3 win

For the first time in more than three years, the New Mexico Lobos beat a nationally-ranked opponent.

In Fullerton's Easton Tournament Saturday, Erica Beach's Lobos picked up their biggest win of the season by knocking off No. 23/25 Nebraska 6-3.  New Mexico pounded out 10 hits and was able to take advantage of three Huskers errors in the win.

The big inning for UNM offensively was the fifth when the Lobos scored four runs to take control.  Jasmine Casados got a hit in her third consecutive at-bat of the game, driving in a run to push New Mexico in front 3-2.  A Nebraska error then made it 4-2 before Karissa Haleman's double to left drove in a pair of runs to make it a 6-2 margin.

After a solo home run cut the lead to 6-3, New Mexico and reliever Krissy Fortner survived a scary seventh inning.  Nebraska loaded the bases with no outs, but Fortner was able to escape the jam without allowing a run and preserving the Lobos' first win over a ranked team since March 14, 2013.  That day, it was another 23rd-ranked squad (Oregon State) going down to defeat versus New Mexico.

Lisa Rodrigues picked up her first win of the season for UNM today.  The win took some wind out of the sails of Nebraska as the Huskers lost a second straight game to an unranked foe, falling to Arkansas, in a game later Saturday in Fullerton.  Meanwhile, the Lobos picked up an 8-6 win in 10 innings over DePaul.

For Casados, it was an outstanding day.  She went 5-for-7 at the plate with a home run and double, along with six RBI, in the two combined New Mexico wins.

Among other Saturday highlights involving Mountain West teams, No. 24/24 Fresno State knocked off Princeton 8-7, San Jose State edged Illinois 7-6, San Diego State defeated Cal Poly 5-1, and Colorado State beat St. Mary's 4-1.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

MW teams go 3-0 in non-league road games Tuesday

Mountain West teams went 3-0 in non-conference road games Tuesday afternoon, with New Mexico sweeping UTEP in El Paso, and Utah State beating Utah Valley in Orem in a single game.

The Lobos beat the Miners 8-2 in their opener, and came back for a 7-6 win in the nightcap.  UNM's day got started off on the right foot with a 6-run top of the first inning in the opener.  Mariah Rimmer homered in that game and then had three hits in game two to power the Lobos, who improved to 13-8.  UTEP fell to 8-19.

In Utah State's win at Utah Valley, the Aggies were held to just four hits but made the most of them.  April Brown, the starting pitcher for USU, helped her cause with an RBI triple in the second inning for the Aggies' lone extra-base hit on the day.  A pair of UVU errors led to four unearned runs that were the difference.  Noelle Johnson came on in relief of Brown to earn the win for Utah State, which evened its record at 10-10.  The struggling Wolverines, who out-hit USU six to four, have lost 15 straight games and are now 4-21 on the season.

Fresno State ranked for the 5th straight week; at No. 24 in both polls

Fresno State is ranked in both major polls again this week.  It's the fifth consecutive week the Bulldogs have been in the Top 25 of both the media and coaches' polls.

In the USA Today/NFCA Top 25, Fresno State held at the No. 24 spot after going 2-1 last week, with all three games coming against 2015 NCAA Tournament teams.  The Bulldogs picked up a 7-0 win over California on Tuesday, and then shut out defending Big Sky champion Weber State on Saturday afternoon before falling to No. 7-ranked Washington later that night.  Three Fresno State games were rained out last week.

In the Softball Top 25, the Bulldogs dropped two spots to No. 24.

The NCAA also released its new strength of schedule numbers, through games played as of March 13.  Fresno State's numbers there are even more impressive.  The Bulldogs have played the country's fourth-best schedule (of 295 Division I teams).  San Jose State is the only other Mountain West team to have played a Top 100 schedule, according to the NCAA.  The Spartans' slate is currently rated as the 33rd best in America.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Weekend update for March 11-13

El Nino arrived in a big way on the west coast, washing out games -- as expected -- for No. 22/24 Fresno State, San Diego State, San Jose State, Boise State and Nevada.  In all, 13 games for Mountain West teams were rained out from Friday through Sunday.  Four MW teams (Colorado State, Nevada, San Jose State and New Mexico) did not play a game this weekend.

No. 22/24 Fresno State - For the Bulldogs, their own Fresno State Classic was almost completely wiped out by bad weather.  Rain washed out three of the Bulldogs' five games, as Fresno State was only able to play Saturday.  The Bulldogs picked up their impressive ninth win of the season already over a team that made the 2015 NCAA Tournament, as Hannah Harris pitched a complete-game shutout in a 2-0 win over defending Big Sky champion Weber State.  The Wildcats are 13-8 overall, and had their 3-game winning streak snapped by the Bulldogs. With reigning Mountain West Pitcher of the Year Jill Compton unable to go after an injury suffered in the previous week's win over the Cal Bears, Trisha Ford decided to start pitcher Taylor Langdon in a game versus No. 7/8 Washington on Saturday night.  Langdon was ineffective, failing to record an out in the game as Fresno State trailed 5-0 in the top of the first inning.  Freshman pitcher Kamalani Dung entered and was outstanding, holding the powerful Washington bats scoreless until the sixth inning. Meanwhile, Fresno State was pounding Huskies pitching for eight hits, including a 2-run home run by Paige Gumz, that cut UW's lead to 5-3.  It remained that way until the sixth when Washington added a run.  Fresno State brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the sixth, but was unable to score, and UW broke the game open with six runs in the seventh inning for a deceiving 12-3 final.  Washington, which had shut out San Diego State earlier in the day, is 19-3 overall.

San Diego State - The Aztecs' trip to the Fresno State Classic didn't go as expected, as San Diego State lost two of its three games, and had two more rained out.  The lone win for the Aztecs was their first game of the weekend -- a 2-1 decision over a Cal State Bakersfield team that is struggling at 4-13 overall, having lost 12 of its past 13 games and six in a row.  SDSU was held to three hits in the game by a pair of Bakersfield hurlers, who needed just 82 total pitches in the game.  The Aztecs turned a pair of double plays, and Alex Formby went the first five innings, allowing five hits.  In a game against No. 7/8 Washington on Saturday, San Diego State was run-ruled 8-0 in five innings, and, for the second game in a row in the Classic, was held to three hits.  Washington pitcher Madi Schreyer tossed just 63 pitches in the complete-game shutout, and Erica Romero started and went 2 1/3 innings, allowing six hits and four runs.  In SDSU's final game of the weekend, the Aztecs lost 5-4 to Weber State, a team that Fresno State shut out in the same tourney.  Romero entered in relief against Weber State and was unable to hold a 4-2 lead in the seventh.  The Wildcats, with two outs and no one on base in the seventh, hit a pair of singles off Romero, before blasting a 3-run home run for the walk-off win.

UNLV - The Rebels, who have played 19 of their first 24 games on their home field at Eller Media Stadium in Las Vegas, went 4-0 in their fourth home tournament of the season.  UNLV beat up on lowly Santa Clara 20-1 (five innings) and Valparaiso 8-5.  The Broncos and Crusaders are a combined 8-34 overall this season.  With UNLV entering the week with an NCAA strength of schedule of 266 of 294 teams, that's not going to help.  The Rebels picked up an 11-6 win over a DePaul team that is 6-14 overall, but their best win of the weekend was a 3-0 shutout of Wisconsin.  In the win over the Badgers, Kwyn Cooper tossed a complete-game 3-hitter to move her record to 6-5 on the season.  Wisconsin (12-11) has now faced UNLV three times this season and the Rebels won two of those three.

Utah State - Also at the UNLV tournament this weekend, the Aggies went 3-2.  Utah State played Santa Clara for the third time in a week's span, and defeated the Broncos 8-3.  Santa Clara (5-19 overall) has lost 10 of its past 11 games.  A 5-2 Sunday win over Wisconsin, propelled by a complete-game six-hitter from pitcher Noelle Johnson, was Utah State's best victory of the season, while an 18-4 run-rule rout of Valparaiso in five innings added to the Crusaders' struggles.  Valpo lost its first 11 games of the season and has lost 15 of 18.  Utah State's two losses in Las Vegas came to DePaul by 8-3 and 8-6 scores.  Once a national power, DePaul has struggled this season.  In the Blue Demons' last 15 games, their only wins have come over Utah State, Santa Clara and La.-Monroe.

Boise State - The Broncos' home opening weekend saw a pair of games washed out by weather on Sunday, though Boise State was able to play Friday and Saturday.  The Broncos may have wished their opener had been rained out too, as Idaho State rolled to an 11-0 (five innings) win.  Boise State was able to bounce back behind the pitching of Jenna Bassler in a re-match with Idaho State that followed, however.  Bassler improved to 1-7, allowing five hits and four earned runs in a 6-4 win.  The following day, Makenzie Sullivan hit a walk-off, 2-run home run as Boise State knocked off Montana 6-5.  The Grizzlies are 7-13 overall, while Idaho State is now 9-13.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Strength of schedule numbers released by NCAA; Bulldogs ranked 10th

For so many years, strength of schedule numbers were kept mostly secret.  Sure, the Ratings Percentage Index came out and gave us a clue as to a team's SOS, but in the sport of softball, those all-important numbers were usually hidden from public view.

No longer.

The NCAA now releases that information and has been updating strength of schedule information as the season has progressed.  It may be the single most important factor in NCAA Tournament consideration, and offers some insight into potential seeding and hosting.

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With the current strength of schedule release, there is great news for Fresno State and it confirms what most of us knew already.  The Bulldogs are playing one of the most demanding schedules in the country and perhaps the strongest in school history.  That's saying a lot when you consider the program's storied history.

Fresno State is currently 10th in the nation in terms of toughest schedule, according to the NCAA.  That's 10th of 294 programs.  There are only five teams in the country that rank in both the Top 10 in terms of strength of schedule and the Top 25 polls conducted by Softball and USA Today/NFCA.

Those five:  UCLA, Oklahoma, Michigan, Nebraska and Fresno State.  For those counting, four of the five -- everyone but the Huskers -- are former NCAA champions.

In the Mountain West, the next-best schedule, according to the NCAA, is that of San Jose State.  The Spartans are off to one of their worst starts in recent history at 6-15 overall, but it has more to do with the quality of their schedule than anything else.  SJSU has played the country's 48th best schedule.

Only one other Mountain West team -- the Lobos of New Mexico -- rank in the Top 100 in terms of strength of schedule.  Coach Erica Beach's team is No. 98 and UNM has done a good job against it, starting the season 11-8 overall.

Conversely, we have UNLV and Nevada.  Confirming what we wrote in our season scheduling preview back in January, the Wolf Pack record comes with an asterisk.  Nevada is off to one of its best starts in school history at 14-3 overall, but according to the NCAA, the Pack have faced the 25th worst schedule in the country.  Nevada's slate ranks 270th of 294 teams in the latest rankings.

UNLV's schedule ranks nearly as low as its in-state rivals.  The Rebels are currently No. 266 of 294, and it may have to do mostly with the fact UNLV has not been greatly tested away from home.  With road and neutral-site games an important factor in strength of schedule, it's interesting to note that the Rebels have played -- by far -- the fewest number of contests away from home in the Mountain West.  Additionally, the Rebels have just one win outside of Las Vegas this season, and 19 of their first 24 games are at home.

Colorado State's strength of schedule, according to the NCAA, is currently 144th, San Diego State's a surprisingly low 153rd, Boise State 160th, and Utah State 196th.

The NCAA updates these SOS numbers periodically as more games are played, so it's possible the numbers have changed by the time you are reading this.  The numbers are effective as of noon, March 8, 2016.  To view the ever-changing SOS numbers, go to > Division I > women's softball > misc reports > toughest schedule.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

NCAA rules against Cal and awards forfeit victory to Fresno State

Looks like we were correct.  And sometimes, fairness is actually restored.

Fresno State won a victory against then-27th ranked Cal after all.  As we reported Sunday, the Bulldogs' game with the Golden Bears at the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton was as strange as they come.

In the top of the seventh inning of a game tied 2-2, the Flo Softball broadcast of the game between Fresno State and Cal took a stunning turn.  Umpires were seen walking over to Bulldog head coach Trisha Ford and announcing the game was over due to Cal travel concerns.  The major problem with that:  It was never discussed before the start of the game.  Per NCAA softball rules and rules of the Garman Classic itself, a drop-dead time for any travel issues must be established prior to the beginning of a game so both teams know what is taking place.

With the game tied and headed to the seventh, Fresno State was on the field ready, willing and able to play.  But the game was called anyway.

Tuesday, the NCAA ruled against Cal, and awarded the Bulldogs a 7-0 victory.  With the win, Fresno State's record moves to 14-5-1 (the Bulldogs did tie 22nd-ranked Oregon State that same day in another game that had a drop-dead time rule established prior to its start).  Cal drops to 10-7 on the season.

So the 110th meeting of what's often been a controversial series involving Fresno State and Cal ends in a Bulldog victory.  Fresno Sate now leads the all-time series with the Bears 64-46.  The Bulldogs now own nine wins over Power 5 conference teams (2 over the Pac-12, 3 over the Big Ten, 2 over the Big 12, and one each over the SEC and ACC) this season.

Also Tuesday -- Two Mountain West teams played rare midweek games.  San Diego State (12-7) scored the only runs of the game in the bottom of the sixth to escape the Terriers of Boston University (4-9) by a 2-0 score, and New Mexico (11-8) lost an 11-3,run-rule game in five innings to in-state rival New Mexico State (17-8) in Las Cruces.  Haley Hutton of Colorado State and Alyssa Batastini of UNLV were named the league's Player and Pitcher of the Week for their efforts last weekend.

Bulldogs ranked No. 22 and 24 in the two major polls this week

Fresno State is ranked in the nation's Top 25 for a fourth straight week.  The Bulldogs are No. 22 in the Softball Top 25 poll, and No. 24 in the USA Today/NFCA coaches Top 25 poll, both of which were released earlier today.

This is the first time since the 2009 season that the Bulldogs find themselves ranked for four consecutive weeks in both polls during the regular season.

Fresno State leads the Mountain West with nine victories over teams from Power 5 Conferences this season.  In addition, the Bulldogs are ranked as having the nation's 10th toughest schedule of the 294 teams that participate in NCAA Division I softball, according to the latest NCAA stats.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

#21 Fresno St. faces #22 Oregon St. & # 27 Cal... and loses neither game

Blame it on a wet Southern California weekend of El Nino weather.  Or blame it on the fact we're in a Leap Year.  Or maybe it has to do with the upcoming switch to Daylight Savings Time this coming week.

Whatever the reason, it was a strange Sunday.  It was literally the strangest Sunday in Fresno State and Mountain West softball history.  Somebody grab the record books because it could be the strangest day in college softball history too.

Ties in softball are rare.  In fact, they usually only happen in regular-season tournament play when strange occurrences like travel decisions dictate the time of a game.  Well it happened to Fresno State Sunday ... twice.

In the 39-year history of the Bulldog softball program, Fresno State had one tie -- 30 years ago in a 2-2 tie with Pacific during the 1986 season -- before today.  And what happened Sunday was unbelievable as the Bulldogs (ranked 21st and 22nd in the two major national polls) took on a pair of Pac-12 and national powers at the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton.

Fresno State finished in a 6-6 tie with an Oregon State team that entered the game 16-4 overall, and ranked 22nd in the Softball and just outside the Top 25 at No. 26 in the latest USA Today/NFCA coaches poll.  The game ended after seven innings due to a pre-established, "drop-dead time" of 3 p.m. in Fullerton.  The teams agreed before the game that it would end at 3 p.m. because the Oregon State team needed to make its flight back to Corvallis.  (The game started at about 1 p.m. after morning rain delayed the action in Fullerton from the scheduled 11:30 a.m. start.)

What followed was more bizarre.  Immediately after the 6-6 tie with Oregon State, the Bulldogs were set to take on a California team that entered the game 10-6 overall, and just outside the national Top 25 rankings after dropping out last week.  Cal is ranked 27th in the USA Today/NFCA poll and 29th in the current Softball rankings.

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While the Cal Bears team was scheduled for a 7 p.m. flight, there was apparently, according to the Flo Softball video broadcast announcers, no pre-established "drop-dead" time for this game.  But promptly after six innings of play, umpires could be seen talking to Fresno State head coach Trisha Ford and giving her the news that the game was, indeed, over.  It was called after six innings of play with the score tied 2-2.  (Edited:  Fresno State's official game story is now NOT calling the Cal game a tie, and says that the NCAA will rule on the outcome at a later date.  It seems possible, given the circumstances, that it could be a forfeit by Cal, with Fresno State being awarded the win.  We will post it here when the NCAA makes its ruling.  The Bulldogs and Bears are no strangers to controversy in softball, with several games ending in drama over the years.  Today's meeting was the 110th between the schools in the sport, with Fresno State holding a 63-46 edge in the series.) (Edited again:  Cal's official game story is now calling today's game a "no contest.") (Edited again: The Fresno Bee is calling the game vs. Cal a tie.)

And there it was.  Fresno State concluded the day going 0-0-2 against the Pac-12 powers on one of the strangest days the Bulldog softball program will ever see.  Making matters worse:  the Bulldogs lost their star pitcher to a freakish injury.  With the score 0-0 in the top of the second, Fresno State's Jill Compton, the reigning Mountain West Pitcher of the Year and NFCA First-Team All-Pacific Region selection who was the NFCA National Pitcher of the Week just two weeks ago, was injured on a line drive comebacker to the circle off a Cal bat.

Compton appeared to suffer injuries to her jaw and hand, and was removed from the game and did not return.  Her status is unknown.  Taylor Langdon and Hannah Harris filled in admirably in her absence, as the Bulldogs came from two runs down to tie the game 2-2.  Fresno State had several chances to break the game open, but stranded nine, including seven in scoring position.  Just like in the previous game against Oregon State, the Bulldogs left the potential game-winning run at third base in their final at-bat.  Fresno State left the bases loaded in each of the final two innings against the Bears, and was unable to score in the fourth when it had the bases loaded with just one out.

Malia Rivers and Paige Gumz had two hits apiece against Cal, while Alyssa Villalpando completed a fantastic day.  Villalpando finished with six RBI in the two games, and her RBI single with two outs in the fifth pulled the Bulldogs into a tie.  Her game against Oregon State was even better.  Against the Beavers, Villalpando hit a pair of 2-run home runs and later added another RBI that brought her team back from a 6-2 deficit.  Bria Kennedy also homered for the Bulldogs against Oregon State freshman standout Meehra Nelson.

Fresno State had defensive issues in both games, including a few that were more of the mental variety than reflected on the scoreboard in the errors column.  Wild throws and the sometimes inability to cover first base on simple bunt plays led to big issues, especially in a 6-run top of the second for Oregon State.  Bulldog freshman pitcher Kamalani Dung got the start, and after a perfect top of the first inning, was betrayed a bit by her team's defense with some infield blunders that forced her from the game despite a fine effort.  Harris came on in relief and did a great job keeping OSU off the board after the second.

Oregon State is now 16-4-1, while Cal is 10-6-1.  Fresno State, which has now played a juggernaut of a schedule that includes Oregon, Oregon State, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Cal, Utah, Baylor and several others, is 13-5-2.  That includes a 2-3-2 record vs. teams that have been ranked in the Top 25 this season.

Elsewhere Sunday, UNLV got the first collegiate home run by Chrissi Omalza against St. Mary's, but it wasn't enough as the Gaels surprised the Rebels in Las Vegas 4-3.  New Mexico completed a 3-game home sweep of Northern Colorado with a 10-1 victory (five innings) to improve to 11-7 and hand the Bears their 10th loss in 11 games.  Boise State suffered its seventh 1-run loss of the season and third of the weekend, falling 5-4 to Seattle University.  Utah State picked up a 5-1 win over Santa Clara when the Broncos committed six errors in the game.  Colorado State won twice, 8-6 over Idaho State and 10-6 over Nebraska-Omaha, a game where freshman Bridgette Hutton threw a complete game to earned her second win.  And San Diego State was rained out at home in a game versus Portland State, meaning the Aztecs finished their home tournament with one win.