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)