Monday, May 23, 2016

EXCLUSIVE: Our interview with 2-time MW Pitcher of the Year Jill Compton

Fresno State pitcher Jill Compton and head coach Trisha Ford

Just hours after one of the greatest careers in Fresno State and Mountain West softball history came to an end, we got an exclusive interview with the reigning 2-time conference Pitcher of the Year, Jill Compton.

The season ended for Compton and her 18th-ranked Fresno State teammates Saturday evening, as the Bulldogs finished one game shy of reaching the NCAA Los Angeles Regional championship game.  Over a sterling 4-year career, Compton was the winning pitcher in 88 of Fresno State's 143 victories during that time span.  She's the third Mountain West player to win conference Pitcher of the Year honors twice, but the first to ever do it in back-to-back seasons.

She ended her career with the most wins in conference play ever for a Mountain West pitcher, and ranked in the top 5 of numerous categories in Fresno State history.  For such a decorated program with a history of wins, that says a lot.  Earlier this month, Compton was named Fresno State's Bulldog of the Year, signifying the school's top female student-athlete, regardless of sport.

A 4-time first team All-Mountain West selection and 2-time first team NFCA All-Pacific Region pick, Compton is a big reason Fresno State was able to go 42-5 in conference play the last two seasons.  It's the best 2-year record ever for a Mountain West softball team.

As talented as she is on the playing field, those who know her best always say the same thing:  She's one of the most humble, hardest-working, and nicest people away from the field too.

Please enjoy our exclusive interview with the reigning 2-time Mountain West Pitcher of the Year, Fresno State's Jill Compton. 

MW Softball Blog:  The season, and your college career, literally just ended this weekend.  What was it like waking up Sunday morning after Saturday's season-ending loss to Cal State Fullerton? 
Jill Compton:  Waking up Sunday morning was definitely very difficult, and a feeling I’ve never felt before. The feeling was perfectly described by my teammate, Hannah Harris, when she texted me Sunday morning and asked how I was feeling. She said she felt “empty” and that’s exactly how I felt. I felt like I was a freshman just yesterday and my college career flew by. It’s weird not knowing what the future holds, and not having another season to look forward to, or something bigger to work toward. Every summer I’ve worked harder to be better than I was the previous year, and this time I don’t get that opportunity. The most challenging thing is knowing that I will never be in a Bulldog uniform again, and won’t be able to play on one of the best fields in the country with girls that have become my best friends.

Your team had an outstanding season this year and set numerous records.  Was there one moment this year where you realized, "Hey, we are really a great team!"
The moment I knew this team was special would have to be our opening game versus Utah State [where Fresno State rallied from a 10-2 deficit to win]. Up to that point, we were able to fight back and win games even when we were behind, but this game was one of my best memories. Although I gave up 9 runs through 3 innings, and was pulled, Kama [Fresno State freshman pitcher Kamalani Dung] came in and shut them down; it was so fun to watch!  She had 13 strikeouts! On the offensive side, our team never gave up and fought hard until we walked off with a win in the ninth. That 12-11 victory would unquestionably be the moment I realized we had a great team.

Did you think any one Mountain West team in particular played the Bulldogs the toughest this season?  Or was every series tough?
I thought that every series was tough. From Boise State to San Jose State, every conference opponent played us strong. Throughout the season we had targets on our backs, and we were the team everyone wanted to beat.

 You won 88 games as a pitcher in your Fresno State career and will rank as one of the all-time greats to wear a Bulldog uniform.  What does that mean to you?
I don’t see the 88 career wins as an individual accomplishment, but rather a team accomplishment. Certainly it’s an honor to see my name surrounding some of the best Bulldog pitchers, but it takes a team to win, my name is just attached to it.

In all of your wins, your fellow senior Paige Gumz was there at catcher for every
single one of them.  Describe that pitcher/catcher relationship and her role in your success. 
Paige is one of my best friends and just an amazing teammate and person. Over the summers, we would spend a lot of time together working out and getting better for the season coming up. She’s the best catcher that has ever caught me, she pumps me up with one fist pump, and I trusted her with everything.

You were originally recruited by legendary head coach Margie Wright.  What sold you on Coach Wright, and what made you choose to be a Bulldog in the first place?
Obviously Coach Wright was someone who did wonders for our sport and fought for many of the things I have received at Fresno State. Coach Wright made me feel at home the moment I stepped on campus, and I instantly knew Fresno would be the right fit. Coach Wright made it possible for me to play at an amazing facility with the most loyal fans there are.

After you signed your National Letter of Intent to attend Fresno State, Coach Wright announced her retirement.  Did that cause any anxiety or make you regret your decision in any way?
I was very surprised when Coach Wright announced her retirement, but it didn’t make me want to change my mind to go to school at Fresno State. I was disappointed, because I would have loved to be coached by one of the winningest coaches in college softball, but I don’t regret my decision.

You had a good freshman season, a very good sophomore year, and then just kept getting better throughout your career.  How do you explain that?  Is it a case of just gaining more experience, or is it something more?
I think it’s a little bit of both. As a freshman, I didn’t know what to expect, especially with an entirely new coaching staff and no returners being instructed by Coach Ford to lead the way. Kiley Shae [Aldridge], Hannah [Harris], Taylor [Langdon] and I had to figure it out on our own, but our different strengths helped us as a group. Throughout my career, I learned new things about my game and became more mature as a pitcher. Coach Ford has taught me so much mechanically, and I’ve progressed substantially from year to year because of it. But I think what has helped the most is my dedication toward my mental game. The mental aspect of pitching is something that is very hard to learn and it takes a lot of time to master. I’ve learned so much from our assistant coach, Coach Wynn, and the exercises I did at practice, and the articles I read are all a huge reason I have progressed as well as I did in the circle.

Did your senior season turn out to be like you thought it would? 
My senior season wasn’t my best season if you look at my statistics, but I can honestly say that this group of girls was the best team I’ve been on throughout my career. Winning the Mountain West, the 23-game win streak, and beating Tennessee were all memories that made my senior year unforgettable.

You went through a difficult time in March of this year when you were hit by a comebacker in a game against Cal.  It caused you to miss some playing time.  How severe was that injury and do you think it changed you in any way?
Trying to protect my face, I put my hands in front of my face and the comebacker hit my pitching hand. The pain was through my pinky and knuckle, and the training staff thought it was fractured. The next day I went and got an x-ray and the results showed that it wasn’t fractured, but it sure felt like it was. The doctor told me that I had a deep bone bruise and that I would be able to pitch in a week if I wasn’t in too much pain. I got treatment on it three times a day, and it helped significantly, but I never really felt the same. The pain was partially gone by the time conference play started, but I couldn’t seem to find my groove. I think I created some bad habits pitching not completely healthy, and it was difficult getting that confidence back that I had before I got hit.

Fresno State traditionally plays one of the nation's toughest non-conference schedules.  What was your feeling each year when you'd take a look and notice that you were about to play teams like Oklahoma, Washington, Florida, Arizona and others?
Our non-conference schedule is traditionally very strong, and as a freshman it could be somewhat overwhelming, but it’s so much fun. It’s fun to compete with the top teams in the country and show yourselves, fans, and critics what you’re made of. Seeing those teams on our schedule made me excited and gave us an opportunity to put Fresno State on the map. Also, it prepares us for the Mountain West Conference, and this year was a great example of how our strength of schedule was important in our success.

Your team had the best conference record in Mountain West history.  How much did you think about the winning streak this year?
Honestly, we never spoke about our winning streak, nor thought about it. We only thought about the game we were about to play, and going 1-0 that day.

How disappointed were you when Fresno State was overlooked and not named an
NCAA regional host this season? 
I was disappointed because we have an amazing facility and I think we deserved it. However, I think it was more disappointing for our fans because we would have hosted a great regional, and the softball community would have loved to see some of the top teams in the country at Margie Wright Diamond.

From a fan's viewpoint, it seems like college softball is becoming more and more about offense every year.  From a pitcher's perspective, do you see it that way too?
I definitely think it has. The first indicator that really changed the game was the rubber getting moved back to 43 feet.  Bat technology is improving every year, teams have the newest bats out there, and fields can be at 190 feet… It’s not very helpful for a rise ball pitcher [laughs].

Did we hear correctly ... you may be returning next season to Fresno State, assisting Coach Ford in some aspect?
Yes you did!  I have another semester of classes to complete my degree in Accounting, so I’ve decided to help Coach Ford and the rest of the coaching staff; I’m definitely not ready to walk away from Fresno State softball just yet!

Do you have any interest in becoming a coach at the collegiate level?
To coach at the collegiate level would definitely interest me.  I have so much love for this game, and it would be enjoyable to give back and teach girls that have the same passion.

If you could have a do-over and get one game back to play completely over, which one would it be, if any?
If I had to do a game over, it would have to be the Nevada series my sophomore year. We had to win the series to win the Mountain West and our destiny was in our own hands. If we won the MWC, we would have gotten an automatic bid to postseason, giving us even more experience with what post season felt like. With that said, we may have performed better in the Oregon regional we went to last year and the UCLA regional this year.

What would you say to a 14- or 15-year-old softball player who might be following in your footsteps and thinking about heading to Fresno State in the future?
I would say that Fresno State takes care of their athletes on and off the field. We are spoiled with the best coaches, staff, facilities and gear. We’re a Top 25 program because of our committed coaching staff, hard-working athletes, and amazing fan base. Fresno State has excellent professors, and you will get a quality education, and even if you have trouble, we have some great tutors and support staff that will get you the help that you need. But overall, the best feeling is stepping on Margie Wright Diamond and inspiring so many young ones that want to fill your shoes one day.

What are your interests outside softball, and where do you see yourself a decade from now?
Outside of softball, I love spending time with my family, and the outdoors. Hiking and yoga are things I’ve really enjoyed when I don’t play softball, but I think a decade from now I will still be around the game in some aspect. Since I’m getting my degree in accounting, I’ve thought about going for my CPA and possibly working for a firm in Northern California, but right now I don’t really know what’s in store. In 10 years, I could be working behind a desk crunching numbers, or being on a field sharing my passion with others.

Top:  While seniors in high school, the six future Bulldog freshmen (Bria Kennedy, Taylor Langdon, Whitney Smith, Jill Compton, Hannah Harris and Paige Gumz attended a Fresno State football game.  Bottom:  Here are those six again, as college seniors, alongside seniors Alyssa Villalpando (left) and Victoria Trevino (right).

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Bulldogs beat Bakersfield before errors prove costly again vs. Titans

Fresno State's strong 2016 season came to an end Saturday evening in Los Angeles as the Bulldogs fell one game shy of reaching the NCAA Los Angeles Regional championship game.

Needing to win to stay alive in the afternoon session, Fresno State came up with an 8-5 win over Cal State Bakersfield, putting an end to the Roadrunners' season.  Then later, errors reared their ugly head for the second day in a row in a 7-1 loss to Cal State Fullerton, ending the Bulldogs' season.

In the opener, Alyssa Villalpando hit a home run and double, Bria Kennedy had a double among her three hits, and freshman Morgan Howe had a pair of hits, including a double of her own as the 'Dogs stormed to an 8-2 lead over Bakersfield.  After the Roadrunners crept closer and cut the lead to 8-5 in the fifth, freshman pitcher Kamalani Dung entered in relief of starting and winning pitcher Jill Compton, and was untouchable.

Dung retired all eight batters she faced against Bakersfield, striking out five, to earn the save in her first NCAA Tournament appearance.  Compton scattered seven hits to earn her first NCAA Tournament victory and 88th all-time in a Bulldog uniform.  It would be the last game Compton would pitch as a collegian.

Compton finished her career in sixth place in wins among Fresno State pitchers, one behind Morgan Melloh's 89 victories.  In an ironic twist, both Compton and Melloh ended their careers on the same field -- UCLA's Easton Stadium -- in the NCAA Tournament.

In the nightcap, Fresno State took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning when Lindsey Willmon homered off Cal State Fullerton's Sydney Golden, the Big West Freshman of the Year.  The Bulldogs, who had two hits in the first inning against the Titans but left both runners stranded, would not have a hit the rest of the game after Willmon's blast.  That home run was the 61st of the season for Fresno State, shattering the school record for homers in a season.  Prior to this year, the Bulldogs had never hit more than 51 round-trippers in a single season.

Dung started the late game Saturday against Fullerton and pitched well, but was betrayed by the Bulldogs' defense.  Fresno State committed three errors in the game, leading to the first four runs of the game for Fullerton.  The Titans grabbed a 2-1 lead on a 2-out home run following a Bulldog error in the second.  Two back-to-back errors in the fourth opened the floodgates and paved the way for two more runs.

Fullerton coach Kelly Ford, after Willmon's home run, replaced Golden in the circle with Big West Pitcher of the Year Desiree Ybarra, and the game was basically over.  Ybarra was on fire, and mowing down 'Dogs batters.  After Fresno State's defensive implosion, the offense fizzled too, with help from Ybarra, who did not allow a hit over the final five innings.

In a season where Fresno State reeled off a school-record 23 straight wins, no one was able to do to them what the Titans did.  Cal State Fullerton handed the Bulldogs 25% (3 of 12) of their entire losses for the season.  Fresno State finished 42-12-1 overall, and committed five errors in the three games versus the Titans, including four in NCAA Tournament play.

Dung took the loss, her first as collegian, ending a promising freshman campaign with an 8-1 record.  Fullerton (45-15) advances to face UCLA Sunday at noon for the regional title.  The Titans must beat the Bruins twice to advance to Super Regionals.

For Fresno State, the Bulldogs head home disappointed, but with a lot to be proud of this season.  In addition to 42 wins and a second-straight Mountain West title, Fresno State will almost certainly head into 2017 as the preseason conference favorite again and likely ranked in the Top 25.  Next season, the Bulldogs return 14 letterwinners, including Mountain West Player of the Year and first team All-Region pick Kierra Willis, All-MW and All-Region selection Willmon, and all-conference second baseman Malia Rivers, in addition to Dung and several other key contributors and starters.

Head coach Trisha Ford also welcomes the most decorated recruiting class of her career.  Fresno State in 2017 will feature the nation's 18th-best incoming recruiting class, as rated by Flo Softball.  That group includes state high school Gatorade Player of the Year finalists, and five players listed among Flo Softball's National Top 100 recruits.

Friday, May 20, 2016

7th inning error dooms Bulldogs in disappointing NCAA tournament loss

Call it deja vu.

And a very bad case of deja vu, at that.

Fresno State returned to the site of a heartbreaking 2010 loss in NCAA Tournament play Friday, opening the 2016 tourney at UCLA's Easton Stadium.  Back in 2010, the Bulldogs were tied 2-2 with UCLA with two outs in the sixth inning, until a costly error enabled the Bruins to go on for a regional title-clinching win.

Today, it was an opening-round NCAA game in the same Easton Stadium, but this time against Cal State Fullerton, and again another Fresno State error late in the game proved costly.  Kierra Willis, the Mountain West Player of the Year, made a wild throw from left field with one out in the seventh inning, allowing the Titans to break a tie and score the eventual game-winning run in a 6-4 win over the Bulldogs.

The game was tied 4-4 in the seventh when Fresno State starting pitcher Jill Compton, who labored most of the afternoon, allowed the first two Fullerton batters of the inning (Samantha Vandiver and Missy Taukeiaho) to reach on singles.  Following a pop up that failed to advance the runners, Melissa Sechrest lined a single to Willis in left that looked like it was going to load the bases.

As the Titans' base runners advanced to second and third base -- and decided to stay there -- on Sechrest's single to load them up, Willis made an unnecessary and ill-advised attempt to throw home from shallow left field.  It was a wild throw that went all the way to the screen, overthrowing everyone, and allowing the Fullerton base runner to waltz home from third for a 5-4 lead.  A groundout followed, scoring another run, and it was 6-4 in favor of the Titans just like that.

It was all Fullerton would need, and that would be the ball game.

In the bottom of the seventh, Fresno State attempted to rally.  Bria Kennedy walked to lead off the frame, giving the Bulldogs some hope, with their two through four hitters coming to bat.  Malia Rivers struck out before Willis just missed tying the game on a deep fly ball to the wall in center field.  Two pitches later, Alyssa Villalpando grounded out to end it, sending the Titans to the winner's bracket.

For Fresno State, it was another in a series of humbling postseason losses.  For the first time in program history, the Bulldogs have lost five consecutive NCAA Tournament games, and have not won an NCAA postseason softball game in exactly five years.  For a program with such storied tradition and over 90 postseason softball wins to its credit, it's a big blow.  The Bulldogs' last win in NCAA Tournament play came  May 20, 2011, in a 1-0 victory over Nebraska during Margie Wright's next-to-last season at the helm of the Bulldogs.  They've committed seven errors in their last four combined NCAA Tournament losses.

Before their current string of five years without an NCAA Tournament victory, the Bulldogs had never gone more than a single season without an NCAA win from 1982 to 2011.  Prior to last year, 1986 was the lone season -- in 31 different trips to the NCAA tourney -- where Fresno State did not win a game.

Fresno State (41-11-1), which went 0-2 in an NCAA regional just one time in 27 tournament appearances under Wright, now must win an elimination game vs. Cal State Bakersfield Saturday at 3 p.m. to avoid going 0-2 in NCAA tourney play for the second straight year under head coach Trisha Ford.  Fullerton (44-14) advances to a noon winner's bracket semifinal vs. host UCLA.

UCLA blanked Cal State Bakersfield 7-0 in the other regional game played Friday in Los Angeles.  In that one, Bruins pitcher Johanna Grauer tossed a no-hitter over the Roadrunners and narrowly missed a perfect game.  After retiring the first 20 Bakersfield batters of the game, Grauer issued a walk with two outs in the seventh inning.  CSUB will enter Saturday's elimination game with Fresno State with a 16-33 overall record.  Against common opponents this season, the Bulldogs are 11-2, while the Roadrunners are 4-11.

Willis' seventh inning error may have been the key in this one, but she was the main reason Fresno State was even in this game to begin with.  With Compton struggling with her command, and allowing the Titans to put runners in scoring position in every inning but two, it was Willis' 2-run home run in the third inning that gave the Bulldogs a 3-2 lead.  Willis accounted for Fresno State's only earned runs of the game, and it was one of just two extra-base hits for her team on the afternoon.

The home run by Willis was also the Bulldogs' only hit with a runner on base Friday.  It would turn out to be one of the more lackluster offensive games of the season for a team that hit a Mountain West-best .371 in conference play.  Fresno State was a paltry 1-for-17 with runners on base in this one.

Cal State Fullerton, with some shoddy defense (three errors) and poor base running decisions, tried to keep Fresno State in the game.  And the Titans did, for the most part.

Compton allowed two hits, and also walked two, in the top of the first inning as Fullerton threatened from the start.  The Titans were unable to score in the first though, when catcher Paige Gumz made a nice throw to get a Fullerton base runner out on an attempted steal for the game's first out.  Compton was able to escape a bases-loaded jam in the opening frame with one of her two strikeouts on a 3-2 pitch.

The Bulldogs took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second.  Gumz doubled, and advanced to third on a Fullerton error as the ball was bobbled in the outfield.  Gumz would then score on a wild pitch from Titans starter Desiree Ybarra, the Big West Pitcher of the Year.

In the top of the third, Fullerton answered right back for a 2-1 lead as Compton issued a leadoff walk before giving up a 2-run homer to Taukeiaho.

Compton (now winless in three career NCAA Tournament starts) allowed the leadoff batter to reach base in five of seven innings -- four times with walks.  She walked the leadoff batter in the first, third, fourth and fifth innings, and the last three times, each of those runners ended up scoring.  In the fifth, after falling behind by a run, Fresno State tied it with some Titan errors.  Bria Kennedy's single was the lone hit for the Bulldogs in the frame; Fullerton, though, committed two costly errors -- one on a bobbled grounder by Sydney Colenzo, and one on an errant throw by shortstop Shianne Brannan that allowed Fresno State to tie it.

In all, only two of the Bulldogs' runs in the game were earned.  No Fresno State player finished with more than one hit, as six players (Willis, Kennedy, Rivers, Villalpando, Gumz and freshman Morgan Howe all had one).  Lindsey Willmon, Fresno State's leading hitter at .371 entering the game, went 0-for-3, with all three at-bats coming with Bulldog runners on base.

It was Fresno State's second loss in row after having its nation-leading 23-game winning streak snapped.  Compton allowed eight hits, struck out two, and issued five walks.  Taukeiaho, Sechrest, and Courtney Rodriguez all had two hits for the Titans.  Fullerton freshman pitcher Sydney Golden allowed just two hits in 4 2/3 innings of relief to earn the victory in her first NCAA Tournament appearance.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Bulldogs nearly sweep All-Mountain West honors

The All-Mountain West teams and postseason honors were announced this week and it was almost a clean sweep for Fresno State.

There were three repeat winners as senior pitcher Jill Compton was named Mountain West Pitcher of the Year for a second straight season, senior catcher Paige Gumz was named Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row, and Fresno State head coach Trisha Ford earned Mountain West Coach of the Year honors a second straight campaign.

For the first time since joining the Mountain West, the Bulldogs also took home the conference Player of the Year award, as junior outfielder Kierra Willis capped an outstanding year with that accolade.

Winning Freshman of the Year honors was Boise State's Rebekah Cervantes.

Compton is the third pitcher to win the league's Pitcher of the Year award twice, but she is the first to ever do it in back-to-back seasons.  She went 15-1 in conference play and 25-5 overall during the regular season.  Willis led the Mountain West in on-base percentage, runs scored and walks, and batted .451 in conference play.  She tallied hits in every conference game but three, and reached base safely in every game.  Gumz committed just one error this season, and has played every inning of her four-year career at catcher for the Bulldogs.  Cervantes was the league's top home run hitter among freshmen, and Ford now owns the career-best winning percentage in MW games all-time.

To see the full list of All-MW honorees (first and second team), click here.  Mountain West champion Fresno State led the way with seven all-conference selections.  In addition to Compton and Willis, infielders Alyssa Villalpando and Lindsey Willmon earned first-team honors.  In addition to Gumz, Bulldog outfielder Bria Kennedy and infielder Malia Rivers earned second-team honors.

Road to OKC begins in Los Angeles for MW champion Bulldogs

Well, the NCAA pairings were released Sunday night and Fresno State was screwed passed over for a regional hosting spot again.

Despite having the best season ever for a Mountain West team, finishing with a 22-1 conference record, winning 23 of their final 24 games, having a Top 10 non-conference strength of schedule, and being ranked in the nation's Top 25 every week of the regular season, the Bulldogs were not named regional hosts or given a national seed when the pairings were announced lived on ESPNU.
Our tweet on Saturday, May 14 -- a day before the pairings were announced
Instead, the Bulldogs head to familiar territory -- at the Los Angeles Regional, where they will face Big West champion Cal State Fullerton, WAC tournament champion Cal State Bakersfield, and No. 12 national seed UCLA.

If it sounds familiar, it should.  It's the exact same regional we predicted in a tweet Saturday, the day before the pairings were announced.  The NCAA took the laziest, easiest route to determining this regional.

Hours before the formal announcement and pairings were revealed Sunday, we tweeted the exact seedings that the NCAA came up with.  It's not rocket science, but it comes from years of following the NCAA selection committee's general attitude when it comes to softball pairings:  It goes almost entirely on geography when it comes to California teams.  Put 'em all in one regional and give the host spot to the Pac-12 team.  And don't rely on how the teams actually fared during the season.  Quite frankly, this was a regional that we could have predicted back in February.
Our tweet at 3:47 pm Pacific on Sunday, May 15 -- 3+ hours before the NCAA Selection Show
And while Fresno State finished ahead of Georgia in the final RPI and Nitty Gritty report in front of the NCAA selection committee, the committee instead chose the red-clad Bulldogs from Athens to host a regional instead of the Bulldogs from the San Joaquin Valley.  And in a baffling regional, Georgia -- the No. 16 national seed -- will host what appears to be, by far, the weakest set of opponents.  Georgia will host Northwestern (26-26 overall), a team Fresno State defeated twice, along with Oklahoma State (a team San Diego State defeated this season), and Maine.

Sigh.  We should be used to this by now.  Sadly, we are.

The Bulldogs will open with the Titans at 3 p.m. Friday at UCLA's Easton Stadium.  Despite nearly every regional in the country having its games showcased on national TV, there will be no TV for the games at UCLA.  We should be used to this by now too.  Sadly, we are.

In game two at 6 p.m. Friday, the Bruins meet the Roadrunners.

After initially telling fans there would be absolutely no online coverage other than live stats of the games in Los Angeles (and audio for UCLA games only), it appears now as though the regional will at least receive an online webcast through the Bruins' official site.  The link can be accessed here (fingers crossed): or through the regional's Tournament Central page here.

The Los Angeles Regional and the Gainesville Regional are considered by most to be the two toughest of the 16 regionals.  In Los Angeles, three of the four teams are among the top 27 teams receiving votes in the national polls.  UCLA is ranked as high as 12th, while Fresno State is No. 18 ( Softball) and No. 20 (USA Today/NFCA) in this week's rankings.  Cal State Fullerton is receiving votes in both polls this week, coming in at No. 27 in the NFCA rankings.

Fresno State, UCLA and Cal State Fullerton have combined for 90 all-time NCAA tournament appearances, 46 Women's College World Series appearances, 28 appearances in the NCAA championship game, and 14 NCAA titles.  While UCLA is a 12-time national champion, Fresno State has been to 32 NCAA tournaments all-time, 12 WCWS appearances, and five trips to the national championship game, including the year it won it all in 1998.

The last two times the Bulldogs played in the Los Angeles Regional, Fresno State and UCLA met in the regional final.  In 2009, the Bruins won 9-5 to advance to Super Regional action.  In 2010, the Bruins won 7-2 in a heartbreaker for the Bulldogs.  The score was tied 2-2 with two outs in the sixth inning when an infield error changed the trajectory of the game and both teams' seasons.  Instead of heading to the 7th inning tied in the regional final, UCLA would go on to score five unanswered runs for the win.

And how big was that game in 2010 when Fresno State was tied with UCLA in the sixth inning of the regional final?  Well, it could've been for the national championship too.  Because the Bruins would go on that season to win the NCAA title, and UCLA finished unbeaten in the Women's College World Series that season.  But for all that greatness, the Bruins barely escaped their own regional ... thanks to a determined group of Bulldogs.

Reason for UCLA and the other teams in Los Angeles to worry:  This year's Fresno State team is better than that 2010 Bulldog squad.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The case for Fresno State to host an NCAA regional

The day has finally arrived -- Selection Sunday.

The NCAA softball selection committee is hunkered down, going over facts, figures, numbers, results and deliberating who to select and where to send them for the 2016 NCAA Tournament that begins Thursday.

It's an inexact science to be sure.  And it's often an unfair one as teams like Fresno State learned as recently as last season.  You may remember the Mountain West champion Bulldogs last season were sent to Eugene for a 4-team regional that consisted of Pac-12 champion Oregon, Summit League champion North Dakota State, and West Coast Conference champion BYU.

It was the only regional in the country that matched four conference champions.  It was the only one where all four teams had 40 or more wins.  And it was the only regional to have three of its four teams receiving votes in the national polls.  Oregon was the No. 1 team in the nation in the NFCA poll at the time, North Dakota State was No. 25, and Fresno State was receiving votes.

Unfair?  Yeah, probably.  But as we've learned over the years:  As in life, always hope for the best, but prepare for the worst when it comes to the NCAA softball selection committee.

With that said, let's take a look at the criteria the NCAA says it takes into consideration in determining all aspects of which teams get in, and where they play.  The determining criteria:

  • Strength of Schedule
  • Ratings Percentage Index (RPI)
  • Head-to-head Competition
  • How a Team Finishes the Season
  • Records vs. Common Opponents
  • Location of Games Played

Fresno State can make a strong case in its bid to host a regional based on several of these factors.  The single biggest help to the Bulldogs:  Strength of Schedule.  In the final Strength of Schedule report by the NCAA prior to the start of Mountain West play, Fresno State was 10th in the nation.  In the final SOS report thru games of May 8, the Bulldogs were 14th in SOS, meaning they'd only fallen four spots with their conference games added in.

Non-conference strength of schedule (click to enlarge)
A Top 10 non-conference strength of schedule is a big deal when there are 295 NCAA Division I teams.  Fresno State head coach Trisha Ford scheduled a strong slate specifically to prepare her team for conference play and ensure a strong RPI if the Bulldogs took care of business against an elite group of opponents.  The Bulldogs did that.

Along with the Top 10 non-conference SOS, another criteria the NCAA considers -- Location of Games Played -- weighs heavily in Fresno State's favor.  The Bulldogs did not sit at home and have the top powers come to them.  Fresno State went on the road and proved its worth, competing in some of the nation'e elite tournaments against national powers.  The 'Dogs went to the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Palm Springs, the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, and the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe -- the best of the best tournaments in college softball.

And there they faced the likes of Oregon, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Baylor, Northwestern (two games), Utah, Oregon State, California, Long Beach State, Indiana, Wisconsin and many more.  They hosted the likes of Washington and Kansas (two games).  They played true non-conference road games against Big West champion Cal State Fullerton (a team that beat nationally-ranked Oklahoma and Arizona State along the way this season) and Pacific (a team that defeated nationally-ranked LSU in Baton Rouge this season).

Simply put, Fresno State challenged itself like few teams in the country do in non-conference play.  The Bulldogs have marquee wins away from home.  They earned a 7-3 win in Tempe against a Top 10-ranked Tennessee Volunteers team that finished 41-14 overall and 16-7 in the ultra-tough SEC.  They scored a 2-0 neutral-site shutout win over a 32-win Utah team that finished with a winning conference record (13-10) in the powerhouse Pac-12.  In neutral-site games, they picked up a win (over Cal) and a tie (vs. Oregon State) against two teams virtually guaranteed to receive NCAA at-large bids today.

And it doesn't stop there.  Fresno State has two neutral-site wins over a Northwestern team that finished third in the difficult Big Ten.  They defeated Indiana, as well as the champions of the Ivy League (Princeton) and Big Sky Conference (Weber State), both of whom will be appearing in the NCAA Tournament.

Here's what is important:  The NCAA can send a message to the rest of the country by selecting Fresno State as a host site.  If you go out and schedule the very toughest slate of games you can schedule, and you do well against that schedule, you will be rewarded.

Conversely, the NCAA can send a damning message today as well.  It can say this:  Even though you played a Top 10 non-conference slate, Bulldogs, we've decided to stick with the status quo and go with the power conference teams because we've always done it that way.

The Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) is another key area for the Bulldogs.  Fresno State is 18th this week in the RPI after being 17th last week.  The Bulldogs actually fell in the RPI a spot last week after sweeping a road series in Reno against a Nevada team that finished the season 32-15 overall.  Does that make sense?  No.

The RPI, by its very nature, is a flawed tool that rewards teams from power conferences simply because they face those highly-ranked teams during league play.  Teams like Fresno State do not get to pick their opponents in conference play.  Upstarts like Boise State, which has only sponsored the sport of softball since 2009, are on the Bulldogs' schedule whether they like it or not.  The Bulldogs can only control their non-conference portion of the schedule.  And they controlled the controllable portion of the slate by scheduling tough.

How a team finishes the season is also a big area where Fresno State holds power in this discussion.  Until yesterday, the Bulldogs had the nation's longest winning streak, and they will enter the NCAA Tournament having won 23 of their past 24 games.  They have a 12-game road winning streak.  If the committee is truly looking to reward a team playing strong down the stretch, look no further than the Bulldogs, who have lost just once since the middle of March.

Games vs. common opponents and Head to Head Competition are other factors, and ones where the 'Dogs look strong.  Fresno State beat Pacific, which owns a win over LSU.  Fresno State beat Tennessee, which beat Missouri, Georgia, Auburn and Texas A&M, among others.  Fresno State beat Utah, which beat Arizona, Arizona State, Washington and Cal.  Fresno State swept a 3-game series from San Diego State, which beat Texas A&M, Cal, BYU, and Oklahoma State.  Fresno State swept a 3-game series from New Mexico, which beat Nebraska.  The list goes on.

To summarize, Fresno State meets all the criteria most important in NCAA selection, according to the NCAA's own guidelines.  The record is one of nation's 10 best -- 41-10-1.  The team finished with the most wins and best record in Mountain West history -- 22-1.  It finished strong, winning 23 of its final 24 games.  It has marquee wins over nationally-ranked opponents and numerous teams that will be on both the automatic NCAA bid and at-large board.  And most importantly, the Bulldogs played one of the nation's Top 10 non-conference schedules precisely for moments like this:  So they would be the ones cheering on Selection Sunday when they see FRESNO STATE listed as one of 16 NCAA regional host sites.

Let's hope the committee follows its own established guidelines and looks at all criteria it's supposed to look at, rather than relying merely on the RPI.  We will be watching and hoping.

Oh, and there's a glorious weather forecast for next weekend in Fresno with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid- to upper-70s.  We call that perfect California weather for a nationwide ESPN audience and the thousands of fans that will definitely fill Margie Wright Diamond.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

UNLV snaps Fresno State's 32-game league winning streak on Senior Day

That sound you heard Saturday afternoon?  It was the 17th-ranked Fresno State softball team coming back to Earth.

After a stunning run of 23 straight wins overall -- the longest winning streak in the nation -- and 32 straight in conference play, the Bulldogs fell 10-7 to UNLV on Senior Day at Margie Wright Diamond.  For the second day in a row, Fresno State came out of the gates less than sharp, and for the first time in nearly two months, the Bulldogs paid the price in the loss column.

The loss to a Rebels team that entered on a 7-game losing streak, in eighth place in the Mountain West standings and 154th in the RPI has the potential to be a devastating one for the Bulldogs, who appeared to have momentum on their side in the race to host an NCAA regional.

NCAA Tournament bids will be announced Sunday at 7 pm on ESPNU.  And while Fresno State could still host a regional on the basis of the strongest season ever for a Mountain West softball team, it's far from a sure thing.  Given the history of the NCAA Selection Committee in softball, they often take the easy way out.  Such a scenario again this season could leave the Bulldogs headed to UCLA where they could potentially be stacked against the host Bruins, and, say, Big West champion Cal State Fullerton and WAC champion Cal State Bakersfield.

We'll see soon enough.

It probably wasn't much consolation to the Fresno State team that it finished with the best record and most wins ever by a Mountain West softball team.  The Bulldogs went 22-1 in conference play and are now 41-10-1 entering NCAA Tournament play next week.

After committing four errors last night, the Bulldogs added two more today, and they were costly.  Starting pitcher Jill Compton, who entered the day 15-0 in MW play and leading the league in ERA in conference games, struggled in a contest that began immediately after a prolonged, 20-minute on-field, emotional pregame ceremony where the Bulldogs honored her and the other seven Fresno State seniors.

It's the sixth time in the last eight years the Bulldogs have lost on Senior Day at home.

And Compton got behind 3-0 in the top of the first inning, walking a batter, hitting another, and giving up a key, 2-out, 2-run single to freshman Madison Rogers, who had 10 hits all year entering the final day of the season.

Fresno State would respond with five straight runs to take a 5-3 lead over UNLV.  Senior Whitney Smith hit an RBI single in the second to score Lindsey Willmon, who was hit by a pitch to lead off the frame.  In the third, the Bulldogs scored four runs on three hits.  Kierra Willis walked and Alyssa Villalpando singled before Paige Gumz reached on a Rebels error, which also scored a run.  Willmon plated another run with a sacrifice fly before Morgan Howe hit an RBI single and Vanessa Hernandez added an RBI triple.

So the Bulldogs would carry the 2-run lead to the fourth and things looked rosy, right?  After all, Fresno State was 25-0 this season when leading after three innings.  The Rebels, however, had other ideas.

UNLV answered right back with four runs to regain the lead, aided by two critical Bulldog infield errors and a bit of luck.  A hard-hit bouncer wiggled off Smith at shortstop and a comebacker to Compton bounced off her lower leg and caromed into an area between shortstop and third base for the Rebels' first two hits of the frame.  Following two Fresno State errors that enabled UNLV to tie it, Chrissi Olmaza hit a pinch-hit, 2-out, 2-run single to right and it was 7-5 in favor of the Rebels just like that.

After Rebels starting pitcher Morgan Ettinger got the Bulldogs to go down quietly in the bottom of the fourth, Fresno State head coach Trisha Ford replaced Compton with freshman Kamalani Dung in the circle.  It was a move that raised an eyebrow or two as Compton, in likely her final home game as a Fresno State pitcher, was pulled despite an unbeaten record at Margie Wright Diamond over the past 412 days.

Dung tossed a scoreless fifth before giving up a solo home run to UNLV's Brooke Stover in the sixth.  That would make it an 8-5 Rebels lead.  In the bottom of the sixth, Fresno State rallied as Howe singled and later scored on 2-run blast to left by Smith.  With the score now 8-7, the Bulldogs left the tying run on base in the form of Malia Rivers, who singled but was stranded.

Ford went to Taylor Langdon for the top of the seventh inning, but the Bulldog senior pitcher allowed a pair of costly insurance runs for the Rebels with two outs.  Francesca Foti hit an RBI single through the right side of the infield, and Alyssa Cordova followed with a triple that made it 10-7.

After two quick outs to begin the bottom of the seventh, Willmon doubled off Ettinger to give the Bulldogs some hope.  As Howe stepped to the plate and saw pitches well out of the strike zone,  Ford sent the Bulldogs' home run co-leader -- Dominique Jackson -- to the on-deck circle.  With Jackson standing in the on-deck circle representing the tying run in the bottom of the seventh, Howe pulled a head-scratcher of an at-bat, grounding out to end the game on a 3-0 pitch.

As the Mountain West champion Bulldogs stood there stunned, it was UNLV screaming, jumping for joy, and pouring out of the dugout and across the field for a celebration that mirrored a Women's College World Series win.  The Rebels finished the season next-to-last in the MW standings, a half-game behind seventh-place New Mexico and two games ahead of Boise State.  Fresno State claimed the conference crown by six games in the loss column ahead of second-place San Jose State.  It is the widest margin in the final standings ever for a Mountain West softball champion over the second-place team.

The Bulldogs will learn their NCAA Tournament fate when pairings are released Sunday evening.  Fresno State finished one game short of tying the school mark for most consecutive conference wins -- 33, set when the program was part of the WAC in 1999 and 2000.

Fresno State was presented its Mountain West championship trophy at the conclusion of the game.

Elsewhere ... Nevada, Utah State and San Diego State all finished in a 3-way tie for third place in the Mountain West standings by virtue of Saturday's results.  Nevada defeated the Aggies in Logan 4-3 to capture that series, while San Diego State beat Boise State to win that series two games to one.  San Jose State's 3-game sweep of New Mexico meant the Lobos finished seventh.

Friday, May 13, 2016

'Dogs keep rolling ... No. 17 Fresno State has won 32 straight MW games

Trisha Ford's No. 17 Fresno State Bulldogs just keep on winning.

The Bulldogs, so stellar all season on defense, committed an uncharacteristic three errors in the first three innings of a Friday the 13th evening, leading to a pair of unearned UNLV runs.  From that point on though, it was all Fresno State though as the Bulldogs rode their high-powered offense and scored six unanswered runs for the 6-2 win.

In the process, Fresno State ran the nation's longest winning streak to 23 straight games -- the longest streak in school history.  And the Bulldogs continued to shatter an already long-broken Mountain West record by winning their 32nd straight conference game, spanning two seasons.

Fresno State can tie the program record for longest conference winning streak on Saturday in the Bulldogs' season finale.  The Fresno State teams of 1999 and 2000 combined to win 33 straight conference games when the school was a member of the WAC.  That streak lasted from February 2, 1999, to April 22, 2000.

And maybe more importantly, Fresno State can become the first team ever to finish unbeaten in Mountain West softball play.  And that's a feat that could be the X Factor in the Bulldogs landing one of 16 national seeds and a regional host spot at Margie Wright Diamond when the 64-team NCAA bracket is revealed in less than 48 hours.

No. 17 Fresno State 6, UNLV 2 - Senior pitcher Taylor Langdon made her first start ever in Mountain West play, and delivered a stellar outing.  It was her second consecutive start this season where she tossed a complete-game and did not allow an earned run.  Three weeks ago, she pitched a complete-game shutout in a road non-conference game at Pacific.  Friday, it was a complete-game 4-hitter, where even the four hits were almost entirely of the weak, infield hit variety.  And Langdon kept her composure when the Bulldogs had a few uncharacteristic defensive miscues in the early going.  After spotting UNLV an unearned run in the first and third innings, Fresno State responded as it has all season when it's been down.  The Bulldogs got a 3-run bottom of the third -- on four hits -- to take the lead for good.  Kierra Willis, the conference leader in on-base percentage, had another strong game.  Alyssa Villalpando, the MW leader in RBI, added a league-leading 56th, and difference-maker Lindsey Willmon added a 2-run single.  In the third, Whitney Smith led off with a solid single to left, and Bria Kennedy was hit by a pitch to give the Bulldogs two runners on base to begin the frame.  After an out, Willis roped a triple to the corner in right, scoring both runners and tying the game 2-all.  Villalpando followed with what would turn out to be the game-winning hit -- a well-struck single to right-center.  An inning later, Vanessa Hernandez led off with a single, and Smith reached on UNLV's lone error of the game.  Kennedy drove home Hernandez with a deep sacrifice fly just in front of the 220-foot sign in center.  In the fifth, the 'Dogs added two more as Willis and Villalpando got things going again with singles to lead off the frame.  After a Paige Gumz sacrifice advanced both runners, Willmon drove them home, giving her 46 RBI on the year.  And while the Bulldogs were lighting up the scoreboard, Langdon was mowing down the Rebels once the 'Dogs started hitting.  Langdon retired the final 10 batters she faced, as UNLV did not have a base runner after the fourth inning.  She struck out four and saw her record move to 2-0 in Mountain West play this season.  Langdon tossed six innings of relief in a road win at San Jose State two weekends ago.  Janine Petmecky allowed nine hits in six innings of work to take the loss for the Rebels.  Fresno State is one win away from becoming the first Mountain West team ever to go unbeaten in conference play.

Elsewhere ... Utah State came from a 4-run deficit to nip Nevada 7-6 to even the series at a game apiece.  The win ensures the Aggies' first overall winning record in 20 years ... San Jose State wrapped up sole possession of second place in the Mountain West with a 9-0 win over New Mexico.  The Spartans moved to 26-24 overall and have now gone from fourth to third to second place in the final league standings over the past three seasons.  UNM, predicted to finish fourth this season, is in seventh place in the standings heading into the final day of action ... San Diego State allowed a late lead to get away, but came back for a 7-6 win over Boise State in eight innings on Ashley Ercolano's RBI single.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

No. 17 Fresno State breaks school record with 22nd straight win

The 2016 Fresno State softball team, ranked 17th in the nation in the latest Softball rankings, continues to re-write the school's record book.

The Bulldogs ran the nation's longest winning streak to 22 straight by beating UNLV Thursday night, breaking a record that stood for 17 years.  The 1999 Fresno State team -- the last Bulldog team to reach the Women's College World Series -- held the previous mark of 21 straight wins for the better part of the last two decades.

But this year's Fresno State squad continued to roll and gain momentum towards possibly hosting an NCAA regional when the pairings are announced live Sunday at 7 p.m. Pacific time on ESPNU.

The Bulldogs improved to 21-0 in Mountain West play and 40-9-1 overall, becoming the 25th Fresno State softball team since 1982 to win 40 or more games in a season.  Head coach Trisha Ford has done it each of the past two years.

Fresno State also continued to tear up the Mountain West record books, running their current winning streak in conference play to a staggering 31 games, spanning two seasons.  With two games remaining, the Bulldogs are gunning for the first unbeaten season ever for a team in Mountain West softball play.

No. 17 Fresno State 4, UNLV 1 - Pitcher Jill Compton moved into third-place all-time among Fresno State pitchers by winning her 15th straight game.  Only All-American pitchers Amanda Scott and Marcie Green, both of whom led their teams to the WCWS, have ever won more consecutive games for the Bulldogs.  The senior right-hander Compton improved to 15-0 in conference play and 24-4 overall with her 87th career win.  Alyssa Villalpando, the Mountain West leader in RBI, smacked a 3-run home run -- her eighth round-tripper of the season -- in the third inning to give the Bulldogs a 4-0 lead.  It came after Kierra Willis, the conference leader in walks, runs and on-base percentage, drove in the Bulldogs' first run of the game on a sharp infield grounder.  Bria Kennedy had a 4-for-4 day, including a double, for the Bulldogs.  UNLV scored its lone run with two outs in the seventh inning.

Boise State 3, San Diego St. 2 - The Broncos picked up one of their biggest wins of the season and all but nailed the door shut on any NCAA at-large hopes the Aztecs may have had with the win in San Diego.  Nicole Wilson allowed just two hits over six innings to pick up the win.  San Diego State threatened with the potential tying and go-ahead runs on base in the bottom of the seventh.

San Jose St. 4, New Mexico 1 - The Spartans secured second-place in the final conference standings with a win over the Lobos in San Jose.

Nevada 12, Utah State 4 (5 innings) - In Logan, the Wolf Pack won their first game in the last 25 days with a rout over the Aggies.  Brooke Bolinger allowed four runs and four hits to pick up the win, and Nevada scored three runs before Utah State starter Alleyah Armendariz recorded an out.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

College Sports Madness projects 'Dogs as NCAA regional host, 15 seed

The latest, and presumably final, Bracketology before Selection Sunday from College Sports Madness has some intriguing news for Mountain West softball fans.

Mountain West champion Fresno State is listed as the No. 15 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, according to CSM, which is forecasting the Bulldogs to host a regional at Margie Wright Diamond.

CSM has Fresno State as the top seed in the Fresno Regional, along with second-seeded Texas A&M (an at-large pick out of the SEC), third-seeded New Mexico State (the WAC champion), and fourth-seeded LIU-Brooklyn (the Northeast Conference champion).

Such a scenario would mean the Bulldogs would open the NCAA Tournament against LIU-Brooklyn, and then if Fresno State were to win, it would meet the Texas A&M-New Mexico State winner in its second game.

One interesting note:  That scenario forecast by CSM took a bit of a turn for the better today.  Texas A&M, one of the teams the Bulldogs are up against for a possible host spot, was eliminated today in its opening-round game of the SEC postseason tournament.  Also good news on that front:  Two other SEC teams with whom the Bulldogs are competing for one of the final host spots -- Georgia and Missouri -- also lost their first-round games in the SEC Tourney today and were ousted on the opening day.

Georgia was 15th, Texas A&M 16th, and Missouri 17th in the latest USA Today/NFCA poll.  Fresno State must take care of business this weekend versus UNLV though to maintain a realistic shot at hosting an NCAA regional.

As we've mentioned previously, the Bulldogs are almost in a win-win situation.  Not only is Fresno State tough at home, having won 22 of its past 23 games, the Bulldogs have also lost just one true road game this year.  Fresno State is 17-1 in its last 18 true road games, and 48 of the Bulldogs' 56 home runs this year have come on the road.

In The Circle podcast offers tourney Bracketology breakdown

One of our favorite blogs - In The Circle - offers its latest NCAA bracketology, complete with a podcast discussion related to the final week of the 2016 season.  Hear about all the conference tournaments around the country, and the In The Circle forecast for regional hosts and more.  Yes, there's discussion of both Fresno State and another Mountain West team.  The 48 minute or so podcast is definitely worth listening to in its entirety, but if you want to listen to just the part related to the Mountain West, skip forward to about the 24:00 mark.

Link is here:

Bulldogs at No. 16, 17, 18 and 19 in polls & RPI heading into final week

It's crunch time.

Definite crunch time.

NCAA Tournament pairings will be announced Sunday at 7 p.m. Pacific time on ESPNU, and Mountain West champion Fresno State is peaking at the right time.

The Bulldogs own the nation's longest winning streak (21 games) and have won 30 straight conference games.  In the latest College Sports Madness Top 25 poll, Fresno State is No. 16 for a second week in a row.  In the latest Softball Top 25 poll, the Bulldogs moved up another notch to a season-high No. 17 ranking in that poll.  In the latest Ratings Percentage Index, Fresno State stands at No. 18.  And in the latest USA Today/NFCA coaches poll, it's a season-high No. 19 ranking.

With 16 teams being nationally seeded and hosting NCAA regionals, the Bulldogs are in the discussion for both for the first time since the 2008 season when they were the No. 16 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and hosted a regional.

The RPI news is not so great with regard to other possible NCAA at-large teams out of the Mountain West.  The two next-best RPIs belong to San Diego State (58th) and San Jose State (69th).  Both have 3-game series remaining, but it seems doubtful either will see its name on the board on Selection Sunday.  However, San Diego State at least has a chance, albeit a very slim one, if the Aztecs should sweep Boise State this weekend.

The Aztecs have quality wins in non-conference play that will help them.  One of the most intriguing is SDSU's win earlier this year over Oklahoma State.  At the time, it didn't seem like a great win, but the Cowgirls now seem to be on the good end of the NCAA bubble.  If OSU and SDSU are two of the last teams on the at-large board, will the head-to-head win by the Aztecs be enough?  No one knows for sure, but San Diego State also owns a Top 25 win (Texas A&M), as well as wins over likely NCAA entrants California and BYU.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

No. 18 Fresno State runs nation-best win streak to 21 with road sweep

After two days of rain canceled games in Reno, they finally got to play as No. 18 Fresno State tangled with host Nevada on Senior Day for the Wolf Pack.

It was all Fresno State.  Despite Nevada entering with the league's second-best overall record at 30-12, the Wolf Pack were swept at home by a Bulldog squad that hasn't lost a game in nearly two full months.  Fresno State pounded out 24 hits, including five home runs (three by Kierra Willis) that shattered the school's single-season home run record in a 7-3, 10-6 doubleheader sweep of Nevada.

Fresno State has hit a school-record 56 home runs this year, nearly double its season total of 29 a year ago.

The 2016 Bulldogs squad tied the 1999 Fresno State softball team for the longest winning streak in school history at 21 straight games.  In addition, the Bulldogs have won a Mountain West-record 30 consecutive conference games spanning two seasons, and are the first MW team ever to win its first 20 games of the season.  Fresno State is 20-0 in conference play, seven games ahead of second-place San Jose State in the loss column and 11 games in front of the Aztecs of San Diego State.

All the talk around the conference wasn't about the Bulldogs though  on Sunday, as Colorado State senior Holly Reinke pitched a no-hitter over UNLV in her final collegiate game.

No. 18 Fresno State 7, Nevada 3 - In Reno, Fresno State pitcher Jill Compton struck out 11 to move her record in conference play to a perfect 14-0.  Kierra Willis hit home runs in each of her first two at-bats against Nevada starting pitcher Brooke Bolinger and finished with a four RBI game.  Willis' first homer of the day was the 52nd of the year by the Bulldogs, breaking the school's single-season home run record, set in 2010.  Bria Kennedy and Lindsey Willmon both had two hits, while freshman Vanessa Hernandez hit a 2-run double that helped the Bulldogs build an early 7-0 lead.  Compton was dealing, taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning and retiring 11 straight batters at one point.  She is the first Mountain West pitcher to ever win her first 14 straight conference games in a season.

No. 18 Fresno State 10, Nevada 6 - In game two in Reno, the Bulldogs pounded out 15 hits, including three more home runs, against Wolf Pack starter McKenna Isenberg.  Freshman starting pitcher Kamalani Dung (5-0 in Mountain West play) earned the victory, her eighth overall this season without a loss.  The Bulldogs got off to a strong start for the second game in a row.  Paige Gumz and Lindsey Willmon singled to begin the top of the second inning.  After an out, freshman Vanessa Hernandez hit a home run way out of Hixson Park for a 3-0 lead as the Bulldogs didn't trail in either game.  Fresno State got back-to-back home runs in the fifth as Willis hit a deep, 2-run shot for her third round-tripper of the afternoon.  Alyssa Villalpando, who hit an RBI double earlier in the game, blasted a homer to left and the Bulldogs had reached double-figures in runs for the ninth time in their last 14 road games.  Willis finished with an amazing day that saw her go 5-for-8 with 7 RBI and four runs scored with four extra-base hits (3 HRs and a double).  Hernandez had the biggest day of her young Bulldog career, finishing with five RBI.  Willmon, Villalpando, Rivers, Gumz and Bria Kennedy all had multi-hit games.  For the Pack, Jennifer Purcell hit solo home runs in both games.  Fresno State tied a school record set four times previously, finishing with a perfect wining percentage (1.000) on the road in conference play.

Colorado State 7, UNLV 0 - In Las Vegas, this was all about Rams senior Holly Reinke.  Colorado State became the first Mountain West team to conclude its 2016 season, and went out in style.  And so did Reinke.  In her final game as a collegian, she pitched a complete-game no-hitter -- the first no-hitter of her career -- in a rout over the Rebels.  Colorado State, which was dealt a rough hand by Mother Nature this year with series after series being delayed or canceled by weather, saved its best for last.  In the only conference series the Rams played this season without a weather delay, CSU picked up its only sweep.  In fact, it was Colorado State's first road sweep in conference play since 2013.  Reinke allowed two walks and one UNLV base runner to reach on an error.  CSU had 11 hits with Kristina Akiona hitting two home runs and Jaelyn Manzanares and Savannah Clark one each.

San Jose State 14, Boise State 4 - The Spartans completed a road sweep of last-place Boise State with another rout.  This was the first game of the series to go the distance, and again home runs were on display in the Mountain West's most home run-friendly park.  SJSU hit four of them and Boise State hit three.  For San Jose State, Alyssa Martinez, Jessica Madrid, Madison Aurin and Taylor Purdy all went deep.  For Boise State, freshman Rebekah Cervantes hit a pair, and Morgan Lamb hit one.  Seven of the 16 total hits in the game were homers, and three of the Broncos' five hits were longballs.  Colette Riggs picked up the win for the Spartans, who have clinched at least a tie for second place in the final Mountain West standings.

New Mexico 3, San Diego St. 2 (10 innings) - Lisa Rodrigues hit a 2-run home run in the bottom of the 10th inning to erase a 2-1 deficit and hold on for the win.  It snapped a 9-game home losing streak for New Mexico, and put a serious dent in San Diego State's already slim hopes for an NCAA at-large bid.  The Aztecs broke a 1-all tie in the top of the 10th inning when Molly Sturdivant's RBI single scored Leia Ruiz, who hit a 1-out double.  UNM's win looked improbable when San Diego State pitcher Alex Formby got two quick outs to begin the bottom of the 10th.  A Karissa Haleman single with two outs set the stage for Rodrigues.  Lauren Soles picked up the win for the Lobos.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Saturday around the world of Mountain West softball

For the second straight day, No. 18 Fresno State and Nevada were rained out in Reno.  The teams will try to play two games Sunday, beginning at noon.  For the Bulldogs, their highlight of the day came in the morning when television announcers Michele Smith and Beth Mowins mentioned the Mountain West champions several times during a live ESPN broadcast.

The duo noted that Fresno State was one of the schools surging into the conversation to host an NCAA softball regional this season.  Mowins said, "That would be fitting, to be playing postseason games at Margie Wright Diamond," the home of the Bulldogs.  The comments by Mowins and Smith came during the live SEC game between nationally-ranked Georgia and Alabama, won by the Crimson Tide.  The ESPN announcing crew made reference to Fresno State's nation-leading 19-game winning streak and noted that the Bulldogs were the only team to qualify for the 2016 NCAA Tournament thus far.

Later in the broadcast, Mowins again referred to the Bulldogs' current win streak as a possible reason for Fresno State to host an NCAA regional, citing the various criteria employed by the NCAA Selection Committee.  She noted that "late-season performance," was one of the key factors that goes into the selection process, and the Bulldogs' current hot streak is something that should work in their favor.  NCAA bids will be announced Sunday, May 15, at 7 pm Pacific time live on ESPNU.

San Diego St. 2, New Mexico 1 - In Albuquerque, things quieted down a day after SDSU set a Mountain West record with 28 hits in a 23-4 rout.  This one was a pitcher's duel where the Aztecs managed 24 fewer hits than the day before.  SDSU had just four in the game against New Mexico left-handed freshman Colette Robert, but that was enough.  Robert would toss just 71 pitches in the complete-game, but took the loss against the Aztecs' Alex Formby, who allowed six hits.  After Jasmine Casados hit an RBI double in the first to give UNM a 1-0 lead, San Diego State took the lead for good in the third.  Zaria Meshack had an RBI single and Leia Ruiz added a sacrifice fly for the 2-1 Aztecs lead, and that's how the game ended.  SDSU left just two runners on base in the fast-moving game, while New Mexico left only four aboard.  The Aztecs evened their record at 10-10 in conference play, while the Lobos have now lost nine straight home games.

San Jose St. 13, Boise St. 0 (5 innings) - This one was all Spartans in Boise as SJSU rolled to an easy win over the last-place Broncos, who don't seem to have much left in the tank at this point in the season.  Madison Aurin, Taylor Purdy and Jessie Hufstetler all went deep against Broncos pitching.  They were the 10th, 11th and 12th home runs hit in the series -- with seven of them coming off the Spartans' bats.  Katelyn Linford started the game again for SJSU and picked up her first win in her last five starts with a 3-hitter.  Paige Reimann started and took the loss for Boise State, which has lost seven of its last eight games.  BSU is now 25-77 over the past two seasons.

Colorado St. 8, UNLV 4 - In Las Vegas, the Rams won for the second straight day to clinch a series victory over the host Rebels.  Colorado State will conclude its 2016 season Sunday, becoming the first Mountain West team to see its season come to a close.  CSU finished with two series wins on the year, with both coming on the road.  The Rams took two of three at San Diego State earlier this season.  It was a 15-hit barrage for Colorado State Saturday against a pair of Rebels pitchers.  Kristina Akiona, Lauren Buchanan and Hannah McCorkill all had three hits to pace CSU.  Logan Losh pitched five innings of 2-hit relief to earn the victory.  UNLV lost its fourth straight game and its third straight home Mountain West series.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Friday softball action around the Mountain West

With the Mountain West championship race already decided last weekend, there isn't a whole lot on the line as we head into the final two weeks of the season.  Conference champion Fresno State is playing for NCAA Tournament seeding and a possible regional hosting slot.  And San Jose State and San Diego State are also playing to keep their slim NCAA at-large hopes alive as well.  All three games that were played Friday went to the visiting teams.

No. 18 Fresno State at Nevada, postponed - The opening game of the series in Reno was postponed due to poor field conditions from heavy overnight rains.  It will be made up as part of a Saturday doubleheader, beginning at 1 pm.  Thunderstorms are also a possibility for Saturday.

San Jose St. 17, Boise State 9 (6 innings) - In Boise, the teams combined for nine home runs in a slugfest, won by the visiting Spartans.  SJSU had four home runs, getting dingers from Alyssa Avila, Taylor Purdy, Brittany Abacherli and Jessie Hufstetler. The 3-run shot by Hufstetler came with two outs in the seventh inning, following a Broncos error.  It was part of a 7-run top of the seventh.  Boise State hit five home runs in the contest, getting round-trippers from Rebekah Cervantes, Teauna Hughes, Morgan Lamb, and a pair from Makenzie Sullivan.  In 10 Mountain West games at Dona Larsen Park in Boise this season, 38 home runs have been hit.  Since winning MW Pitcher of the Week honors two weeks ago, Spartans hurler Katelyn Linford has started four straight games without a win.  She went an inning and one-third, surrendering five runs, including three long balls.  Colette Riggs (7 H, 4 R, 2 HR) pitched 4 2/3 innings and picked up the win.  Jenna Bassler, the third of three BSU pitchers, took the loss, allowing seven runs (five earned) in 2+ innings.

San Diego St. 23, New Mexico 4 (5 innings) - In Albuquerque, the Aztecs got off to a roaring start and never let up, obliterating the Lobos on their home field.  Sam Camello started the game with a single down the right-field line as the first eight batters of the game all reached base safely before UNM could record the first out.  Jordan McPherson started for the Lobos in the circle and exited this one very early, as Lisa Rodrigues came in and struggled as well.  UNM head coach Erica Beach left Rodrigues in the rest of the way and San Diego State scored a school-record in runs and had a school- and Mountain West-record 28 hits in the contest.  McPherson (5 hits, 6 runs in 0+ inning) took the loss, while Rodrigues was charged with 23 hits and 17 runs in 5 innings of work.  No San Diego State batter struck out in the contest.  The 23 runs were one shy of the all-time MW record set two years ago by Fresno State in a 24-4 rout at Boise State.  Camello etched her name in the MW record books with a 6-for-6 hitting performance as every Aztec had a hit, and eight of the nine SDSU batters had a multi-hit game.  The first six hitters in the Aztecs lineup combined to go 22-for-27 with 19 RBI as struggling New Mexico lost its eighth straight home game.  UNM, which was predicted to finish fourth in the conference standings after finishing fourth a year ago, has lost seven straight MW games on its home field.  After an 8-run first inning, a 10-run fourth sealed the deal and capped the day for San Diego State.  Erica Romero went three innings for the victory, and UNM hit four solo home runs for all of its scoring.  During this 0-7 home stretch in conference play, New Mexico has been outscored 78-33.  The game was played in extremely windy weather conditions, with sustained 30 mph winds and gusts reaching upwards of 50 mph.

Colorado State 4, UNLV 2 - In Las Vegas, the Rams got a complete-game 6-hitter from pitcher Holly Reinke and held off the Rebels.  It was the 50th career win for Reinke.  Amber Nelson had two hits, including a 2-run double that was part of Colorado State's top of the third inning when the Rams scored all of their runs.  Jaelyn Manzanares was the other CSU player with a multi-hit game.  She finished with two, including an RBI single in the third.  UNLV scored both of its runs in the bottom of the fifth inning when the Rams had three consecutive 1-out errors.  The Rebels' only hit of the frame was a bunt single.  Reinke scattered six hits for the victory, while Morgan Ettinger (7 hits, 4 earned runs) tossed a complete game and took the loss.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

MW champion Bulldogs reach season-high rankings in polls, RPI

Fresh off winning the regular-season Mountain West softball championship and a berth in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, Fresno State reached season-highs in the polls and the Ratings Percentage Index today.

First, the all-important RPI, a tool that weighs heavily (too heavily, many people think) in the minds of the NCAA selection committee that determines the 16 regional host sites and seedings in the 64-team field.  After being No. 18 for the past two weeks, the Bulldogs climbed a spot to No. 17, just one spot below their highest ranking since the RPI was introduced as a tool for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament.

Fresno State is 17th in the current RPI, exactly where it stood in the final RPI of 2008, when it last hosted an NCAA regional.  On Selection Sunday of that year, the Bulldogs were 16th.

And the NCAA softball committee, in recent years, has practically gone verbatim with the RPI when choosing regional hosts.  Long gone are the days when BYU (then a Mountain West member) was selected to host regionals with RPIs of 40 (2006 season) and 46 (2007 season).

It is much more stringent these days.  And while the NCAA says the RPI is supposed to be merely one factor (along with strength of schedule, location of games, quality wins and losses, possible injuries, how a team is playing down the stretch, etc.) in determining a regional host, the committee's actions say otherwise.  We shall see.

Things that make Fresno State an attractive host site:  Location (it's convenient, especially when there are numerous other west coast teams that will qualify for the NCAA Tournament), stadium (the Bulldogs have one of the premier facilities in the country, with permanent, chairback seating for more than 3,000, along with an outfield berm that can accommodate an overflow crowd), fan base (annually one of the country's top 10 in attendance, Fresno State would have the ability to create a true playoff atmosphere that would make it exciting for fans, teams and media, alike).

The Bulldogs are actually in a win-win situation.  A homefield advantage would be nice, but Fresno State has actually played just as well -- and perhaps even better -- away from home.  Their run production, team batting average, and home run totals are tremendously higher away from Margie Wright Diamond.  Fresno State has hit eight home runs at home this season, for example.  The Bulldogs have hit a whopping 43 on the road.  That's a huge difference, and Fresno State hits a lot of long flyball outs at home, where the wind traditionally blows in pretty heavily from center field.

With the 'Dogs now guaranteed an NCAA bid, will the Mountain West send two to the Big Dance for a second year in a row?  It seems doubtful at this point, but San Diego State (56th) and San Jose State (68th) still have some hope.  For SJSU, the goal is to maintain a second-place finish in the MW standings and hope for the best.  The Spartans have played one of the tougher schedules in the country, and their strength of schedule was 37th of 295 NCAA Division I teams in the latest NCAA stats.

San Diego State, meanwhile, has the better RPI and more quality wins than SJSU, but will likely finish below the Spartans in the final MW standings.  Would the NCAA selection committee actually take a third- or fourth-place finisher from the Mountain West?  It seems unlikely this season.  SDSU has an RPI Top 25 win (Texas A&M) to its credit, along with wins over likely NCAA qualifiers Cal and BYU.  But the Aztecs are just 16-17 vs. the RPI top 150 in the NCAA's latest Nitty Gritty report out this week.  It looks as though San Diego State will see its streak of NCAA Tournament appearances end at eight this season even if the Aztecs win their final six games to finish 32-20.  However, it could be a close call if SDSU is able to win its final six .

In the human polls this week, Fresno State is at its season-best rankings in all of them.  In the College Sports Madness Top 25, the Bulldogs are 16th, up one spot from last week.  In the Softball rankings, Fresno State moved up three spots to No. 18, reaching its peak in both ranking and vote totals.  In the USA Today/NFCA coaches poll, the Bulldogs held at No. 20 for the third week in a row, but reached their highest vote total of the year (209 votes).

The coaches poll is the biggest oddity.  Fresno State has reached the No. 20 spot four different weeks this season, but has never been ranked in the teens.  Notre Dame, just above the Bulldogs at No. 19 last week, held at No. 19 despite a pair of losses to unranked teams last week.  Arizona State, a team that is 3-15 in its conference and has lost 12 straight games, is somehow, incredulously, receiving Top 25 votes in the coaches poll.

Mountain West RPIs this week

Fresno State - 17
San Diego State - 56
San Jose State - 68