Thursday, May 19, 2016

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):  http://pac-12.com/live/ucla?DB_OEM_ID=30500 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 (ESPN.com/USA 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.