Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Weekend in review: Hits, misses & a whole lot of rain

Well, this past weekend, we learned what happened when two-thirds of the teams in one conference all go to the same rain-soaked tournament:  a whole lot of rainouts.

The Mountain West sent six of its nine teams to the DeMarini Desert Classic in Las Vegas, where rain and wet grounds cause big problems.  The entire Saturday slate was wiped out, resulting in 14 rainouts.  Sunday's schedule was reworked, but even then, wet grounds caused a portion of games to be canceled.

Meanwhile, No. 21/22 Fresno State went on its first international trip in history, participating in the highly-competitive Puerto Vallarta College Challenge, and Nevada and New Mexico appeared in tourneys elsewhere.

Here's how it went:

Fresno State - It was an inconsistent weekend for the Bulldogs, who struggled on defense at times, and had mixed results.  Fresno State is playing the most demanding schedule of all Mountain West teams again, and is paying the price a bit for scheduling so tough with such a young team and new head coach.  There were highs and lows in Puerto Vallarta.  The highs were very high:  Sophomore pitcher Kamalani Dung threw her first career no-hitter and third shutout in a 7-day span in a 9-0 rout over a Florida Gulf Coast team predicted to finish second in the Atlantic Sun Conference.  A marquee win followed over Cal State Fullerton, but it was way more difficult than it should have been.  Leading 9-1 in the fifth inning with one out and no one on base, and on the verge of a run-rule win over the Big West favorites, the Bulldogs imploded.  Fresno State allowed an astonishing nine runs -- all with two outs -- to fall behind 10-9.  The game went extra innings and the Bulldogs' offensive firepower was enough for a 12-11 win, but their already-thin pitching staff was taxed in a 3 1/2 hour marathon.  Having to face Texas Tech later that same day, the Bulldogs were leading 4-2 before again having trouble.  The Red Raiders scored seven consecutive runs before a Fresno State rally fell short in a 9-6 loss.  A key error allowed three unearned runs against Tech, and that was the difference.  Defense was a problem in all three losses in Puerto Vallarta as Fresno State gave up a shocking nine unearned runs in its three losses -- including all 4 runs in a 4-3 setback to FGCU.  No stat tells the story more than this one:  In games where the Bulldogs did not commit an error, they went 2-0.  In games where they committed errors, they went 0-3, including a tough opening-game loss to Mississippi State, where a key, 2-out error allowed two unearned runs and snapped a 1-1 tie in an eventual 4-1 loss.

UNLV - The Rebels went 4-0 in their home tournament this weekend and have played all nine of their games at home.  The game versus probably their biggest 'name' opponent of the weekend -- Memphis -- was rained out.  Three of the four wins came by one run against a group of foes who don't exactly look all that great on paper.  UNLV's victories came over teams that are currently 6-23-1 combined.  If yous subtract Northern Iowa's 5-3 record, it looks even worse:  three of the wins came against Idaho State, Weber State and UTEP, two of whom have not won a game this season.  Combined, those three teams are just 1-20-1.  So while the 7-2 record for the Rebels looks nice and the victory over UNI is solid, we will get a better measure of this team once it hits the road.  And it will come soon enough.  This weekend, the Rebels will travel to Hawai'i and meet the Rainbow Wahine twice, and nationally-ranked Oregon once, among others.

San Diego State - The Aztecs went 1-1 in their rain-shortened Campbell-Cartier Classic in San Diego, which had its final three days wiped out by rain pounding the Golden State.  A win over UC Riverside was followed by one of the tougher pills to swallow for San Diego State in recent years.  SDSU had No. 8 ranked Washington on the ropes, leading the Huskies 5-3 in the seventh inning.  But much like Fresno State, defensive miscues ruined the weekend.  The Aztecs, leading by two runs and just two outs away from their first win over a Top 10-ranked team since 2008, committed two errors in the seventh inning and allowed Washington to escape with a 6-5 triumph.  It ended a string of 24 straight games SDSU had won when leading after five innings.  There were bright spots in the loss, as the Aztecs managed eights hits, including two home runs, off UW's ace Taran Alvelo, who'd just won National Player of the Week honors days earlier.  And freshman pitcher Marissa Moreno went the distance against the Huskies, allowing eight hits to a potent office.  But to be so close, this one will sting a bit.

Utah State - The Aggies only got two games in during their stint in Las Vegas, losing in an 8-0 run-rule rout (five innings) to Memphis, and posting a 3-1 win over Southern Utah.  Games against UTEP, Weber State and Texas State (one of the best opponents USU was to face in the non-conference portion of its schedule) were rained out.

Boise State - After just two weekends, it's becoming clear this isn't the Boise State team of the last couple of years.  The Broncos, mired in last place in the Mountain West standings the past two seasons, went 4-0 in Las Vegas.  Let's be clear:  none of the victories would be considered marquee wins, and the competition wasn't great.  But baby steps for a program that has seen some rough times lately.  The biggest improvement has been in pitching.  Opponents are hitting just .277 against Boise State after two weekends, and that's a big change from last season.  The 2-1 win over Memphis, for example, was an eye-opener after Memphis dispatched of Utah State 8-0 in five innings later that same day.

Colorado State - The Rams went 3-1 in Las Vegas, being shut out 3-0 by the best team they played -- Texas State -- but winning three games against Idaho State, Weber State and Northern Iowa just like UNLV.  Not too much was surprising about these results.  Probably the best news for CSU came from across the country this weekend when Maryland upset No. 1-ranked Florida.  Colorado State beat the Terrapins twice on the opening weekend of the season and now knows it was able to beat the team that, in turn, took down the Gators.  After two weeks, CSU's pitching is well ahead of its hitting as the Rams are batting only .251 as a team.  Only three players on the entire team are currently batting over .275.

New Mexico - This wasn't a weekend to write home about as UNM went winless and dropped all five games at the Texas A&M tournament.  Offense and defense have both been problems.  UNM committed a pair of key, seventh inning errors while trying to maintain a lead in its final game of the weekend against Missouri State, and now has 12 errors already in 10 games.  On offense, the firepower is not there yet.  New Mexico is batting just .231 as a team, and it's even worse when you take an in-depth look.  Of those players on the Lobos squad with at least 10 at-bats this season, only two are hitting over .207.  With nearly 20 percent of the season already in the books, Jasmine Casados is the only Lobos player with more than six hits.  Things must improve drastically in that area for UNM to compete in the Mountain West this season.

Nevada - The Wolf Pack faced rainouts in Las Vegas, but managed to get three games in.  Nevada went 2-1 with the wins being of the 'meh' variety -- over Southern Utah and UTEP, who are 1-16 overall combined.  In the one game against a quality opponent, Nevada struggled and was no-hit in an 8-0 (five innings) run-rule loss to BYU.

San Jose State - Like nearly every other Mountain West team that went to Las Vegas this past weekend, there were some ho-hum wins -- again over Southern Utah and UTEP, who are a combined 1-16 overall.  There were also two losses, one of which was shocking.  San Jose State's bats went quiet in a 4-1 loss to previously winless Weber State.  The Wildcats were 0-7-1 entering that contest.  San Jose State was also shut out by Hawai'i 3-0, marking the fifth time already in two weekends that SJSU has scored one or no runs in a game.  For a program that's made its name lately through offense, the lack of hitting is a real surprise.  San Jose State has a team batting average of .254, nearly 100 points lower than a season ago.