Saturday, May 13, 2017

Dramatic Hernandez grand slam gives Fresno State strong NCAA momentum

Fresno State is the hottest team in the Mountain West Conference, and one of the hottest teams in the nation heading into NCAA Selection Sunday, winning eight of its final nine games.

The Bulldogs won an important road series in Fort Collins Saturday with another dramatic finish.  Against the Rams, who had won five straight games entering play Friday, Fresno State won for the second day in a row, and dealt Colorado State a gut-wrenching close to the 2017 regular season.

Down to its final out, and with the bases loaded, sophomore outfielder Vanessa Hernandez came up with the biggest hit of her Fresno State career so far.  Hernandez belted a Bridgette Hutton pitch over the fence in left-center for a grand slam, sending Fresno State to a 5-2 win.

Hernandez had an impressive outing, reaching base in all four plate appearances, going 3-for-3 with a walk and driving in four.  Fresno State had stranded nine base runners in the first six innings, including five runners in scoring position, before Hernandez's home run.

Kamalani Dung won her 25th game of the season and solidified one of the most remarkable seasons in Fresno State pitching history.  Dung has thrown every pitch for the Bulldogs since their April 23rd game against San Jose State and has gone 8-1 in nine consecutive starts in the circle.  She ends the season as the MW leader in conference wins (13), overall wins (25) and ERA.

Dung also became the first pitcher in the conference to surpass 200 strikeouts this season on Saturday.

Fresno State's NCAA at-large case is bolstered by a win over Top 25 BYU, along with wins over Big West champion Cal State Fullerton and two head-to-head wins over Oregon State of the Pac-12, among others.  The Bulldogs won eight of their last nine games this season during a torrid stretch, and have won 26 games vs. the RPI Top 150.  Compare that with a team like Missouri, a virtual lock because of its SEC affiliation.  Missouri had 15 wins over the RPI Top 150 heading into the SEC tournament.

Elsewhere, San Jose State was stunned for the second day in a row, falling 4-2 at UNLV.  Morgan Ettinger, who lost despite throwing a 1-hitter against the Spartans Thursday, was victorious Saturday.  Ettinger scattered five hits in the win, her first in more than two months.  SJSU will enter the NCAA tournament on a down note, having lost two of three games to the Rebels.  UNLV had just one Mountain West series win this season until taking the series from the Spartans.

New Mexico finished last in the conference, losing its final 11 games.  Boise State used a Makenzie Sullivan home run to beat the Lobos 4-1.  The Broncos, predicted to finish last in the preseason poll of MW coaches, had a big improvement from last season and finished with 30 wins in the regular season this time around.