Sunday, May 7, 2017

San Jose State, Fresno State complete sweeps; 3 teams remain alive for title

Five teams rode into Sunday's Mountain West softball action with hopes of winning a conference championship.  After play ended Sunday afternoon, only three teams remained standing.

San Jose State and Fresno State completed impressive 3-game sweeps of Utah State and New Mexico, respectively, to stay in the race for the Mountain West title.  The Spartans and Bulldogs remain alive, along with San Diego State, which completed a sweep of UNLV a day earlier.

San Jose State beat Utah State 6-1, while Fresno State beat New Mexico 3-1.

Meanwhile, Utah State and Nevada were both eliminated from title contention with losses.  The Pack suffered a 7-5 (eight innings) setback at Boise State.  But the biggest story of the weekend had to be Utah State's late-season collapse.

The Aggies had what seemed like an almost insurmountable lead over the rest of the conference for the past month, before fading.  Utah State had won all seven of its conference series until being swept by San Jose State this weekend in three games where the Aggies' offense could do little.  USU was the first MW team to complete the conference portion of its schedule, and the Aggies ended up going 0-4 in their final four league contests, and 4-6 in their final 10.

Utah State's troubles came at the exact time San Jose State, Fresno State and San Diego State were surging towards the finish line.  Those three California teams, collectively, have won a stunning 18 in a row heading into the final weekend of the regular season.

Fresno State continued a strong late-season push with a sixth consecutive win Sunday as sophomore pitcher Kamalani Dung had yet another stellar weekend.  The reigning Mountain West Pitcher of the Week won her sixth game in 10 days, and is now 7-0 in her last seven starts in conference play.  Dung tossed a 4-hitter for the second day in a row and finished the weekend with a 3-0 record, 19 strikeouts, 1 earned run allowed (0.36 ERA), and just three extra-base hits allowed in 19 innings.  She leads the MW in wins overall (23), wins in conference play (11 of the Bulldogs' 12), and -- probably most importantly -- ERA.  Dung's ERA is an impressive 1.82 after Sunday's win.

Junior Savannah McHellon delivered her team-leading 10th home run of the season for the Bulldogs and had two RBI.  Malia Rivers and Morgan Howe had a pair of hits, and Kierra Willis moved into a tie for third-place in school history with her 19th career triple.  UNM's lone run came following a Fresno State error, as the Bulldogs outscored the Lobos 18-2 in the series.

San Jose State's win came on a weekend where the Spartans outscored the Aggies 15-2 over the final 19 innings of that series.  In going 0-4 in its final four MW games of the season, Utah State was outscored 30-10.

Katelyn Linford limited USU to five hits, and SJSU had 11 against a trio of Aggies pitchers.  Casey Watt had three hits and a pair of RBI, and Madison Aurin had two hits and three RBI to lead the way for the Spartans.

San Jose State is 15-6 in conference play, while San Diego State is 13-8 and Fresno State 12-8 with three games remaining.  Next week, all three title contenders are on the road, with SJSU at UNLV, Fresno State at Colorado State, and SDSU traveling to Nevada.  The Spartans, Bulldogs and Aztecs all finished the season with 3-3 records against each other.  San Jose State won its series with Fresno State, Fresno State won its series with San Diego State, and San Diego State won its series with San Jose State.

In Boise, a wild seventh inning saw both Nevada and Boise State rally with two outs.  First, it was the Pack who scored three runs when down to their final out, taking a 5-4 lead.  Then, Boise State responded with a 2-out rally of its own to send the game to extra innings.  In the bottom of the eighth, senior Izzy Serrano -- on Senior Day -- hit a 2-run homer to right for the 7-5, walk-off win.  The Broncos won the series two games to one, and eliminated Nevada from the title chase in the process.

In non-conference play, Colorado State completed a 4-0 weekend at home with a pair of 1-run victories.  The Rams edged Texas Tech 4-3 and South Dakota 1-0.  Bridgette Hutton scattered six hits in the nightcap.