Saturday, March 17, 2018

Late-game uprisings a theme throughout the Mountain West Saturday

A pattern that began on Friday seemed to continue into Saturday in the world of Mountain West softball as games went to the wire with dramatic finishes.

Colorado State 2, Nevada 0 - In the second game of a doubleheader and the third game of this season-opening series in Fort Collins, the host Rams came out on top in walk-off fashion. Amber Nelson hit a 2-out, 2-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning for the game's lone runs and sent CSU to the series victory. Nelson's homer came just an inning after Nevada starting pitcher Kali Sargent had a perfect game intact entering the frame. Sargent would have that perfect game and no-hitter broken up in the bottom of the sixth when the Rams had a pair of hits, but neither team was able to score until that fateful seventh inning. Bridgette Hutton earned the complete game win.

Nevada 4, Colorado State 2 - In the first game of Saturday's doubleheader, Nevada scored a pair of unearned runs in the fifth to tie the game at 2-2, and single runs in each of the final two innings to grab the win. Erika Hansen had two hits, including a double and triple for the Pack in support of freshman pitcher Julia Jensen, who tossed a 4-hitter. Jensen pitched the first 17 innings of the weekend for Nevada, after taking the loss in Friday's 10-inning opener. Larissa Petakoff took the loss Saturday in relief of starter Kaylynn Pierce, who allowed just one earned run.

San Jose State 6, San Diego State 1 - In a game that featured two separate rain delays, the Spartans clinched the series win by handing the Aztecs their ninth loss in 10 games. SJSU hit three home runs and SDSU one, as the round-trippers accounted for every run of the game. Madison Aurin hit a 3-run home run, Jacey Phipps a 2-run shot, and Cassidy Clark a solo blast for the Spartans. SDSU's lone run came on a homer by Taylor Adams. Alex Formby took the loss, while Caroline Bowman picked up the win. San Diego State must win Sunday's series finale to avoid its first 0-3 start in Mountain West play since 2005. The Aztecs have suffered just one 3-game conference sweep (vs. Fresno State in 2016) since the MW switched to a 3-game weekend series format six seasons ago. San Jose State will look to become the second team to accomplish the feat Sunday.

UNLV 6, New Mexico 0 - The lopsided final score is a bit misleading, since the Lobos were an out away from heading to the bottom of the seventh inning locked in a scoreless tie in Albuquerque. But UNLV had other ideas. The Rebels erupted for six runs, all with two outs in the top of the seventh inning, to win in game two of this 3-game series. Pinch-hitter Kiley Harrison's infield single plated the game's first run in the seventh and UNLV pushed five more runs across on a total of five hits in the frame. New Mexico pitcher Alexis Ruel had carried a 2-hit shutout into the seventh. Charlie Masterson earned the complete-game win for the Rebels, tying the series at a game apiece heading into the series finale on Sunday. Brooke Stover's bases-loaded double scored three runs and was the big hit of the seventh. Masterson limited New Mexico to three hits in the game.

Elsewhere - Utah State's home game against Boise State was postponed by weather and will be made up as a Sunday doubleheader (weather permitting). Fresno State had the day off and will host Cal Poly in a non-conference doubleheader Sunday starting at 11 am.

Broncos the lone MW team to win a road opener; Bulldogs' troubles continue

It was opening day of the Mountain West season for every team except Fresno State, which is limping into the league season that begins next week for the Bulldogs.

Boise State was the only MW team to win a road game Friday, crushing Utah State in Logan. Elsewhere, the three home teams prevailed, including a major upset as New Mexico pulled off a late win in dramatic fashion.

Boise State 11, Utah State 1 (5 innings) - The Broncos routed the Aggies in Logan and got to USU ace pitcher Kellie White early with seven runs (six earned) in 2 2/3 innings. Kelsey Broadus allowed only two hits for Boise State. A 3-for-3 day by Adams and 3-run home run by Anthony were the difference-makers for BSU.

San Jose State 5, San Diego State 2 - A key error by the Aztecs paved the way for the Spartans' win. SDSU starter Marissa Moreno was the tough-luck loser after that 2-out Aztecs miscue in the second was followed by three straight hits, including a 3-run Avila home run. Madison Aurin got the win, giving up three hits. Taylor Stewart hit a 2-run shot for SDSU.

New Mexico 5, UNLV 2 - After the Rebels took the lead with a run in the top of the seventh, Chelsea Johnson hit a grand slam with one out in the bottom of the inning for New Mexico's walk-off win. Jensen Main earned the victory while Janine Petmecky (10-2) took the loss.

Colorado State 4, Nevada 3 (10 innings) - The Rams won it in walk-off fashion and were able to overcome four errors as Bridgette Hutton outdueled Julia Jensen. Donaldson had three hits, including the game-winner and three RBI.

Illinois 10, Fresno State 9 - In game one, the Bulldogs blew a 7-0 lead and allowed 10 straight runs to the Fighting Illini.  Fresno State was cruising with a 7-run lead in the fourth inning when the Bulldogs' pitching fell apart. Reliever Samantha Mejia, who's now seen appearances in 16 games, saw her record fall to 1-4 and ERA increase to 7.45 with the loss.  Savannah McHellon hit a grand slam and Katie Castellon hit a home run as the Bulldogs roared to the big lead before faltering.

Illinois 8, Fresno State 5 (9 innings) - In game two, Fresno State was unable to hold a 3-0 lead as a costly outfield error allowed three runs to score and changed the direction of the game.  Four of Illinois' eight runs were unearned as the Illini scored 18 runs in the doubleheader.  That's 10 more runs than Illinois had scored in the previous four games combined between the two schools, a series FS led 3-1 entering the day.  Savannah McHellon hit two home runs, giving her three for the day, and 11 for the season. While the top of the Bulldog batting order was having a successful day, the bottom portion of the order went 0-for-13 in game two and 4-for-25 in the two games combined.  Only 702 fans attended the doubleheader, and Fresno State fell to 13-13 overall. The Bulldogs have lost three of their past four home games, and Linda Garza's team has lost 10 of its last 16 contests overall.  In the two games, Fresno State saw its staff ERA rise to 4.58, second worst in the Mountain West just a year after leading the league at 2.95.  The Bulldogs' record for worst ERA in program history (3.49) is more than a point better than this season.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Marquee wins or fluff? Let's see who they've really beaten

Mountain West play begins today for every team in the conference except Fresno State, which hosts Illinois and Cal Poly this weekend for four games.

It's time to take a look at who teams have really beaten in the non-conference portions of their seasons.  Are the stats padded from beating up on bad teams? Or are there a lot of quality wins in there?

The answers are a bit surprising, quite frankly.

UNLV has eight wins over teams that had winning records as of yesterday, March 15.  That leads the Mountain West. None of the names (aside from maybe Syracuse and DePaul) actually jump out and grab you, but wins over quality opponents is an important stat.  The Rebels have the most wins over teams with current records over .500.

And to be clear, a team had to be above .500 in order to be considered in this chart. This is far from an exact science, and even a winning record doesn't necessarily mean you've beaten a quality team.  In fact, some wins that don't show up here (for example, Colorado State's victory over Texas) are better than some that do show up here.

But still, this gives everyone an idea of who's had a majority of their wins over bad teams and who hasn't.  Take San Diego State, for example.  The Aztecs have been a disappointment overall, going 9-17 as we head into league play.  But the preseason Mountain West favorites have beaten six teams that had winning records as of March 15.  That means 67% of the Aztecs' wins this team came against winning teams.  SDSU has played the strongest overall schedule among MW teams, with Fresno State a close second, according to overall winning percentage. Linda Garza's team has played four of the nation's top nine ranked teams in this week's NFCA/USA Today Top 25.

The Bulldogs are third behind the Rebels and Aztecs among MW teams with three wins over teams with winning records.  By Fresno State historical standards, it's not great though.

But things could be worse.  No other MW team has more than two wins over teams that were above .500 at the close of play Thursday.

And some of these stats are deceiving. For example, Utah State's win over Texas Southern shows up here because TSU has an 8-4-1 overall record. It comes with an asterisk because Texas Southern has three non-Division I victories among its eight wins. And by the end of the season, it's doubtful that would be considered a quality win for Utah State.  In the 2017 final RPI, Texas Southern finished 274th despite having a winning overall record.

The bottom line is this:  the Mountain West this year is considerably behind where it stood at this point last season in terms of quality wins.  A lot can change between now and May, but the MW needs to pick up some additional non-conference victories this season in order to have a shot at coming close to last season's five postseason bids (two NCAA, three NISC).

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Weekend recap: Six of the nine MW teams have winning weekends

It was a mixed bag again this weekend for the Mountain West, which continues to have an overall up and down season filled with some extreme highs and lows.  Fresno State, San Jose State, Colorado State, Boise State, UNLV and New Mexico had the most success as each finished with a winning record in games played this weekend.

Fresno State - The Bulldogs went 4-1 at their own Fresno State Invitational, with the only loss coming to a red-hot, 17th-ranked Cal (24-3 overall) team. The 'Dogs pitched well, holding their opponents scoreless for the first 17 innings of the weekend. Perhaps most impressive: Fresno State's four wins this weekend came from four different pitchers.  Freshman Dani East threw a complete-game shutout in a 9-0 win over Cleveland State Friday, and freshman Savannah Berkowitz threw a complete game in her first collegiate start and just her second-ever appearance for the Bulldogs in a 6-1 win over Cleveland State a day later. Senior Savannah McHellon made just her second start of the year in the circle for Fresno State and was specacular, tossing a complete-game 1-hit shutout in an 8-0 victory over UC Santa Barbara. McHellon's weekend overall was special as she hit two home runs, a pair of doubles, and had five hits and eight RBI. Junior Dominique Jackson went 3-for-3, including a home run, and had five RBI in Sunday's 10-4 win over Monmouth, a game where sophomore pitcher Samantha Mejia picked up her first win of the year.  McHellon has hit eight home runs this season, and the Bulldogs have already smacked 25 homers.

San Jose State - The Spartans went 3-2 at the Louisville Slugger Classic against a demanding slate of opponents. The most impressive win of the weekend came against Long Beach State in a 7-3 victory Saturday.  SJSU had a late meltdown against Ohio State when it appeared on the verge of victory. A bases-loaded hit-by-pitch, with two outs in the seventh inning, allowed the Buckeyes to tie the game. Ohio State would go on to post a 3-run eighth inning and prevail 6-3. Against unbeaten UCLA, the Spartans were run-ruled 10-0 in five innings. San Jose State erupted for a 9-run top of the sixth to snap a 6-all tie on its way to a 15-6 win over Cal State Fullerton, and the international tiebreak rule was in effect when SJSU defeated Boston University in 10 innings.

Boise State - At the Highlander Classic, the Broncos split a pair against host UC Riverside by 18-8 (a win) and 3-0 (a loss) scores. In finishing the weekend 4-1, Boise State defeated North Dakota State 1-0, Colgate 4-0, and Columbia 6-1.

Colorado State - The Rams, after going 0-5 last weekend, did the opposite this weekend, finishing 5-0 at their own tourney, albeit against weak competition. Four of the five wins came against St. John's and Idaho State, two teams with a combined 6-30 record. The other win was a 5-3 decision against Utah Valley.

UNLV - The Rebels lead the Mountain West in victories with 17 heading into conference play, and UNLV went 3-1 at their home tournament. Rebels pitching remained impressive as it has been most of the preseason in a 2-1 victory over DePaul and a 5-2 win over New Mexico State. UNLV also defeated Portland State 9-1, and suffered a setback to the nation's No. 1-ranked team, Washington, by an 8-0 score.

San Diego State - The Aztecs continue to struggle in stunning fashion. After leading the nation in batting average (.356) a season ago, and returning the vast majority of its team, SDSU is hitting just .217 this year following another winless weekend.  The preseason Mountain West favorites have lost seven consecutive games after going 0-5 at the Louisville Slugger Classic. Two of the losses this weekend came by shutout (7-0 to Ohio State and 5-0 to Long Beach State) and the Aztecs have suffered eight shutout losses already.  SDSU was beaten by Boston University for the second time this season, and Michigan State and Cal State Fullerton handed Kathy Van Wyk's team 1-run losses.

Utah State - At the UC Davis Aggie Invitational, Utah State went 1-4. After winning its opener against the hosts, USU lost four in a row, all in low-scoring, tight games.  Two of the losses came to Northern Colorado, one was to Valparaiso, and the finale came in a rematch against tourney host UC Davis.  A year after winning 33 games, Utah State has just nine this time around as we enter conference play (pending a midweek game in Logan versus Weber State).  USU is 0-6 this season in games decided by one run.

New Mexico - The Lobos doubled their entire season win total in a single weekend, going 3-2 at their home tourney against light competition. UNM beat St. Mary's (8-18) twice, and routed a 2-21 Howard team by a 17-1 score. The losses both came to Sacramento State, including in a wild, 15-12 game cut short by wild weather that included a rain and snow mix on Sunday in Albuquerque.

Nevada - The Wolf Pack played just three games this weekend, going 1-2 at the Aggie Invitational in Davis.  Nevada fell 9-4 to host UC Davis, and also lost to Valparaiso 3-1.  The win came in Nevada's final game of the weekend as the Pack rallied for a 2-1 victory over Northern Colorado.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Weekend recap: Rams go 0-5, while Bulldogs and Aztecs remain under .500

In recapping this past weekend of Mountain West softball, you may want to avert your eyes if you're looking for a feel-good story.

Colorado State went into the weekend on the verge of a Top 25 national ranking and off to its best start in 21 years. The Rams limped home having lost five consecutive games and going winless at the San Diego Classic I.

Coach Jen Fisher's Rams fell to Oregon State, No. 20 Minnesota, Cal State Northridge, Boston University and the USD Toreros.  Colorado State scored a total of only eight runs in the five combined games.

Fresno State and San Diego State continued to struggle, and both will head into the second weekend of March with losing records.  Only once in Bulldog history has Fresno State had a losing record this late in the season.  The only previous time it happened (2003), the Bulldogs started the season 7-14, but quickly turned things around by winning 26 of their next 32 games to reach the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Linda Garza's squad went 2-2 at the Judi Garman Classic this weekend, with freshman pitcher Dani East picking up both wins.  The victories came via scores of 3-2 over Cal Poly, and 5-2 over Loyola Marymount. One of the losses was a 7-2 setback to No. 17 Louisiana-Lafayette Sunday.  It was the Bulldogs' eighth consecutive loss to a ranked opponent, and Fresno State is just 1-11 vs. ranked teams since Garza's arrival last season.

But only six days after being run-ruled by Cal State Northridge for the first time in the 61-game history between the schools, Garza's Bulldogs were run-ruled this weekend by Cal State Fullerton for the first time in the 78-game history between those two schools as well.  The Titans blasted Fresno State 11-3 in five innings on Saturday, marking the first time ever that Fullerton run-ruled the Bulldogs in a series that began in 1981.  Against Northridge six days earlier, it was a 12-2 run-rule loss for the 'Dogs.

Fresno State has lost seven of its past nine games overall, has been run-ruled five times already in 2018, and is currently 9-10 on the season.

Meanwhile, things are no better at preseason Mountain West favorite San Diego State. The Aztecs are 8-12 overall after hosting their own San Diego Classic I this weekend. The Aztecs picked up a solid 6-2 win over Minnesota, which struggled in losing three straight games in San Diego.

Aside from that victory over a Gophers squad that will likely see its national ranking disappear when polls are released Tuesday, SDSU went 1-2 in its other three games. The Aztecs edged UCF 3-1, but were shut out by both Boston University and Cal State Northridge in 1-0 and 2-0 losses. San Diego State, which led the nation in batting average a season ago and returned six starters this year, has now been shut out in each of its last four losses. The Aztecs have been shut out six times this season, and will enter this week having been held scoreless in 16 consecutive innings ... all on their home field.

Boston University's shutout of the Aztecs Sunday came when Terriers freshman pitcher Cali Dolfi was making her first collegiate start. This weekend marked the first time in more than five years that SDSU was shut out in consecutive home games.  And being shut out at home by Cal State Northridge and Boston University pales in comparison to the teams that blanked the Aztecs in February 2013 (then-No. 1 ranked Oklahoma and No. 22 Kentucky).  No San Diego State player is currently hitting over .300 this season, a shocking stat for a team known for its offensive firepower.

UNLV went 3-2 at the Lopes Up Classic, beating Grand Canyon, Princeton and Valparaiso, and losing to Valparaiso and South Dakota. Nevada went 4-1 at the Red Desert Classic, beating Southern Utah twice, Weber State and Utah Valley, while losing to Montana. The Wolf Pack were on both the winning and losing sides of 16-3 decisions, getting the win over Southern Utah and taking the loss against Montana. Boise State went 4-1 at the same tourney against the same set of teams, posting wins over Montana (twice), Southern Utah and Weber State, but falling to Utah Valley.

San Jose State beat Wagner 3-0 and Providence 4-2 in a rain-shortened weekend in Stockton. And New Mexico went 1-4 at the Texas Tech tournament, beating the host Red Raiders 14-13 in a wild, 10-inning game on Friday. The Lobos have won only three of 20 games this season.

Overall, the Mountain West through four weeks of play remains under .500 as a whole, struggling just one year after it reached a top six ranking in conference RPI at one point.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Colorado State improves to 8-1, closes in on Top 25 ranking

Colorado State's impressive start to the 2018 season continued Tuesday.

The Rams improved to 8-1 on the season with a 9-4 victory over Northern Colorado in CSU's home opener.  The game was played in sunny conditions and temperatures near 50 degrees.  In February in Fort Collins, that's a win in itself.

Colorado State's Kaylynn Pierce earned the pitching win and also helped her own cause with a hit and two RBI.  The Rams got back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning from Hannah McCorkhill and Madison Kilcrease.

Off to their best start in 21 years, the Rams received four votes in this week's USA Today/NFCA Top 25 poll (down from 14 a week ago for an inexplicable reason) to rank 34th.  In this week's Softball Top 25 media poll, Colorado State earned eight votes, for the second week in a row in that poll, to rank 32nd.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Fresno State, San Jose State combine to go 1-9 at the Mary Nutter Classic

It was a mostly forgettable weekend at the Mary Nutter Classic in Palm Springs for the Mountain West as the top three projected teams in the league had rough outings all the way around, winning four of 15 games. The MW's two 2017 NCAA tournament teams - Fresno State and San Jose State - won just once in 10 combined games, and the Spartans' head coach has been suspended by the conference offices for his actions in one of those games.

Fresno State coach Linda Garza, in just her second season at the helm of the Bulldogs, saw her team finish 0-5 at the prestigious tournament in the desert. It was the first time in program history that a Bulldog softball team went 0-5 at a single weekend tournament. And it was record-setting.

The Bulldogs tied a long-standing school record for most consecutive losses (5), which had been reached only twice previously in the 37 years the Bulldogs have been playing softball as a Division I sport.  The last time Fresno State lost five straight was 25 years ago during the 1993 season. But that year was much different. Under head coach Margie Wright that year, four of those five losses came against the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams - Arizona and UCLA - who would go on to meet in the NCAA title game later that year.

Fresno State's five losses this weekend came against Wisconsin (a 6-5 loss Friday), No. 7 LSU (a 10-2 run-rule loss Saturday), BYU (a 7-3 loss late Saturday night), and today versus No. 3 UCLA (a respectable 7-3 loss), and in a shocking and humbling, run-rule rout to Cal State Northridge.  Garza's questionable decision to remove pitcher Danielle East from Friday's tourney opener vs. Wisconsin, when the freshman was tossing a 4-hitter and the Bulldogs were leading 3-1 in the fifth inning, seemed to set the tone for the weekend.

The loss to CSUN was basically an implosion as Fresno State gave up 10 runs to the Matadors in the fifth and sixth innings en route to a 12-2 (six innings) run-rule loss.  Northridge entered the game 5-10 overall and already having lost just last weekend to New Mexico, the projected last-place finisher in the Mountain West.  The Lobos have lost 22 of their last 24 games spanning two seasons, but still managed to beat CSUN 5-2 on Feb. 18.

Garza's squad suffered the first run-rule loss to Cal State Northridge in the 61-game history between the Bulldogs and Matadors, a series that began nearly 40 years ago.  Making CSUN's run-rule win even more stunning was the fact the Matadors entered the game on a downward note, having been run-ruled three times themselves in the 48 hours leading up to Sunday, and outscored 30-7 in their first four games of the tournament.

Fresno State actually had some bright spots that centered around hitting the long ball. The Bulldogs hit four home runs Sunday, but all four were solo shots. Hayleigh Galvan hit home runs in both losses today, while Vanessa Hernandez hit one against UCLA and Savannah McHellon hit one against Northridge.  As it has all season though, Fresno State had trouble manufacturing runs that didn't coincide with the long ball.

Bulldog pitching was another story, as the team ERA soared to 5.05 for the season. In program history, never has a Fresno State softball team ERA finished above 4.00, let alone above 5.00.  The Bulldogs currently rank next-to-last in the Mountain West in team ERA, a shocking stat for a team that led the league in ERA last season.

Fresno State pitchers issued 32 walks in the five games this weekend, giving them 63 in just 15 games. The Bulldogs are currently on pace to obliterate the school record for most walks given up by a Fresno State pitching staff in a single season. The dubious record (178 walks) was set last season in Garza's first year as Bulldog head coach.

The two run-rule losses this weekend by Fresno State (against LSU and Cal State Northridge) means the Bulldogs have been run-ruled in four of their first eight losses this season. This marks the first time in school history a Fresno State softball team has been run-ruled four times in the same month. Over the past five seasons, the Bulldogs haven't been run-ruled that many times during an entire season.

San Jose State finished a 1-4 weekend and now has lost six of its past seven games. During a game against nationally-ranked Oregon, Spartans head coach Peter Turner was ejected, and it prompted the Mountain West offices to issue a one-game suspension.  Turner will have to sit out the Feb. 28 game at Santa Clara after what the MW offices deemed, "A violation of MW Rule 4 - Sportsmanship." Read the full text of the MW press release here.

You can read the full Sportsmanship rules as set forth by the Mountain West here.

The Spartans' lone win of the weekend came over St. John's.  In the game against Oregon where Turner was ejected, a 1-0 game in the sixth inning turned into a 7-0 Ducks lead in the seventh. With one out in the bottom of the inning, the game ended via a 2-hour rule agreed upon prior to the start of the game.  Thus, the score reverted from the 7-0 Ducks lead to a designated final score of 1-0 when the previous inning concluded.

San Diego State, which has now lost 10 games in the month of February for the first time in 14 years, had the best weekend of the three by finishing with three wins.  A 2-1 upset of Notre Dame was the major highlight, and SDSU's other wins came in extra innings against Bethune-Cookman and versus Liberty.  The Aztecs were shut out on a 1-hitter by UC Davis to cap their weekend Sunday.

The Bulldogs, Spartans and Aztecs are a combined 22-25 overall after three weeks of play.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Questionable pitching change sinks Fresno State in loss to Wisconsin

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

You've heard it. We've all heard it. And it makes as much sense in softball as it does in life, right?

Fresno State head softball coach Linda Garza made one of the more puzzling moves we've seen in quite awhile, lifting freshman ace pitcher Dani East Friday in the fifth inning of what looked like an almost certain Bulldog win over Wisconsin of the Big Ten.

After all, East had not lost a lead in a game this season, and it was a game that came with important RPI boosting possibilities for Fresno State.

The move backfired. And in a big way.

East, leading the Bulldogs in wins and ERA, and already a Mountain West Pitcher of the Week award winner this season, was cruising along in the fifth inning with a 3-1 lead on Wisconsin. She'd allowed only four hits and appeared firmly in control, but Garza made the surprising move and pulled her from the circle to start the inning.

Within minutes, Fresno State's lead was quickly gone in a game the Bulldogs would eventually lose 6-5 to Wisconsin in eight innings.

Garza's decision to replace East looked bad almost immediately as JC transfer Tiffany Kennedy-Cummings came in and walked four batters in the inning to force in a run. On her first pitch after forcing in a run, Kennedy-Cummings gave up a 2-run single that gave Wisconsin its first lead of the game.

The Bulldogs would never lead again in the contest.

Re-insert the talented East?  Nope. Sophomore Samantha Mejia, with an ERA over 5.00, was then sent to the circle by Garza for a ninth time in 11 games this season.  Mejia would end up being the losing pitcher as the game went to extra innings, but not before Fresno State would stage one of its only rallies of the game.

The Bulldogs continually got runners on base all game long, but could do nothing once there against Wisconsin ace pitcher Kaitlyn Menz, who tossed a complete-game in the Badgers' upset victory over No. 12 Auburn a day earlier. Fresno State was just 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position in the game, but Schuylar Broussard delivered the biggest hit for the Bulldogs on the afternoon. Her single up the middle, with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, tied it and gave Fresno State life.

In the eighth, Mejia looked like she'd escape the inning even with the international tiebreak rule in effect. With two outs, however, she allowed back-to-back RBI singles to give Wisconsin a 6-4 lead. That would be enough.

After Fresno State pulled within a run in the bottom of the frame on a sacrifice fly, the 'Dogs had a pair of chances with two runners on base to pull out the win. It wasn't to be. The game ended with the Bulldogs again stranding runners at second and third base. Among the 13 stranded base runners for Fresno State in the contest, a stunning 10 were left in scoring position.

And this was in one of the Bulldogs' presumed "easier" games of a tough-as-nails weekend at the Mary Nutter Classic in Palm Springs. Fresno State still has games remaining with No. 3 UCLA, a BYU team that was ranked as high as 19th earlier this season, and No. 7 LSU in its next game. The weekend ends with a game vs. Cal State Northridge.

Narrow losses to power 5 teams at the Mary Nutter Classic

The Fresno State-Wisconsin game wasn't the only in this Palm Springs tournament that featured a narrow loss by a Mountain West team against a Power 5 conference opponent.  San Diego State was locked in a scoreless tie with Northwestern after seven innings before the Wildcats pushed three runs across in the eighth to beat the Aztecs 3-0.  Through six innings, San Jose State and Auburn were tied 0-0 before the Tigers scored four runs on four hits in the seventh to go on for a 4-0 win over the Spartans.

Elsewhere on Friday

UNLV improved to 10-3 on the season, becoming the first Mountain West team to 10 wins. In Houston, the Rebels picked up a win over Syracuse in the morning, and followed it up with what's now becoming routine for them: a come-from-behind victory. Down to its last out, UNLV scored three times in the seventh en route to a win over Texas-San Antonio.  In Stockton, Nevada lost a pair of games to fall to a surprising 3-9.  Julia Jensen pitched well in a 5-2 loss to No. 7 LSU, and the Wolf Pack then lost a 7-2 game to Seattle.  In Riverside, New Mexico's struggles continued as the Lobos dropped to 2-10 on the year with a pair of run-rule losses, falling to both UC Riverside and George Washington. New Mexico has been outscored a staggering 98-19 so far this season.  In Corpus Christi, Utah State won twice to improve to 5-6. USU beat Omaha and Texas Southern. San Jose State came from behind to defeat Saint John's, and Boise State and Colorado State were idle.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Bulldogs sweep weekly MW awards, join Rams in getting Top 25 votes

Fresno State swept the first weekly Mountain West Pitcher and Player of the Week honors that were announced Tuesday.  Freshman pitcher Dani East and senior designated player Savannah McHellon picked up the awards after the Bulldogs beat three teams from power conferences over the weekend at the Kajikawa Classic.

East leads the Mountain West in wins with three, while McHellon led the Bulldogs in batting average at the tourney in Tempe by batting .417.  East threw a complete-game shutout over Stanford of the Pac-12 in a 2-0 Bulldog win Saturday, then started and picked up a win over the Big Ten's Purdue Boilermakers Sunday.  Later Sunday, she entered in relief of Tiffany Kennedy-Cummings, who was outstanding herself, in Fresno State's 5-4 win over Notre Dame.

East escaped a seventh inning, bases-loaded, no outs jam against the Fighting Irish of the ACC in a game that was tied 4-4.  A strikeout, pop up and lineout kept Notre Dame at bay, and Fresno State won it in the bottom of the inning on a walk-off home run to right by Katie Castellon, handing East the victory.

The left-hander became the first Mountain West freshman pitcher in 12 years to win conference Pitcher of the Week honors during her debut week as a collegian.  In the 19-year history of MW softball, the only previous pitcher to win the award to begin her freshman season was UNLV's Christie Robinson, who earned the honor February 14, 2006.

McHellon had a .533 on-base percentage and .917 slugging percentage, reaching base in all five games this past weekend.  Fresno State was the only MW team to face five different teams from power conferences on the opening weekend of the season, including two Top 10 teams (No. 3 Oregon and No. 7 Arizona).  McHellon hit key homers in both games Sunday, launching a 3-run shot in the first inning as Fresno State went in front of Purdue 3-0, and a solo shot later against Notre Dame that pulled the Bulldogs within a run as they rallied for the victory.

Also Tuesday, Fresno State saw its vote total rise in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25 coaches poll and the team remained in the "receiving votes" category for a second straight week.  Meanwhile, Colorado State moved into the "receiving votes" category in the Softball rankings with one vote.  CSU went 4-0 at the Texas Classic where it defeated the host Longhorns and Wisconsin, and twice beat Incarnate Word.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Fresno State blasts 7 home runs in Sunday sweep of Notre Dame & Purdue

Notre Dame started its ace pitcher, Alexis Holloway, in the circle Sunday against Fresno State.  And when Holloway was staked to an early 4-0 lead, things looked bleak for the Bulldogs.  After all, she isn't just your average, everyday pitcher.  Holloway was arguably the nation's most high-profile recruit in 2017, winning numerous National Player of the Year awards and being named the No. 1 high school pitcher in the country by Flo Softball.

The list of Holloway's awards includes being named Gatorade Indiana State High School Player of the Year, USA Today's 2017 National High School Player of the Year, Flo Softball National High School Player of the Year, Flo Softball No. 1 ranked pitcher in its 2017 Hot 100 Players list, National High School Coaches Association National High School Player of the Year and many more. She led her club team to the PGF 18U National Championship, going 4-0 with an 0.37 ERA, and went 53-3 with 735 strikeouts and a 0.26 ERA in high school.

But on a day when Fresno State wouldn't be denied, the Bulldogs chased Holloway from the game and hit home runs in each of the final three innings.  It was Katie Castellon's one-out, seventh inning solo home run to right that gave Fresno State the walk-off, 5-4 win in dramatic fashion.  It was a contest that felt like an NCAA Tournament game.

This May, it just might be that.  Notre Dame and Fresno State both entered the weekend receiving Top 25 votes in the major polls.  The Fighting Irish are receiving enough votes to rank 27th in the preseason ESPN/USA Softball poll, and were 3-1 heading into Sunday's action, with their lone loss being to nationally-ranked Arizona State.

By the third inning, both starting pitchers - Holloway and Fresno State sophomore Samantha Mejia - were gone, and the Bulldogs had cut Notre Dame's lead in half at 4-2.  The Bulldogs got on the board with a 2-run single by Miranda Rohleder off Holloway.

Junior college transfer Tiffany Kennedy-Cummings came on for the Bulldogs in relief of Mejia, and delivered an impressive and gutsy outing.  She entered in the second inning and didn't allow a run the rest of the way.  Kennedy-Cummings struck out nine Notre Dame batters a day after striking out two Arizona hitters in an inning of relief against the nation's 7th-ranked Wildcats.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs' offense continued to hit the long ball.  After hitting four home runs in a 13-4, run-rule win over Purdue earlier Sunday morning, the Bulldogs saw Savannah McHellon blast her second home run of the day in the fifth inning against the Fighting Irish to make it a 4-3 deficit.  An inning later, catcher Hayleigh Galvan tied the game on her first home run as a Bulldog.

Then came the fateful seventh inning, filled with drama.  Kennedy-Cummings ran into trouble as Notre Dame loaded the bases with no outs.  Bulldog head coach Linda Garza called on freshman left-hander Danielle East in a pressure-packed situation, and East delivered again.

A day after shutting out Stanford, and a mere two hours after grabbing the W in Fresno State's victory over Purdue earlier in the day, East shut the door on Notre Dame in stunning fashion.  With the bases juiced and no outs, East picked up an immediate strikeout, followed by an infield pop-up, and a line drive out that frustrated the Irish and ignited deafening cheers from her teammates and the Bulldog fans in attendance.

Feeding off the performances of Kennedy-Cummings and East, the Bulldog offense went to work again. With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Castellon launched her game-winning home run as screaming Fresno State players poured out of the dugout in celebration.

While East earned the win by throwing just nine pitches to escape the seventh inning jam, Kennedy-Cummings tossed more than 100 in keeping Notre Dame off the scoreboard over the game's final 5+ innings and giving the 'Dogs a chance to win.

Earlier in the day, sophomore third baseman Schuylar Broussard had five RBI in the 13-4 (six innings) rout of Purdue.  After hitting a 2-run single earlier in the game, Broussard's 3-run home run in the sixth invoked the run rule.  Broussard, McHellon, Castellon and Rachel Minogue all hit balls out of the park.  Minogue, Broussard and McHellon all hit 3-run shots.  East got the win and Mejia went the final two innings.

Also Sunday, Boise State lost a 9-1 (five innings) run-rule game to Stanford as Cardinal ace Maddy Dwyer went the distance.  San Jose State's Caroline Bowman allowed only five hits in an 11-0 win over UTEP.  San Diego State finished a very surprising 1-5 weekend by losing to UC Davis 3-2 in nine innings. New Mexico lost twice in run-rule fashion against No. 3 Oregon (14-1 in five innings) and No. 7 Arizona (8-0 in a 5-inning no-hitter).  Utah State fell 11-5 to Rutgers, and UNLV picked up a 3-0 win over Southern Utah.  Colorado State's game with Wisconsin was canceled by weather.