Thursday, February 28, 2013

Four Mountain West teams collide in San Diego


For the second straight weekend, four Mountain West softball teams will all be participating in the same tournament.

This time, the destination is the San Diego Classic I, co-hosted by San Diego State and the University of San Diego.  The Aztecs will be joined by Boise State, Fresno State and New Mexico in the tourney that begins Thursday night and continues through late Sunday afternoon.

Not only are four current Mountain West teams in the field in San Diego, but the past and future of the conference are represented as well.  Former MW member BYU, which won the regular-season title in its final three years (2009 to 2011) in the Mountain West, will compete in the Classic, alongside Utah State, which is set to join the conference next season in the sport of softball.

And an immediate word of caution to the four Mountain West teams who face Utah State over the next few days:  Don't lose to the Aggies.  Utah State is off to the worst start in school history at 0-15, and a loss to USU could be the type of defeat that dooms a team's RPI all season long.

More than any other weekend so far, this week will tell us a lot about how the conference race will shape up.  Boise State, Fresno State and New Mexico will all play the exact same five teams this weekend (BYU, No. 10/12 UCLA, Long Beach State, Utah State and the University of San Diego).  San Diego State will play all of those, except for USD.  Comparing teams and comparing scores has never been easier.

Nevada travels to Stockton this weekend to participate in the Libby Matson Invitational alongside host Pacific, future Mountain West member San Jose State, and Southern Utah.  The Colorado State Classic is on tap for CSU, which will play its first home games of the year.  Among the teams in Fort Collins:  Bradley, Brown, Nebraska-Omaha and No. 18/18 Washington.  UNLV hosts its third tournament of the year -- the Eller Media Stadium Classic -- and entertains Weber State, Cal State Northridge, DePaul and New Mexico State.

San Diego State

BYU, Thursday, 6 pm PT
Long Beach State, Friday, 7 pm PT
Utah State, Saturday, 4:30 pm PT
No. 10/12 UCLA, Sunday, 2 pm PT

Outlook:  San Diego State is 0-5 this season against ranked opponents and will have to overcome history to defeat No. 10/12 UCLA on Sunday.  The Bruins have absolutely dominated SDSU over the years, winning 55 straight games against the Aztecs and leading the series 62-2.  San Diego State came close to ending that streak last season, falling to UCLA 1-0 when an illegal pitch call scored the game's lone run.

Fresno State

BYU, Friday, 11:30 am PT
No. 10/12 UCLA, Friday, 2 pm PT
Utah State, Saturday, 7 pm PT
Long Beach State, Sunday, 10 am PT
San Diego, Sunday, 12:30 pm PT

Outlook:  Last year, the Bulldogs swept a regular-season series from BYU and beat UCLA for the first time in more than a decade.  Five starters -- and eight different players who played in that win over the Bruins last year -- are back for Fresno State, including Brenna Moss, Brooke Ortiz and Stesha Brazil, who combined for six hits, three RBI and five runs scored in the win over UCLA. 

Boise State

BYU, Friday, 9 am PT
Long Beach State, Friday, 4:30 pm PT
No. 10/12 UCLA, Saturday, 11:30 am PT
San Diego, Saturday, 2 pm PT
Utah State, Sunday, 9 am PT

Outlook:   The Broncos will face BYU immediately before the Cougars take on Fresno State, and will tangle with Long Beach State just prior to the 49ers game with San Diego State.  The game on Saturday versus USD will pit the Broncos against the Toreros for the third time in a week after the teams split a pair last weekend.

New Mexico

Utah State, Friday, 2 pm PT
San Diego, Friday, 7 pm PT
Long Beach State, Saturday, 9 am PT
BYU, Saturday, 11:30 am PT
No. 10/12 UCLA, Sunday, 11:30 am PT

Outlook:  The Lobos' weekend shapes up nicely, facing the same slate of opponents as everyone else at the San Diego Classic I, but probably in the most preferable order from easiest to toughest.  New Mexico has won nine of its past 11 games and is the hottest team in the Mountain West after picking up a pair of under the radar victories last week over Auburn and Kansas.

Nevada

San Jose State, Friday, 10 am PT
at Pacific, Friday, 2:30 pm PT
Southern Utah, Saturday, 10 am PT
Semifinal, Saturday, TBA
Consolation / Final, Sunday, TBA

Outlook:  A modest 4-team field greets the Wolf Pack in Stockton at the Libby Matson Invitational.  Pacific and San Jose State are solid opponents who provide a good test.  Nevada will face at least one (and possibly both) twice in one of the rare tournaments that crowns a winner through semifinal and final games, rather than in round-robin play.

Colorado State

Bradley, Friday, 1:30 pm MT
Brown, Friday, 3:45 pm MT
Nebraska-Omaha, Saturday, 11:15 am MT
Bradley, Sunday, 11:15 am MT
No. 18/18 Washington, 3:45 pm MT

Outlook:  Snow was covering the Rams' home field in Fort Colllins as recently as a few days ago, but the home opener takes place Friday at the Colorado State Classic.  Brown has yet to play a game this season, while Nebraska-Omaha is transitioning to NCAA Division I.  Riding a 6-game losing streak, the Rams have a chance at a marquee win by beating Washington.  The Huskies have won five in a row after a disappointing 5-5 start that included losses to Cal Poly and UAB.

UNLV

Weber State, Friday, 3:45 pm PT
Cal State Northridge, Friday, 6 pm PT
DePaul, Saturday, 3:45 pm PT
New Mexico State, Saturday, 6 pm PT
New Mexico State, Sunday, 3:45 pm PT

Outlook:  The Rebels play in their third home tournament of the year, opening up against Weber State (0-9) and Cal State Northridge (5-12), who are a combined 0-5 versus the Mountain West.  DePaul (8-7) run-ruled UNLV on the season's opening weekend, so Saturday's meeting provides some possible revenge for the Rebels.  New Mexico State, last-place finishers in the WAC a year ago, comes calling twice.