Thursday, April 18, 2013

3 critical series on tap as season winds down

After this weekend, three Mountain West teams -- Fresno State, Nevada and New Mexico -- will have only two series remaining in conference play.

The Bulldogs, Wolf Pack and Lobos will have just six games left in the race for the Mountain West title after Sunday, meaning this is a weekend all three need to make a big move.

For New Mexico, time is already running out.  The Lobos are 3-6 in conference play and currently five games behind San Diego State in the loss column.  For Nevada, there is still some hope.  The Wolf Pack (4-5) have already completed series against SDSU, Fresno State and Colorado State, and don't have a single remaining series against a Mountain West team with a winning record.

The Nevada-New Mexico series winner in Albuquerque this weekend will remain in the title chase, particularly if it's the Wolf Pack.  The loser will be all but eliminated from the race for the conference crown.  A sweep by either team would be devastating to the loser.

A very interesting series will take place high in the Rocky Mountains this weekend
between Fresno State (6-3) and Colorado State (4-2), who are in a virtual second-place tie in the Mountain West.  The Bulldogs are only a half-game behind San Diego State, while CSU is one game back.  Because of heavy snow in Fort Collins, the series has been moved to the softball field of Division II school UC-Colorado Springs and changed from a 3-day series to just two days, including a Saturday doubleheader.

With a campus elevation of 6,425 feet above sea level, nearly 1,500 feet higher than Fort Collins, this will be the highest elevation in which a Mountain West softball series has ever been played.  In other words, pitchers beware.  And prepare for home runs.

The winner of the Fresno State-Colorado State series will remain in control of its own destiny in the race for the Mountain West title.  The loser likely will not.  Both teams have yet to face San Diego State (the Bulldogs play the Aztecs next week, and the Rams play them the following week).

A Fresno State series win would set up a potential showdown for the Mountain West title next weekend versus San Diego State.  The Bulldogs will complete the conference season before everyone else -- on the weekend of May 3-5 at home versus New Mexico.  Colorado State, meanwhile, still has three remaining series after this weekend, including two on the road at New Mexico and Boise State.

A big series takes place this weekend in the state of Idaho where Boise State (1-5) will host its first-ever Mountain West game at Dona Larsen Park.  Boise State has only played six games in its new facility this season, going 4-2 in non-conference play.  This weekend, first-place San Diego State (5-1) comes calling.

The Broncos were swept last weekend in Fresno, but have historically been tough to beat in Boise.  Last season's series between the Aztecs and Broncos in San Diego was a nail-biter, with Boise State needing to sweep SDSU to win the Mountain West title.  After winning the first two games of the series, the Broncos lost the finale and fell a game short of San Diego State in the conference standings.

Boise State is practically in a must-win situation this weekend in order to have a chance at winning the Mountain West crown.  San Diego State also knows it must win the series to keep pace with the winner of this week's Fresno State-Colorado State matchup.  SDSU has to face the Bulldogs and Rams over the next two weeks, while the Broncos can move right back into the title chase by facing SDSU this weekend and CSU next week.

UNLV will play a non-conference doubleheader Saturday at Cal State Fullerton, with first pitch at 1 pm PDT.  The Rebels return to Mountain West action next week against in-state rival Nevada in Reno.

San Diego State (5-1, 27-14) at Boise State (1-5, 17-22-1)
Friday, 3 pm MDT (Gametracker)
Saturday, 3 pm MDT
Sunday, 3 pm MDT

Fresno State (6-3, 25-18) at Colorado State (4-2, 18-19) in Colorado Springs
Saturday, 1 pm MDT (Gametracker)
Saturday, 3 pm MDT
Sunday, 1 pm MDT

Nevada (4-5, 25-19) at New Mexico (3-6, 19-26)
Friday, 6 pm MDT (Gametracker)
Saturday, 6 pm MDT
Sunday, 1 pm MDT