Thursday, May 9, 2013

Final week: 4 teams can still claim MW title

We're down to the final three days of the regular season and there are still four teams alive in the race to claim the Mountain West softball championship.

Colorado State, Fresno State, Nevada and San Diego State still have championship dreams entering the final weekend of the 2013 season.

The 64-team NCAA field will be announced Sunday at 7 pm PDT on ESPNU, and it's guaranteed to include one of these three:  Colorado State, Fresno State or San Diego State.  Nevada, which has an outside chance of claiming a piece of the regular-season Mountain West title, can not claim the conference's automatic NCAA bid, however.

The Wolf Pack can only tie for the regular-season title, and can not win the automatic bid under any tiebreak scenario.  Meanwhile, San Diego State can clinch an NCAA berth as early as tonight with a win over UNLV.

The Aztecs (10-5 MW, 32-18 overall) need just one win over the Rebels this weekend to clinch at least a tie for the Mountain West regular-season crown.  One win would also be enough for SDSU to claim the conference's automatic NCAA bid since every tiebreak scenario breaks the Aztecs' way.  Two wins would give San Diego State an outright MW championship.

Fresno State (11-7 MW, 30-22 overall), which already has completed its conference season, will earn the Mountain West's automatic NCAA bid if the following occurs:  UNLV sweeps its series at San Diego State and New Mexico wins at least one of three games against Colorado State.

The Rams (8-7 MW, 22-24 overall) will earn the Mountain West's automatic bid if the following occurs:  Colorado State sweeps its series at New Mexico and UNLV sweeps San Diego State.

The Aztecs are looking for their sixth straight NCAA appearance and their sixth Mountain West softball title.  Fresno State is looking for a national-best 31st NCAA appearance in 32 years.  Already guaranteed no worse than a tie for second place in the MW, the Bulldogs have continued a remarkable streak:  Every Fresno State softball team in the 36-year history of the program has finished in the top three of its final conference standings.

Nevada, with at least one win this weekend at Boise State, can capture a 30-win season for the first time since 2009.  The Broncos, with a sweep over the Wolf Pack,  can finish with a winning overall record.

UNLV (7-8, 21-28) at San Diego State (10-5, 32-18)
Today, 6 pm PDT; Friday, 5 pm PDT; Saturday, 1 pm PDT
Outlook:  The Aztecs win the conference title outright with two wins this weekend and secure the Mountain West's automatic NCAA berth with one win.  A sweep by UNLV will not only deny San Diego State the MW title and automatic NCAA berth, but it could also keep the Aztecs out of the NCAA Tournament entirely.  With an RPI of 48, SDSU is clearly in bubble territory.  Friday's game will be nationally televised by CBS Sports Network.

Nevada (8-7, 29-21) at Boise State (7-8, 23-25-1)
Today, 3 pm MDT; Friday, 3 pm MDT; Saturday, 1 pm MDT
Outlook:  The Wolf Pack still have an outside shot at tying for the Mountain West title but must sweep the series.  After being selected to finish last in the preseason poll of conference coaches, that would be quite an accomplishment for the Pack.  Boise State has not lost a conference series at home this season and is the only team in the MW to win series against both Colorado State and San Diego State.  Conversely, the Broncos were the only team to lose a conference series to last-place New Mexico.

Colorado State (8-7, 22-24) at New Mexico (3-12, 21-32)
Today, 6 pm MDT; Friday, 6 pm MDT; Saturday, 1 pm MDT
Outlook:  The Rams still have a slim chance at tying for the Mountain West title and claiming the conference's automatic NCAA berth, but it will require a lot of help from other teams.  CSU is 5-10 in its last 15 games, has lost three of its past four MW series, and is 2-4 on the road in conference play.  The Rams must sweep the Lobos to finish with a winning overall record, and that in itself is a bit of a disappointment for a team that entered the year with very high expectations.  New Mexico, which began the year 0-7 in February non-conference play, is now 0-7 in its last seven Mountain West games as well.

Fresno State (30-22) at Long Beach State (35-20)
Saturday, 1 pm PDT (doubleheader)
Outlook:  The Bulldogs improved as the season went along, and this weekend will tell us just how much.  When these teams met in San Diego more than two months ago, it was all 49ers.  Long Beach State's Erin Jones-Wesley no-hit the Bulldogs in an 8-0, 6-inning, run-rule affair that proved to be the low point of Fresno State's season.  Coach Trisha Ford's squad could treat this as an NCAA Tournament-type game since there is nothing to lose at this point in the season.  Long Beach State is one of the country's hottest teams and has a chance at an NCAA at-large bid, while the Bulldogs have just a slim shot at reaching the NCAA field.  The 49ers have won five straight, including two wins in Honolulu against nationally-ranked Hawaii. Long Beach State scored 25 runs in a doubleheader road sweep against the Wahine.  Fresno State is two steals away from tying the all-time Mountain West record in stolen bases (87) for a single season.