Friday, May 3, 2013

Six MW teams still in the race for MW title

As we enter the first full weekend of May, the race for the Mountain West softball championship remains extremely tight.

Six of the seven teams remain alive in the race for not only winning the MW regular-season title, but also the automatic NCAA bid that comes along with it.  One series this weekend -- San Diego State at Colorado State -- will have everyone watching.

The Aztecs and Rams meet in Fort Collins with the series winner having the inside track to the conference title.  A sweep by either team will make it nearly impossible for anyone else to win the Mountain West.  However, a 2-1 series win by either team keeps the door open, especially if it's CSU that takes two of three.

Weather issues in the Rocky Mountains will play an issue this weekend, as snow fell in Fort Collins earlier in the week.  Today's CSU-SDSU game has already been postponed and the teams will play a doubleheader Saturday or Sunday.  Which day the doubleheader will be played remains up in the air, even at this late date.

If a full 3-game series can't be played at Colorado State this weekend, it will have a significant -- and detrimental -- impact on a conference race that is extremely tight.  The weather forecast is for sunny skies with highs around 60 today through Sunday in the Fort Collins area.

San Diego State (8-4 Mountain West) current sits a game ahead of CSU (7-5) in the conference standings.  Both Fresno State and Nevada are a game and a half out of first place, but at 8-7, the Bulldogs and Wolf Pack are three back of the Aztecs in the all-important loss column.

Fresno State hosts last-place New Mexico (3-9) in the final home series of the season at Bulldog Diamond, where Trisha Ford's squad is 15-3.  Fresno State has the best home record in the Mountain West, is 5-1 in conference play and riding a 4-game winning streak, and will need to sweep the Lobos to have a shot at the MW title.  New Mexico has won just one road game in conference play this season and is 2-16 in its last 18 Mountain West road games since 2011.

Nevada is idle this weekend before closing the season next weekend on the road at Boise State.  Like Fresno State, the Wolf Pack will be rooting for Colorado State to take two of three against SDSU.  Nevada won't be eliminated from the conference title race this weekend if the Aztecs sweep the series in Fort Collins, but the Pack will no longer be able to win the automatic NCAA bid.

UNLV (6-6) has won six of its past nine conference games following an 0-3 start and faces a key series this weekend in Las Vegas against Boise State (5-7).  Both teams have a shot at the MW title, with the Rebels' chances being the better of the two.  UNLV closes the season at San Diego State next weekend so a series win -- or sweep -- against the Broncos will keep the Rebels in the race.

San Diego St. (8-4, 30-17) at Colorado State (7-5, 21-22)
Saturday, 1 pm MDT; Sunday, 1 pm MDT
Outlook:  Both teams are still alive in the race for a conference title. San Diego State has an outside chance to clinch the Mountain West title this weekend with a sweep and help from other teams around the league.  A Colorado State series win will help the Rams' chances tremendously, while also potentially opening the door for other teams to win the title.  San Diego State's NCAA at-large chances have taken a significant hit over the past few weeks.  The Aztecs fell to a new season-low in the RPI this week (49) and are squarely on the NCAA bubble at this point.  Without a win over an RPI top 40 team this year, San Diego State's at-large chances are no better than 50-50 at the moment.  Indeed, the Aztecs' women's basketball team learned less than two months ago that an RPI in the 40s didn't mean a whole lot to an NCAA selection committee.  San Diego State doesn't want to leave its fate in the hands of the committee in softball.  The Rams, meanwhile, must win the regular-season MW title in order to have a shot at a bid.

New Mexico (3-9, 21-29) at Fresno State (8-7, 27-22)
Friday, 6 pm PDT; Saturday, 6 pm PDT; Sunday, 1 pm PDT
Outlook:  It's Senior Weekend at Bulldog Diamond.  New Mexico is out of the conference race, while Fresno State remains alive.  If the Bulldogs sweep this 3-game series, there is still a chance to reach the NCAA Tournament for the 31st time in the last 32 years.  But only with a conference title will Fresno State advance this season.  The Bulldogs have been tough at home.  Their only three losses this season have come on a seventh inning error in a 1-0 loss to Nevada, in a 1-0 loss to then-No. 5 California when Jill Compton took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, and in extra innings on the season's opening weekend in February.  The Lobos, as mentioned previously, have lost 16 of their past 18 conference road games spanning three seasons.  The Bulldogs have won 11 straight games in a series they've dominated for years.  As strong as Fresno State has traditionally been at home, they've often laid an egg on Senior Day.  The Bulldogs have lost on Senior Day at Bulldog Diamond each of the last four seasons.

Boise State (5-7, 21-24-1) at UNLV (6-6, 20-26)
Friday, 6 pm PDT; Saturday, 1 pm PDT; Sunday, noon PDT
Outlook:  Only one of these teams has a shot a the Mountain West title and it's now clear:  A team will not win the conference with more than seven losses.  Boise State must sweep the series, while UNLV likely needs to do so too, especially with a road series at San Diego State looming for the Rebels next week.  The Broncos hold the key tiebreaker advantage over both SDSU and Colorado State should it become necessary, but a 1-5 road record in Mountain West play has hurt.  After failing to win a conference series at home last year, UNLV has won both it has played this season.  It's possible that a 2-1 series win by Boise State here could have an unfortunate consequence:  Combined with other results around the league, it may eliminate both the Broncos and Rebels from the title race.