Friday, December 26, 2014

Off-season moves cause big changes in the Mountain West

A series of off-season softball moves changed the way the Mountain West will look in 2015.  Here are our picks for the five biggest transactions that took place off the field between the end of last season and now.

1.  Danielle O'Toole transfers from San Diego State to Arizona.  If there was one off-season change that completely transformed the race for the 2015 Mountain West championship, this was it.  Recognized as the conference's top pitcher in 2014 and the Mountain West's top freshman in 2013, O'Toole was the face of the Aztecs program the last two seasons.  Her sudden departure to the Pac-12 and Arizona turned heads not only among conference foes, but nationally.  Indeed, this ranks as the most notable transfer in conference softball history.  In the west, the only comparison could be when Fresno State's Morgan Melloh, ironically a left-hander just like O'Toole, left the Bulldogs program before her senior year to transfer to her home state of Indiana and the Hoosiers.  Melloh ended up winning Big Ten Pitcher of the Year honors in her only season at Indiana and almost single-handedly took the Hoosiers to the NCAA Tournament.  O'Toole's future at Arizona looks bright, albeit in a conference filled with elite pitching and several Top 25 powers.  The loss of O'Toole puts a damper on the Aztecs' hopes of a fourth straight Mountain West championship.  She played in 48 of SDSU's 59 games a year ago, including 21 of the Aztecs' 24 conference games.  San Diego State's only two returning pitchers from 2014, Erica Romero and Andi Smith, combined to go 9-9 overall and 3-3 in Mountain West play.

2.  Fresno State adds a pair with NCAA Tournament experience, including one from the SEC.  The Bulldogs, runners-up in Mountain West play a season ago, return their entire pitching staff in 2015, and are the first team in league history to enter a season with four different pitchers who've all won MW Pitcher of the Week honors, likely making Trisha Ford's team the early favorite for the conference crown.  But Fresno State does lose some key cogs on offense.  Gone are infielders Stesha Brazil, Vonnie Martin and Brooke Ortiz, who were valuable contributors in impressive careers.  Ortiz was a 4-year starter, while Martin and Brazil were the team's top home run hitters a year ago, combining for 19.  All three earned all-conference honors while a Bulldog.  Enter an 8-member newcomer class, including transfers from SEC power Georgia and Hawaii.  Transferring from Georgia, which advanced to Super Regional action in 2014, is infielder Malia Rivers, who was heavily recruited out of high school in Brentwood, Calif.  Rivers, her conference MVP as a high school senior and a captain on the USA Elite 18 Gold travel club, saw action in 19 games for Georgia as a freshman last year.  That included a pinch-hit single in UGA's NCAA Tournament opener and time in the infield against the likes of NCAA qualifier Auburn.  Arriving from Hawaii for the Bulldogs is utility player Alyssa Villalpando, who played in 69 games and started 51 in two seasons with the Rainbow Wahine.  Villalpando brings a big bat, ranking second on UH's team last season in slugging percentage (.524), and adding seven home runs and 33 RBI as a Wahine.  She had a pair of hits against Big Ten power Minnesota in an NCAA Tournament game as a freshman, and her career at Hawaii also included hits against heavyweights UCLA, Washington and North Carolina.  Villalpando hit a pair of home runs against Pacific and blasted one out vs. San Jose State last year.

3.  Utah State adds Pac-12 pitcher.  The Aggies had a thin pitching staff a year ago, and when talented Noelle Johnson was unable to go in a few games, things got scary.  In an April 23 doubleheader against Boise State, USU pitchers set a Mountain West record with 28 walks, including 17 in one game.  That came less than a week after a healthy Johnson shut out eventual Mountain West champion San Diego State 1-0 on the road in what would be the Aggies' biggest win in years.  After getting dinged up, Johnson and Utah State were never the same, dropping 14 of their final 15 games following a 3-0 start to the MW season.  How do you remedy a short-handed pitching staff?  You find a transfer with Pac-12 pitching experience, of course.  While that's often easier said than done, Utah State coach Steve Johnson accomplished it by getting Oregon State transfer Alleyah Armendariz, who will arrive as a sophomore.  Armendariz, a right-hander who was listed as 5'8" on Oregon State's official roster but is suddenly listed as 6' tall by Utah State's web site, started four games for the Beavers as a freshman and went 2-1.  She appeared in 10 games overall and picked up an impressive victory over NC State in her collegiate debut, when she struck out five.  Armendariz made five appearances in Pac-12 play, and her 6.00 ERA actually led all Oregon State pitchers in conference games.  Combined with a pair of additional pitching newcomers, the Aggies -- on paper at least -- appear to be the most improved team in the conference heading into 2015.

4.  San Diego State adds Big West pitcher and Big 12 transfer.  The abrupt departure of O'Toole prompted the Aztecs to look quickly for a replacement.  Arriving from UC Riverside is transfer pitcher Ashley Ercolano, who spent two years with the Highlanders and often saw action against Mountain West teams.  She went 4-3 as a sophomore (5.25 ERA), striking out 28 and walking 35 in 64 innings of action.  As a freshman, Ercolano went 6-11 and struck out 36 in 110.2 innings.  Ercolano picked up a win versus Utah State a year ago in a wild 11-10 game.  She is 0-3 all-time against Fresno State, suffering 8-1 and 5-0 losses last year (lasting only a combined 2.2 innings in those two games), and falling 7-3 against the Bulldogs as a freshman.  Ercolano also lost to New Mexico last season, allowing four earned runs in 5.2 innings of a game that was won by the Lobos 11-10.  During her freshman season, Ercolano twice pitched against the same Aztecs program for whom she now plays.  She faced only two batters versus Kathy Van Wyk's team in a 9-1, run-rule loss, and then got a no-decision in a game the Highlanders won 6-5 against the Aztecs.  In relief of winning pitcher Sophie Slagle, Ercolano allowed eight hits and five runs versus SDSU in four innings.  The losing pitcher that day was then-Aztecs senior Rebecca Arbino, who went on to capture Mountain West Pitcher of the Year honors.  With its pitching staff losing O'Toole, the Aztecs may need to outscore opponents to win. Help could come in the form of Texas Tech junior transfer Samantha Camello, who could provide an immediate impact. She started all 54 games a year ago with the Red Raiders (.284 BA, 19 RBI), after batting .311 as a freshman and starting all 56 games that season.  Camello, whose older sister (Jessica) was an Aztec softball player from 2008-11, had a multi-hit game against Colorado State in 2013.  She will add to a potent Aztecs offense that could be the best in the Mountain West this season.  Will it be enough to offset the loss of O'Toole?  We'll see soon enough.  The season begins February 5.

5.  Cindy Ball takes over as head coach at Boise State.  Erin Thorpe, the only head coach in Broncos softball history, resigned in July to take over the reins at UC Davis.  On August 29, Boise State announced the hiring of Ball, who is in her first head coaching position at an NCAA Division I school.  The former softball star at Pacific went 33-9 as a junior pitcher for the Tigers and led UOP to a school-record 50 wins that season.  Following her graduation from Pacific, she coached at her alma mater until 2006, when she took over head coaching duties at Modesto (CA) Junior College.  She went 25-22 that season.  The following year, she began a 3-year stint as the head coach at Cosumnes River College, going 111-44 and taking her team to the California JC Final Four one season.  Most recently, Ball held 2-year assistant coaching positions at Washington and Cal State Northridge.  She inherits a Boise State program that will rely on a young pitching staff and some heavy hitters on offense, including outstanding all-conference first baseman Devon Bridges, who was limited to just 13 games a year ago with a back injury.  Bridges has been granted a fifth year of eligibility and will be a key to Ball's first season at the helm of the Broncos.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

2015 Mountain West composite schedule released

The 2015 composite schedule in Mountain West softball has been released, and things will start off with a bang on the opening weekend of conference play.

Four of the top five finishers from 2014 will face off in head-to-head action March 20-22 as conference play begins.  And those four are likely to be the top four projected teams for 2015 as well.

Defending champion San Diego State will play host to UNLV to begin Mountain West play, while Fresno State will travel to Fort Collins to meet Colorado State.  In 2014, the Aztecs (16-8) finished just one game ahead of the Rebels and Bulldogs (15-9).  The Rams (13-11) were one of six MW teams to end the 2014 season with a winning record in conference play.

Other opening weekend Mountain West series in 2015:  Boise State at San Jose State, and New Mexico at Utah State.  Following the same pattern as last season, there will be one midweek series (April 7-8) when teams play a Tuesday doubleheader, followed by a Wednesday single game. 

The complete Mountain West 2015 schedule is as follows:

March 20-22
Fresno State at Colorado State
UNLV at San Diego State
Boise State at San Jose State
New Mexico at Utah State
Nevada, bye

March 27-29
San Diego State at Boise State
San Jose State at Fresno State
New Mexico at UNLV
Utah State at Nevada
Colorado State, bye

April 2-4
Fresno State at San Diego State
Colorado State at San Jose State
Nevada at New Mexico
UNLV at Utah State
Boise State, bye

April 7-8 (midweek series)
Boise State at UNLV
New Mexico at Fresno State
San Diego State at Nevada
Utah State at Colorado State
San Jose State, bye

April 10-12
San Jose State at San Diego State
Fresno State at Utah State
Nevada at Boise State
Colorado State at New Mexico
UNLV, bye

April 17-19
Boise State at Fresno State
San Diego State at Colorado State
UNLV at Nevada
Utah State at San Jose State
New Mexico, bye

April 24-26
New Mexico at San Diego State
Nevada at Fresno State
Colorado State at Boise State
San Jose State at UNLV
Utah State, bye

May 1-3
UNLV at Colorado State
San Diego State at Utah State
Boise State at New Mexico
Nevada at San Jose State
Fresno State, bye

May 7-9
Fresno State at UNLV
San Jose State at New Mexico
Colorado State at Nevada
Utah State at Boise State
San Diego State, bye

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fresno State tops MW softball attendance again

Fresno State, which has ranked in the nation's Top 10 in attendance every year since records have been kept for Division I softball, topped the Mountain West again in 2014.

The 10 largest crowds to see a Mountain West softball team this past season all occurred at the recently-renamed Margie Wright Diamond.  On 16 different occasions, the Bulldogs drew crowds in excess of 1,000 at home in 2014.  Twice on the road Fresno State played in front of more than 1,000 as well.

All three games of the Fresno State-San Diego State series ranked among the top 10 in attendance last season.  The largest crowd to witness a regular-season conference game in 2014 was 1,394 when the Bulldogs hosted UNLV.  For a non-conference tilt with New Mexico State, Fresno State drew a season-high 1,640.

The 10 largest crowds in a Mountain West softball stadium for 2014:

  1. 1,640 - New Mexico State at Fresno State, March 15
  2. 1,485 - Ohio State at Fresno State, March 14
  3. 1,394 - UNLV at Fresno State, April 26
  4. 1,374 - San Diego State at Fresno State, April 11
  5. 1,351 - Colorado State at Fresno State, May 3
  6. 1,341 - Colorado State at Fresno State, May 4
  7. 1,327 - UNLV at Fresno State, April 27
  8. 1,291 - San Diego State at Fresno State, April 13
  9. 1,285 - St. Mary's at Fresno State, March 16
  10. 1,261 - San Diego State at Fresno State, April 12

Friday, May 16, 2014

Aztecs eliminated after falling to Michigan twice

San Diego State battled back to send it to extra innings, but ultimately ended up falling to No. 13 Michigan 8-7 in nine innings Friday in an NCAA opener in Tempe.

With temperatures soaring past the 100-degree mark Friday, San Diego State went toe-to-toe with the Wolverines and scored three in the seventh to rally from a 7-4 deficit and force extra innings.  Jaylene Ignacio delivered an RBI single in the seventh and led the Aztecs with two of their six hits.

In the ninth, Patrice Jackson's two-base error played a key role.  With one away, Lindsay Montemarano singled to right, and Jackson briefly appeared as though she was going to try and dive for the ball.  Instead, the ball bounced in front of her and she overran it, allowing Montemarano to advance all the way to third.  It would prove critical.

The next batter, Haylie Wagner (the game's winning pitcher), flew out to medium-deep center for a sacrifice fly to end the game.

Saturday, San Diego State eliminated Ivy League Champion Dartmouth from its first NCAA tournament appearance ever with an 8-0 (6 innings) win.  But the Aztecs were eliminated themselves immediately afterwards when Michigan run-ruled SDSU 9-1 in six innings.

Danielle O'Toole went 1-2 in regional action, going nearly the entire way in the circle for the Aztecs in the postseason.  In SDSU's final game, O'Toole allowed nine hits and seven runs in four innings to finish the season 31-10.  The Aztecs concluded the year 9-9 in games where O'Toole was not the pitcher of record.

Notes - Michigan advanced to the Super Regionals with a pair of wins of host Arizona State ... Also advancing to the Super Regionals were two teams that lost to Fresno State during the regular season -- Washington and Nebraska.  The Huskers defeated No. 15 national seed Missouri twice in regional action, while the Huskies didn't allow a run in regional play, outscoring their opponents 26-0.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

All-conference selections announced

The Mountain West announced its all-conference teams, as well as the league's player, pitcher, defensive player, freshman and coach of the year awards today.

The 2014 Mountain West Player of the Year is sophomore Garie Blando of UNLV.  The Pitcher of the Year is sophomore Danielle O'Toole of San Diego State.  The Defensive Player of the Year is junior Brenna Moss of Fresno State.  The Freshman of the Year is Victoria Saucedo of Utah State.  And the league's Coach of the Year is Kathy Van Wyk of San Diego State.

The conference's top three finishers -- San Diego State, Fresno State and UNLV -- led the way with five selections each on the first and second teams.  Three all-conference picks came from Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico and San Jose State.  Nevada had two selections, while Utah State had one.

Fifteen of the players selected are either freshmen or sophomores, indicating the conference's future is extremely bright. 

Looking ahead to 2015, Fresno State will lead the way with four returning All-Mountain West picks.  The Bulldogs were the only team to have two pitchers (Jill Compton & Hannah Harris) selected.  UNLV and New Mexico will both return three All-MW players in 2015, while Colorado State, San Diego State and San Jose State will return two apiece.  Boise State, Nevada and Utah State will all bring back one all-conference pick next season.

The complete list of 2014 accolades can be found here.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Aztecs to face Michigan in Tempe Regional

San Diego State's seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance begins in Tempe, Arizona, on Friday.

The Aztecs claimed the No. 3 seed in the Tempe Regional and will open Friday at 12:30 pm Pacific time against Michigan (42-12) of the Big Ten.  The Wolverines earned an at-large bid after tying for the Big Ten title but falling in the conference tournament.

The Mountain West's only at-large hope -- Fresno State (31-21) -- was bypassed for a bid and will miss the tourney for a third straight year after making 30 in a row from 1982 to 2011.  According to the RPI, the Bulldogs were the sixth-best team in the country left out of the field.

San Diego State's other two opponents in the Tempe regional are host and No. 9 national seed Arizona State (44-10-1) and Ivy League champion and first time NCAA entrant Dartmouth (31-17).

The Aztecs have a good chance to defeat the Wolverines.  The Mountain West won six games versus the Big Ten this season, including a win by Fresno State over Nebraska, which shared the Big Ten championship with Michigan and earned an at-large bid.

San Diego State will be in for a hot weekend.  Temperatures in Tempe are forecast to reach 101 on Friday.  If the Aztecs win their first game, they'll play the Arizona State-Dartmouth winner at 3 pm on Saturday, when the temperature is supposed to hit 104 degrees.

According to the RPI, Fresno State was one of the six best teams in the country left out of the NCAA field.  The others:  Stanford, McNeese State, College of Charleston, Mercer and Florida International.  Stanford was left out of the NCAA tourney for the first time in 17 years.  Fellow bay area Pac-12 member Cal saw its NCAA tourney streak end after 28 straight appearances.

View the complete NCAA Tournament bracket here.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Aztecs win MW title; Fresno St., UNLV tie for 2nd

Danielle O'Toole won her 30th game of the season as San Diego State clinched the outright Mountain West championship with a 5-1 win over Boise State Saturday in San Diego.

O'Toole allowed five hits and won all three games this weekend against the Broncos, who arrived in first place on Thursday.  Less than 48 hours later, Boise State left with a fourth-place finish in the final conference standings.

After Fresno State defeated Nevada 10-1 in five innings earlier in the day, the Aztecs knew they had to win or the Bulldogs would grab the automatic NCAA berth.  Fresno State owned every tiebreak scenario by virtue of the Bulldogs' beating San Diego State two out of three games head-to-head this season.

SDSU took a 1-0 lead early before Boise State responded with a Lindsay Nicholson solo homer in the fourth to tie it.  The Aztecs broke the tie in the fifth and added three more in the bottom of the sixth to win going away.  Kayla Jordan, Leia Ruiz and Dominique Dinner all had two hits for SDSU.

Rebecca Patton went the distance for a third straight day for Boise State.  She scattered nine hits and took the loss.

Fresno State will hope for an at-large NCAA berth, hoping its RPI of 52, two Top 25 wins (over Big Ten co-champion Nebraska and Pac-12 power Washington), three Top 30 wins, and five Top 50 wins are enough.

San Diego State finished 16-8, a game ahead of both Fresno State and UNLV at 15-9.  Last Sunday, SDSU knew it had to win four in a row and hope that the Bulldogs somehow lost at least three of their final four in order to claim the title.  That's exactly what happened as Fresno State lost consecutive games in MW play for the first time this season during the final week of action.

Fresno State blasts Nevada to remain alive

Fresno State pounded Nevada on Senior Day in Reno in a 10-1, run-rule rout in five innings to remain alive in the race for the Mountain West title.

Stesha Brazil had a pair of home runs on a 3-hit, 3-RBI, 3 runs scored day.  Paige Gumz smashed a 3-run homer of her own, and Jill Compton was one out away from a shutout when the Wolf Pack scored their lone run.

Brenna Moss had three hits, Gumz had a pair with four RBI, and Kapri Angotti had a pair of hits.  With the win, Fresno State is now the only team with a shot at the NCAA automatic bid out of the Mountain West aside from San Diego State.  The Bulldogs eliminated UNLV from contention for that automatic bid, but not the possible 4-way tie at the top for the Mountain West title.

UNLV defeated Utah State 8-0 in five innings to join Fresno State at 15-9 in the final standings. 

Spartans beat Rams, eliminate Colorado State

Colorado State couldn't rally from a 3-run deficit in its resumed game Saturday morning in Fort Collins as San Jose State held on for the 9-6 victory.  The Spartans' win put an end to the Rams' title hopes, preventing them from winning a piece of the Mountain West title and the automatic NCAA bid.

There is still a chance for a 4-way title tie between Boise State, Fresno State, San Diego State and UNLV as of 10 am Saturday morning.  The race for the Mountain West's automatic NCAA berth has come down to three teams -- Fresno State, San Diego State and UNLV.

The Bulldogs can put pressure on the Aztecs with a win today over Nevada (noon in Reno).  That would force San Diego State to defeat Boise State and sweep the 3-game series from the Broncos in order for the Aztecs to grab the conference's automatic NCAA bid.  A Fresno State win, combined with a San Diego State loss, gives the Bulldogs the automatic bid.  Fresno State holds the tiebreaker in both a 3-way tie with San Diego State and Boise State, or a 4-way tie with the Aztecs, Broncos and UNLV.

Also in the mix:  UNLV.  The Rebels' path to the title and automatic NCAA bid is through only one avenue now.  UNLV must defeat Utah State and have both Fresno State and San Diego State lose today.  That would create a 3-way tie for the title between Boise State, SDSU and the Rebels.  UNLV defeated both the Broncos and Aztecs in their season series, and would win the tiebreaker.

Saturday championship and NCAA bid scenarios

Note:  To the best of our knowledge, and after carefully reviewing the MW rule book regarding softball tiebreak procedures, we believe this information to be correct, but it is possible that there may be an error.  In other words, don't make any plane reservations to an NCAA regional based on what you're reading here. 

While San Diego State clinched at least a tie for the Mountain West title on Friday, as many as four teams can join the Aztecs Saturday.  Fresno State, UNLV and Colorado State can all tie for the Mountain West championship, and all three can win the automatic NCAA berth that goes to the winner.  Boise State can not win the automatic berth, but the Broncos can still win a share of their first MW softball championship in school history with a win Saturday.

The scenarios:

San Diego State wins the automatic NCAA bid if ...

it beats Boise State on Saturday.  If the Aztecs sweep the 3-game series, they're headed to the NCAA tournament and win the MW title outright, regardless of what happens elsewhere.  If SDSU loses to Boise State, the Aztecs still earn the automatic bid if Fresno State loses to Nevada AND UNLV loses to Utah State.

Fresno State wins the automatic NCAA bid if ...

it beats Nevada on Saturday AND Boise State beats San Diego State.  The Bulldogs win each tiebreak scenario that involves a 3-, 4-, or 5-way tie for the title.

UNLV wins the automatic NCAA bid if ...

it beats Utah State on Saturday AND Boise State beats San Diego State AND Nevada beats Fresno State AND Colorado State loses at least once to San Jose State.

Colorado State wins the automatic NCAA bid if ...

it beats San Jose State twice on Saturday AND Boise State beats San Diego State AND Nevada beats Fresno State AND UNLV beats Utah State.  In an odd twist, the Rams need UNLV to win to create a 4-way tie for the title because the only way Colorado State can claim the automatic bid is with a 4-way tie that consists of itself, along with UNLV, San Diego State and Boise State.  In that grouping, CSU would have gone 6-3 vs. the others, while SDSU and UNLV both would have gone 5-4, and Boise State 2-7.  Once the Broncos had been eliminated with the worst composite record versus the others, UNLV would then eliminate San Diego State by virtue of the Rebels' 2 to 1 series win over the Aztecs, leaving Colorado State and UNLV.  In the head-to-head matchup between those two, the Rams beat the Rebels 2 to 1.  Thus, Colorado State wins the automatic NCAA bid.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Aztecs clinch tie; 5-way tie still possible

Patrice Jackson came up big when it counted most, sending San Diego State to winning a portion of a seventh Mountain West title.  Elsewhere, Nevada knocked off Fresno State for a second day in a row, UNLV beat Utah State again, and Colorado State edged San Jose State before game two plunged into darkness.

San Diego St. 1, Boise State 0 (8 innings) - Patrice Jackson's walk-off RBI double in the bottom of the eighth powered the Aztecs past the Broncos.  Rebecca Patton walked Katie Mathis on four pitches with two outs in the eighth, and Mathis scored on Jackson's hit in a pitcher's duel.  Danielle O'Toole allowed four hits, as did Patton.  The Aztecs looked like they were going to win the game earlier, loading the bases in the sixth with one out before Patton escaped the jam.  She struck out Jackson in that frame, and Boise State had opportunities of its own too.  Boise State stranded a pair in both the seventh and eighth innings, including runners at second and third base in the top of the seventh. While SDSU clinched a tie for the MW title, it did not clinch the automatic NCAA berth that goes along with it.  Boise State can still finish as Mountain West co-champions with a win Saturday in the season finale.

Nevada 5, Fresno State 1 - The Bulldogs were hurt by the long ball again, giving up a pair of home runs for the second day in a row in a loss in Reno.  Also for the second day in a row, Fresno State out-hit the Wolf Pack in a loss, and this one hurt more.  The Bulldogs had 12 hits to just five for Nevada, but Fresno State finished one shy of a school record with 15 stranded base runners.  The record for stranded runners (16) was set earlier this season against Virginia. The Bulldogs left the bases loaded in three different innings and stranded 10 in scoring position.  McKenna Isenberg escaped jam after jam after jam to pick up the win.  Hannah Harris allowed just three hits and took the loss.  Harris took a no-hitter into the third when, with two outs, Amanda Weis hit a grand slam following two singles and a walk.  Erin Jones added a solo shot later.  Fresno State left runners at second and third base in both the first and seventh innings, and the bases loaded in the second, third and fifth frames. Despite a 3-game losing streak, the Bulldogs can still wrap up the Mountain West's automatic NCAA berth with a simple scenario:  If Fresno State wins and San Diego State loses Saturday, the Bulldogs will reach their 31st NCAA tourney, as well as win a piece of the conference championship.

UNLV 2, Utah State 1 - Amanda Oliveto came on to pick up the game's final out as the Aggies had the potential tying run at third when the game ended.  Freshman Morgan Ettinger went 6 2/3 for the victory, which was aided by a solo homer from Pauline Monreal that gave UNLV an early lead.  The Aggies were held to just three hits and have lost nine straight and 13 of 14.  Monreal had two hits for the Rebels, who still can win a piece of the Mountain West title on Saturday with a victory and a loss by San Diego State.  UNLV also is not out of the race for the Mountain West's automatic NCAA berth.  The Rebels win it with a victory, plus losses by San Diego State, Fresno State and Colorado State.

Colorado State 7, San Jose State 4 - In a wild, back and forth affair, the Rams came up with four in the bottom of the sixth for the victory in Fort Collins.  Alyssa Greckel homered and Ashlie Ortega had three of the Rams' 11 hits.  Holly Reinke earned the victory, escaping some jams as SJSU threatened on multiple occasions.  In the day's second game, action was suspended by darkness with San Jose State leading 9-6 in the top of the sixth inning.  Colorado State must come back from that 3-run deficit on Saturday when the game is resumed (10 am MT) in order to have a chance at a Mountain West co-championship.  The Rams can only win a piece of the title by winning twice on Saturday.  In order to capture the conference's automatic NCAA berth, Colorado State will not only have to win twice, but hope that San Diego State, Fresno State and UNLV all suffer losses.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

3-way tie for first place with 2 games left

It's a 3-way tie for first place in the Mountain West with just two games remaining for the teams tied at the top.

San Diego State moved into the tie for first by virtue of its 4-0 shutout over Boise State, which saw its 8-game winning streak snapped on Danielle O'Toole's 2-hitter.  Fresno State fell into a first place tie by falling at Nevada, 3-2.  Jill Compton allowed only five hits in the game and the Bulldogs out-hit the Wolf Pack, but two of those five were solo homers by Megan Sweet.  Amanda Oliveto had no trouble keeping UNLV in the race with a 6-1 win over struggling Utah State, which has lost eight straight and 11 of its last 12 games.  The Rebels are just a game back with two left to play.  Colorado State, a game and a half back, and San Jose State were rained out in Fort Collins and will play two Friday.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

ESPN's Hays: Fresno State, Boise State both in NCAA field resident women's sports expert Graham Hays released his updated NCAA Tournament projections today, and he has a pair of Mountain West teams in the field of 64.

Hays has both Boise State and Fresno State, who are currently tied for the conference lead, in the field of 64.  This is the second projection in less than 24 hours showing two MW teams reaching this year's NCAA Tournament.  As noted earlier, Eric Lopez (host of the ELOOnline Podcast on released his updated, final-week projection last night, and it has both Fresno State and San Diego State in the field.

This is an incredibly important weekend for the Aztecs, Broncos and Bulldogs as all three hold reasonable NCAA Tournament hopes.  For both Fresno State and San Diego State, at-large NCAA berths are possible.  For Boise State, its only path is through winning the MW automatic bid.  SDSU must win the series with the Broncos to have a shot at the conference title -- and almost certainly even an at-large bid as well.  The Bulldogs, meanwhile, close the season at Nevada.  A series win could be enough for Fresno State to win the MW outright if SDSU wins its series at home versus the Broncos.

San Diego State has an impressive 17 wins vs. the RPI Top 100, including one versus the Top 50 (No. 45 Long Beach State).  Fresno State appears to have an even stronger at-large profile, with two victories over current Top 25 RPI teams (No. 14 Washington and No. 19 Nebraska, the Big Ten regular season co-champion), another over No. 30 North Carolina State, and a MW-leading five wins against the Top 50.  The Bulldogs have 14 victories vs. the RPI Top 100.

While all three teams at the top enter the weekend with legitimate NCAA hopes, two others -- Colorado State and UNLV -- still have designs on a Mountain West title themselves, though grabbing the league's automatic NCAA berth would require several scenarios to all fall in their favor.

Softball bracketology: Fresno State, SDSU both in NCAA field

Bulldogs and Aztecs on the field prior to a game in 2014

Just five days away from NCAA Selection Sunday, one softball 'bracketology' expert projects two Mountain West teams -- Fresno State and San Diego State -- to advance to the NCAA Tournament.

Eric Lopez, host of the ELOOnline Podcast that airs on, has provided NCAA softball projections for several weeks this season.  In his final-week projection, released May 5, he shows both the Bulldogs and Aztecs reaching the NCAA Tournament, and also provides some commentary on the race for the Mountain West title.

This projection makes the Mountain West one of 11 conferences in the country projected to receive multiple bids.  The leagues Lopez projects to have more than one team in the field of 64:  ACC, American, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, Atlantic Sun, Colonial, Conference USA, Mountain West, and Sun Belt.

Fresno State has two wins over the final regular-season RPI Top 25 (No. 14 Washington and No. 19 Nebraska), three wins over the RPI Top 30 (No. 30 North Carolina State) and a Mountain West-best five wins over the current RPI Top 50.  San Diego State's best win, according to the RPI, is over No. 45 Long Beach State, but the Aztecs have a conference-best 16 wins against teams ranked between No. 51 and 100.  Fresno State has 14 wins over the RPI Top 100 and won the head-to-head series with the Aztecs.

Lopez hosts the 1080AM Insiders Show airing Sundays from 10-11 am Eastern on Sportstalk 1080 The Team in Orlando.
Eric Lopez host  ELOOnline  Podcast  which airs on  Eric Lopez also host 1080am Insiders Show that  airs Sundays from 10-11am eastern on Sportstalk 1080 the team in Orlando.

Monday, May 5, 2014

San Diego State and Fresno State on the NCAA bubble

The final Ratings Percentage Index of the regular season was released today.  It's the last look we'll get at the numbers used by the NCAA softball selection committee before the Field of 64 is announced Sunday live on ESPNU at 7 pm Pacific time.

A few weeks back, there was a 23-point difference between the positions held by San Diego State and Fresno State.  Those two have been ranked first and second in the Mountain West all season in the RPI.  At one point in April, the Aztecs were 36th and the Bulldogs 59th.

The gap has closed considerably and now just four spots separate the two.  San Diego State is ranked 48th in the final RPI of the regular season, while Fresno State comes in at No. 52.  It's NCAA bubble territory for both teams, and each likely needs to win its final conference series of the season this weekend to have a chance at both the Mountain West championship, or an at-large NCAA berth should it be necessary.

San Diego State and Fresno State both present the selection committee with interesting profiles for at-large selections.  SDSU leads the Mountain West with 17 wins against the RPI Top 100, while Fresno State leads the conference in wins over the RPI Top 25 and the RPI Top 50.  In fact, the Bulldogs have two Top 25 wins (over No. 14 Washington and No. 19 Nebraska) and three Top 30 wins when you add in No. 30 North Carolina State.  Fresno State also leads the MW in wins over the RPI Top 50 with five.

The Aztecs, whose best win (according to the RPI) is over No. 45 Long Beach State, have 16 wins over teams ranked 51st to 100th.  The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are right behind SDSU with 14 victories over the RPI Top 100.

If Fresno State is one of the final teams in consideration for an at-large bid (should it not win the automatic NCAA berth by capturing the MW regular season title), the Bulldogs' wins over Washington, Nebraska and NC State could loom large.

Instead of leaving any of this in the hands of the NCAA selection committee, both Kathy Van Wyk's and Trisha Ford's squads will want to try their best to win the Mountain West regular-season title this weekend.  And they both surely have their eyes set on that.

Elsewhere, Colorado State rose five spots in the RPI to No. 74, despite losing two of three at Fresno State.  Boise State swept a 3-game set from New Mexico and climbed to No. 78, its highest position of the season.  Despite losing two of three to SDSU, San Jose State climbed two places to No. 83.  And UNLV split a pair of non-conference games with Oregon State and dropped four spots to No. 90, giving the Mountain West six teams in the RPI Top 90 again this week.

Nevada (142nd), New Mexico (176th) and Utah State (180th) rounded out the Mountain West RPI rankings this week.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Broncos and Bulldogs tied for first with one series left

The race for the Mountain West softball title got a little bit closer on Sunday after a pair of wild 1-run games.  Boise State moved into a tie for first with Fresno State after the Broncos won in dramatic fashion for a second day in a row, and the Bulldogs nearly pulled off a late miracle.

Elsewhere, San Diego State eliminated San Jose State from contention, and Nevada completed a 3-game sweep of struggling Utah State.

Colorado State 8, Fresno State 7 - The Bulldogs lost at home on Senior Day for the fifth time in six seasons in a game that started and ended wildly.  Chelsea O'Connor hit a home run to put the Rams up 2-0 with only one out recorded in the game.  In the top of the second, it was already 4-0 before the Bulldogs rallied for four straight runs to tie it.  Fresno State scored three in the bottom of the second with the help of two Rams miscues on a day when both defenses were sloppy.  Colorado State took the lead for good in the fifth by adding a run on a Kendal Butterfield RBI single.  Bulldogs second baseman Whitney Smith committed a pair of errors in the sixth inning that led to three CSU runs.  Alyssa Greckel's 2-out, 2-run triple put the Rams up 8-4.  In the bottom of the seventh, Fresno State nearly rallied from four runs down to win it.  Brooke Ortiz started the rally off with a single, and winning pitcher Holly Reinke walked a pair, including one with the bases loaded to force in a run.  A groundout scored another to trim the deficit to 8-6, and Paige Gumz' RBI single made it an 8-7 game with two outs in the seventh.  Senior Kapri Angotti, in the final at-bat for Fresno State at home this season, was retired on a groundout with the potential tying and winning runs on base.  While the Bulldogs have won 45 of their past 53 home conference games spanning several seasons, more than half of those losses (5 of 8) have come on Senior Day.  Fresno State has lost on Senior Day five of the past six seasons (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014).  CSU stayed alive in the race for a conference title on a day when the Bulldogs could have eliminated the Rams.

Boise State 5, New Mexico 4 - For the second day in a row, the Broncos won on a walk-off home run.  With two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, Mackenzie Whyte hit a homer to send the Broncos into a first-place tie with Fresno State.  Even more importantly, Boise State holds the tiebreaker over the Bulldogs after being the only Mountain West team to win a season series against coach Trisha Ford's squad.  The Broncos, however, face a mighty task next weekend when they face a road series at San Diego State.  The Aztecs have not lost a conference series at home this season and haven't been swept in a league series in San Diego in nine years.  Boise State trailed 1-0 until the fourth when it scored four runs -- all with two outs.  New Mexico responded with a 3-run top of the fifth to tie it, but ended up losing all three games in the series.  UNM's season came to a close as the Lobos finished 7-17 in Mountain West play and 16-36 overall.  Both teams had only five hits in the game, with Rebecca Patton getting the complete-game win and Lauren Soles the tough loss.  Soles had allowed just one hit in three innings of relief before Whyte's home run.

San Diego State 5, San Jose State 3 - Patrice Jackson homered to begin the top of the fourth inning, and Dominique Dinner added the first home run of her career -- a 3-run shot -- in the same inning as the Aztecs rallied to win the series in San Jose.  The Spartans out-hit San Diego State 12 to eight and had no errors compared with the Aztecs' two, but still suffered the loss and were eliminated from the Mountain West championship race.  Madison Fish came in to replace SJSU starter Katelyn Linford in the fourth after Linford had given up the homer to Jackson and walked a pair with one out.  Dinner, the only batter Fish would face, promptly hit the 3-run home run that gave San Diego State the lead for good.  SJSU had several opportunities but stranded nine base runners against the pitching duo of Erica Romero and Danielle O'Toole.

Nevada 3, Utah State 0 - Wolf Pack senior pitcher Karlyn Jones recorded a career-best 11 strikeouts to complete a 3-game sweep of the Aggies in Logan. Jones didn't walk a batter and almost had to be perfect in a game with very little offense.  Both teams had just four hits, and the Aggies went with a first-time makeshift lineup that featured all six seniors -- including some who rarely have played this season -- starting the game.  Megan Sweet had a 2-run home run for Nevada in the fifth and finished with two hits and all three RBI.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

New stadium name, same result: Bulldogs win!

Fresno State re-named its softball stadium Saturday in a pregame ceremony honoring its legendary former head coach, Margie Wright.  And then the Bulldogs went out and played the type of game that happened a lot under her tutelage.

Using stellar pitching, the league's top defense, and some clutch hitting and monster at-bats, Fresno State defeated Colorado State 7-2 to win the series against the Rams and move a game closer to the Mountain West championship and the automatic NCAA berth that goes along with it.

Elsewhere, Boise State remained on the Bulldogs' tail, getting a walk-off win in the eighth inning over New Mexico after the Lobos came up with a 3-run seventh inning to tie it.  San Jose State stayed in the hunt with a shutout win over San Diego State, which fell two games off the pace.  And Nevada won for the second day in a row at faltering Utah State, which has lost 14 of its last 17.

Fresno State 7, Colorado State 2 - Stesha Brazil hit home runs in her first two at-bats of the day, and Michelle Solomon delivered the knockout blow with a 2-out grand slam off of Holly Reinke in the bottom of the sixth inning as the Bulldogs won their sixth consecutive Mountain West series.  Hannah Harris picked up the win, going the first five innings and allowing four hits. Jill Compton entered in the sixth with a 3-2 lead and earned the save.  Fresno State had 10 hits and took a 1-0 lead on Brazil's solo homer in the second.  It would be the first Bulldog home run in the newly re-named Margie Wright Diamond, with the legend in attendance as part of the 1,351 on hand.  CSU took a 2-1 lead in the third when Shae Rodriguez hit a 2-run shot to right, scoring Haley Hutton.  Brazil's second home run of the day came in the fourth when the Bulldogs tied it 2-2.  A 2-out RBI single by freshman Kierra Willis in the same frame gave Fresno State a lead it wouldn't relinquish.  After Compton struck out Danielle Wikre with the bases loaded to escape a sixth inning jam, Reinke wasn't as fortunate in the bottom half of the inning.  After Paige Gumz, Brenna Moss and Brooke Ortiz all singled, Solomon stepped to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded in a 1-run game.  On a full count pitch, she launched a deep blast to left over the fence and the outfield berm behind it for her first grand slam of the season.  Moss, Brazil and junior Kelly Megee all finished with a pair of hits for the Bulldogs.  Colorado State, which entered the weekend as the Mountain West's top hitting team this season, has been limited to eight combined hits in the first two games of the series.  Fresno State maintained its hold on first place with the victory, and now knows a 4-0 finish to the year will result in a conference championship and automatic NCAA berth.

San Jose State 5, San Diego State 0 - Allison Lang held the Aztecs to five hits in a shutout win that kept the Spartans' slim title hopes alive.  Casey Watt hit a 2-run home run off of Danielle O'Toole, who started her second straight in the series, and San Diego State is now 7-7 in its last 14 conference games.  Devin Caldwell and Alyssa Martinez both hit doubles as part of the Spartans' 9-hit attack against O'Toole.  Sharon-Renae Estrada and Jessica Garcia had two hits each for SJSU, while Patrice Jackson had two of the Aztecs' four hits.  Despite the win, San Jose State moved to the brink of elimination in the Mountain West race Saturday because of Fresno State's win over Colorado State.  The Bulldogs are three games ahead of the Spartans with four to play, and Fresno State holds the tiebreaker if the two should tie.  Meanwhile, San Diego State likely now must win a minimum of three of its final four conference games in order to have a shot at an NCAA bid.  SDSU has been to six straight NCAA tourneys, but is two games back of the Bulldogs, who also hold the tiebreaker over the Aztecs.  San Diego State's best path to an NCAA berth may be by winning next weekend's series at home in San Diego versus Boise State, and trying to secure an at-large NCAA berth.  SDSU was 45th in the RPI entering the week and in bubble territory.

Boise State 7, New Mexico 5 (8 innings) - Despite being out-hit 11 to six and giving up three runs in the seventh, the Broncos rallied to win it in extra innings.  Brittany McCray hit a 2-run homer off of Lobos pitcher Carrie Sheehan for the walk-off victory in eight innings.  New Mexico trailed 5-2 entering the seventh but scored three runs -- all earned -- against Rebecca Patton.  Hailey Torrez hit a grand slam in the second as Boise State moved in front comfortably.  She and Jordan Kreiger were the lone Broncos players with multi-hit games versus New Mexico, which entered with a team ERA approaching 10.00 in conference play.  The Lobos had four players with double-digit hit totals.

Nevada 5, Utah State 3 - The Wolf Pack won their second series of the season with a victory for a second day in a row against the Aggies in Logan.  Utah State's late-season slump continued with a loss for the 18th time in it last 23 games.  McKenna Isenberg beat Abby Indreland in a battle between freshman pitchers.  The Pack had nine hits while the Aggies had eight.  Erin Jones had two hits to lead a balanced Nevada attack.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Fresno State tops Rams, maintains hold on first place

Another quality pitching performance from Jill Compton and a dramatic late rally helped Fresno State maintain sole possession of first place in the Mountain West with just five games remaining.

Elsewhere, San Diego State picked up a road win in San Jose, Boise State shut out New Mexico, and Nevada powered past Utah State.

Fresno State 5, Colorado State 1 - Jill Compton was tossing a 1-hitter through six innings, but the Bulldogs headed to the bottom of the sixth trailing 1-0. Despite getting hits themselves in every inning against Rams starter Holly Reinke, the Bulldogs were 0-for-10 with runners on base through five frames.  It all changed in the sixth with a dramatic 5-run Fresno State uprising.  The Bulldogs got four hits in the inning and took advantage of a pair of Colorado State errors.  With one out, Stesha Brazil singled before a Rams error gave the Bulldogs runners at first and second.  Fresno State loaded the bases on another Colorado State miscue and took its first lead on a 1-out, 2-run single by Whitney Smith.  Then it was a pair of seniors adding key RBI singles on the opening day of Senior Weekend. Kapri Angotti's RBI single plated a third run, and -- with two outs -- Brooke Ortiz got her third and most important hit of the day, a 2-run single.  That was enough for Compton, who gave up bookend singles -- one in the first inning and one in the seventh -- but that was all the Rams offense could muster.  CSU's run came in the third (without benefit of a hit) as Compton issued a pair of walks to begin the frame after getting ahead of both batters with 0-2 counts.  A sacrifice advanced the runners and the Rams scored on what was ruled a wild pitch.  Ortiz had three hits and two RBI, Brazil a pair of hits and a run, Smith a hit and two RBI, and Angotti a hit, RBI and run scored.  The Bulldogs remain a full game ahead of both San Diego State and Boise State, who play each other next weekend.  Fresno State is now two full games ahead of the Rams with five to play and can win the series Saturday with a victory on a day when the school officially re-names its stadium Margie Wright Diamond in honor of its legendary former coach.

San Diego State 8, San Jose State 3 - Danielle O'Toole got through a very rough first inning but was smooth the rest of the way as the Aztecs rallied from two runs down for the win in San Jose.  The Spartans touched O'Toole for five hits and three runs in the bottom of the first inning alone, including a 3-run home run off the bat of Jessica Garcia.  That gave SJSU a 3-1 lead it held until the fourth inning.  San Diego State took the lead for good with a 4-run fifth inning, and O'Toole allowed only one hit after the tough first inning.  Garcia's home run, her team-leading 10th, gave her 52 RBI on the year, a new school record.  Jaylene Ignacio hit a 2-run homer for the Aztecs and she was one of six SDSU players with mult-hit games.  Leia Ruiz had three RBI for the Aztecs and freshman Katelyn Linford took the loss for the Spartans.  SDSU remained a game behind first-place Fresno State, while SJSU moved close to being eliminated from the race for the MW title with a ninth conference loss.

Boise State 7, New Mexico 0 - The Broncos stormed to a big early lead and looked like they would get a run-rule win, but UNM buckled down and made it go the distance.  Rebecca Patton turned in a quality pitching performance, taking a no-hitter into the fifth and finishing with a complete-game, 4-hitter.  It was her fourth shutout of the year and the seventh of the senior's career.  Hailey Torrez had a pair of hits and two RBI for the Broncos, who remained a game out of first place with five to play.  Boise State still must travel to San Diego State on the season's final weekend next week.

Nevada 7, Utah State 1 - The Wolf Pack won game one in Logan behind the bat of Amanda Weis.  It was a grand slam off Weis' bat in the first inning that set the tone for the contest as Nevada stormed to an early 5-0 lead.  Despite being out-hit in the contest eight to six, the Pack's early lead held up.  Nevada pitcher Karlyn Jones went the distance, scattering those eight Utah State hits.  Sara Parsons had three of the Pack's hits and Weis had two.  USU got multi-hit games from a trio of players.  After starting Mountain West play 3-0, Utah State has slumped with losses in 13 of its past 16 conference games.  Nevada is still in last place but is 2-2 over its past four contests.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Latest RPI numbers in the Mountain West

The latest Ratings Percentage Index was unveiled Monday and there weren't many changes.

San Diego State and Fresno State led the way as they have all season.  The Aztecs came in at No. 45 (after being 42nd the previous week).  The RPI release was, however, only thru games of April 27.  San Diego State's Tuesday loss to the University of San Diego (No. 110 in the RPI) won't be reflected until next week, which is a concern for a team that may have to rely on an at-large NCAA bid.

Fresno State came in at No. 57 (down a spot from 56th a week ago).  The Bulldogs are clearly in bubble territory when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, and in the outer edges of the bubble at best.  Fresno State can only feel secure if it wins the Mountain West title.  The one thing the Bulldogs do have going for them is this:  If they are still in the at-large discussion at the end when the NCAA selection committee is deciding things, they have three significant wins -- over RPI Top 25 foes Washington and Nebraska, and No. 30 North Carolina State.  Few bubble teams have those sorts of non-conference wins -- all away from home.

Colorado State came in at No. 79 this week, down three spots from 76th in the previous RPI release.  Boise State comes in at No. 82, a three spot rise in a week's time.  San Jose State (85th) and UNLV (86th) come in back to back in the RPI.  The Rebels, who took two of three from San Diego State, made a healthy late-season rise of 11 spots in a week thanks to that series win over the Aztecs.

With six teams in the RPI Top 86, the Mountain West is in elite company.  The only other conferences with six or more teams among the top 86 of the RPI are the Pac-12, SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten.

Rounding out the RPI are Nevada (No. 149), Utah State (No. 169) and New Mexico (No. 170). 

Name change reflected on Margie Wright Diamond scoreboard

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Another Compton shutout leaves Fresno State in first

With the number of remaining games dwindling and the calendar about to reach the month of May, every game in Mountain West softball took on added importance Sunday.

In the two most crucial series of the weekend, it was once again the home teams coming out on top.  Fresno State won its second straight game from UNLV to win the series with the Rebels and power the Bulldogs into sole possession of first place in the Mountain West.  Meanwhile, San Diego State came from a 2-run deficit to knock off Colorado State and win the series from the Rams.

Elsewhere, San Jose State kept its slim title hopes alive with an extra innings win at Nevada, and the Lobos of New Mexico won their first series of the season by defeating Utah State.

All of this left Fresno State alone at the top of a crowded race for the MW title and the automatic NCAA berth that goes with it.  The Bulldogs (12-6) hold a one-game lead over a trio of teams -- Colorado State (11-7), San Diego State (11-7) and Boise State (11-7), which was idle this weekend.  A game and a half off the pace is UNLV (12-9), while San Jose State (10-8) is two full games back.

Fresno State 1, UNLV 0 - Sophomore pitcher Jill Compton of the Bulldogs out-dueled Rebels senior ace Amanda Oliveto in a reversal of game one of this series when it was Fresno State that fell 1-0 in extra innings.  Compton needed just 70 pitches in a game that lasted little more than an hour as neither team had much offense.  The game's lone run came in the fourth.  Brooke Ortiz singled with one out, and moved to second when Oliveto hit Michelle Solomon (who homered Saturday) with a pitch.  Stesha Brazil singled to load the bases, and Ortiz came home when Jaexie Balilea struggled to field a tricky chopper off the bat of Vonnie Martin.  In the seventh, the Rebels mounted a bit of a threat as Pauline Monreal singled to lead off the inning.  The tying run moved to second on a sacrifice, but Compton struck out Emily Haslinger and induced a game-ending groundout by Jamie DePippo.  Haslinger, the reigning MW Player of the Week who hit four home runs in three games last week, went 0-for-9 against Bulldog pitching in the series.  UNLV entered the series ranked No. 1 in team batting average (.355) in Mountain West play, but was held to just four total runs in the series by Fresno State's Compton and Hannah Harris.  The Rebels had not scored fewer than 12 runs in a series before this weekend.  Fresno State continued its home dominance, finding a way to win for the 43rd time in its last 50 conference home games.

San Diego State 4, Colorado State 2 - The Rams sent Holly Reinke to the circle for the third consecutive game, while the Aztecs chose to go with freshman Erica Romero for the first time this weekend.  The move looked to pay off for Colorado State early when Chelsea O'Connor blasted a 2-run home run in the top of the first inning.  The score would stay that way until the Aztecs chipped away with single runs in the fourth and fifth innings to tie it.  The bottom of the sixth was the difference, however, when the Rams' defensive troubles paved the way for the Aztecs.  Hayley Miles singled to left to begin the bottom of the sixth, but an errant throw by left fielder Kendal Butterfield allowed Miles to motor all the way to third base.  Miles scored on a passed ball almost immediately after Reinke was replaced in the circle by Larisa Petakoff, who was also called for a couple of illegal pitches.  After a walk to Frankie Orlando and one of the aforementioned illegal pitches advanced the runner, CSU first baseman Alysa Greckel's error allowed another run to score.  In the seventh, Haley Hutton singled to bring the potential tying run to the plate, but eventual winner Danielle O'Toole (who came on in the fifth) secured the win.

San Jose State 4, Nevada 2 (8 innings) - Jessie Hufstetler's 2-run homer in the top of the eighth was the difference in this one as San Jose State rallied for the victory, its second straight on the road in Reno.  Hufstetler's shot came after Nevada rallied to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh with a pair of runs.  Megan Sweet's 2-run double -- when the Pack was down to its last out -- brought Nevada back.  Katelyn Linford and Karlyn Jones went the distance for their respective teams.  Linford gave up eight hits for the win, while Jones allowed 10 hits and took the loss.  Hufstetler's three hits led all batters in the contest.

New Mexico 6, Utah State 4 - In a game that the Aggies led most of the way, it was Utah State errors that told the story.  With Aggies sophomore standout Noelle Johnson back in the circle after missing the last four games with injury, she deserved a better fate.  Five of New Mexico's six runs were unearned, including all four in the bottom of the sixth inning on a windy day in Albuquerque.  To its credit, New Mexico took advantage and had eight hits, including three in the decisive sixth.  Following a Utah State error and with two outs in the sixth, Brandi Heimburg and Willow Kalinen each hit RBI singles to make a winner out of reliever Lauren Soles.  Over the final 3 2/3 innings, Soles allowed just one hit and no runs as UNM rallied from four runs down.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bulldogs, Rams tied for MW lead with 7 games left

Fresno State and Colorado State began the weekend tied for first place in the Mountain West, and they will head into Sunday tied for the lead in the conference.  Both picked up wins Saturday, with the Bulldogs splitting a doubleheader after another in a string of heartbreaking opening-game losses, and the Rams dealing San Diego State a heartbreaker of its own.  Elsewhere, New Mexico lit up the scoreboard and San Jose State came back for a win.

UNLV 1, Fresno State 0 (8 innings) - In a pitcher's duel between Jill Compton and Amanda Oliveto, a solo homer by Samantha Juarez with two outs in the eighth was the difference.  Compton was pitching a 1-hitter into the sixth inning and had allowed just three before Juarez's home run just cleared the fence with two outs in the eighth.  The Bulldogs had six hits and a key base running blunder that spoiled a chance to win it in the seventh.  Fresno State stranded five runners in scoring position as Oliveto escaped several jams.  The Bulldogs fell to 0-5 in games decided in extra innings in just the last five weeks.  UNLV won its third straight game at Bulldog Diamond after sweeping a 2012 doubleheader.  The Rebels had four hits and were out-hit by Fresno State, which had six.  The Bulldogs had runners reach scoring position in the first, second, fifth, sixth and seventh innings but couldn't plate any of them.

Fresno State 6, UNLV 3 - This one was a pitcher's duel for awhile too between Hannah Harris of the Bulldogs and Morgan Ettinger of the Rebels.  Fresno State took a 1-0 lead in the fourth, however, when Paige Gumz got the Bulldogs' first clutch hit of the afternoon.  After Stesha Brazil tripled to lead off the bottom of the fourth, she was still there after two quick outs.  Gumz then hit an RBI double, one of her four hits on the day, to give the 'Dogs the lead.  In the fifth, Fresno State pushed it to 5-0 thanks to the long ball.  Michelle Solomon launched a 3-run shot to left, and it was followed with a homer off the bat of Brazil on the very next pitch from Ettinger.  Freshman Kierra Willis and Brenna Moss had singled to lead off the bottom of the fifth before Solomon's blast.  The Bulldogs extended the lead to 6-0 in the sixth as Gumz tripled and scored on a Moss sacrifice fly.  UNLV, in the bottom of the seventh, scored three times but the comeback attempt fell short.  Harris picked up the win, and Compton came on late to earn the save, handing UNLV an eighth conference loss.

Colorado State 1, San Diego State 0 - In a pitcher's duel between Holly Reinke and Danielle O'Toole, this one had a lot of similarities to the 1-0 win by UNLV over Fresno State.  Down a run in the seventh, the Aztecs had runners at the corners with one out.  They seemed as though they'd score the tying run on a grounder to the right side of the infield.  It first bounced off the glove of Rams infielder Alysa Greckel, who recovered in time to get the out at first, and then threw home to get an Aztecs base runner who appeared to break late for the plate.  It turned into a game-ending double play.  CSU's run scored in the sixth when Jaelyn Manzanares' RBI scored Greckel, who tripled.  The Rams had seven hits to five for the Aztecs.

San Jose State 7, Nevada 6 - The Spartans spotted the Wolf Pack a 3-run lead and then rallied again late with a run in the seventh to win it.  It was 3-0 Nevada early before six unanswered runs gave the Spartans a 6-3 lead.  The Pack responded quickly to tie the game 6-6.  In the seventh, an unearned run brought home the eventual game-winning run and SJSU got its first win of the series.  Nevada out-hit the Spartans nine to five but committed three errors.

New Mexico 20, Utah State 3 (5 innings) - With star pitcher Noelle Johnson again unable to go, the Aggies pitching staff struggled mightily.  Franny Vaaulu, a starting forward on the Utah State women's basketball team, has been asked to pitch lately in Johnson's absence, and things didn't go well Saturday.  Against New Mexico's Tess McPherson, who entered the day with an 0-8 record, this one was no contest.  UNM had 17 hits and scored at will against the Aggies, including in a 10-run bottom of the fourth inning. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Aztecs' win gives Bulldogs the Mountain West lead

Three of four series began Friday, while the highly-anticipated Fresno State-UNLV series was pushed back a day because of rain.  Nevada snapped a 9-game losing streak, while Utah State held off a late New Mexico rally.  In the night's feature game, San Diego State routed Colorado State to knock the Rams from a first-place tie.  That left Fresno State standing alone atop the Mountain West standings entering Saturday's games.

San Diego State 10, Colorado State 2 (5 innings) - The Rams had early chances but couldn't come up with a clutch hit, and Holly Reinke struggled in a road thumping in San Diego.  Colorado State lost for the sixth time in its last eight road games, while SDSU won for the 18th time in 23 home contests.  CSU took a 1-0 lead in the first on a 1-out RBI triple by Chelsea O'Connor.  She was stranded at third base though, and that represented a problem throughout the night for the Rams, who had nine hits but left nine on base in only five innings.  San Diego State had 10 hits and scored at least two runs in every frame.  The Aztecs put four runs on the board in the bottom of the first against Reinke as five of the first six SDSU batters in the game reached base safely.  Reinke had a pair of early wild pitches, committed an error of her own and gave up eight hits and eight runs (five earned) in the first three innings.  Four Aztecs had multiple-hit games and Katie Mathis had three RBI.  Danielle O'Toole went the distance, scattering the aforementioned nine hits for the win.  Reigning MW Player of the Year Patrice Jackson left the game after three innings and was replaced in right field by Dominique Dinner.

Nevada 10, San Jose St. 1 (5 innings) - In a game played in cold, continuous drizzle and a 35-degree wind chill in Reno, the host Wolf Pack routed the Spartans.  The win was Nevada's first since March 30, with the Pack going 0-for-April until Friday's win.  In the bottom of the first, Amanda Weis hit a 2-out, 3-run home run, and it proved to be the only runs pitcher Karlyn Jones would need.  Jones scattered four hits against the Spartans, who have now lost five of seven.  SJSU, which was no-hit at home by Fresno State only 48 hours earlier, has scored one or zero runs in its last three defeats.  Nevada had 11 hits, eight against Spartans starter and losing pitcher Madison Fish.

Utah State 12, New Mexico 11 - In Albuquerque, Utah State again played without its top player -- Noelle Johnson -- and escaped with a road win.  The Aggies stormed to a 5-0 lead in the top of the first, then nearly saw the entire lead disappear before regaining a 5-run margin late.  In the bottom of the seventh, New Mexico was down 12-7 before rallying and making things close.  Utah State starting pitcher Abby Indreland, who entered the game having won just once this season, intentionally walked Naomi Tellez with the bases loaded to force in a run and make it a 12-8 game.  It was a move that barely paid off.  Mariah Rimmer tripled to clear the bases and make it a 1-run game, but UNM stranded the tying run at third to end it.  Sarah Chow and Victoria Saucedo had four hits each for the Aggies.  Saucedo finished with four RBI, while Chow had two singles, a double and a triple.  Tellez finished with six RBI to lead the Lobos.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Possible conference tourney scenario for 2015

The Mountain West needs a conference postseason softball tournament.  Plain and simple.  And there are a number of reasons why.

First, it improves a conference's national visibility.  There are a few conferences in the country (Pac-12, being the most noteworthy) that can afford not to have a postseason tournament.  With a bevy of nationally-televised games and the reputation of being the country's top conference, the Pac-12 gets as many as seven or eight NCAA bids each season.  The Mountain West, meanwhile, is lucky when it gets two.  The MW hasn't received multiple bids since BYU left the conference in 2011.

Second, it creates a conference bond.  It would provide one meeting place at the end of the season for coaches, student-athletes, and fans to unite.  Instead of handing out conference awards (Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Pitcher of the Year, etc.) via a press release, it can all be done in person with teams present at a ceremony on the eve of the tournament.

Third, fairness.  The Mountain West will host its annual postseason baseball tournament in Las Vegas over five days, May 21-25, this year.  The baseball tourney host sites through the 2019 season have already been selected, signaling that it's here to stay.  Why not softball?  Baseball plays a round-robin schedule just like softball, so the fact that there is not a softball tourney, yet there is a baseball tourney raises eyebrows.  The conference hosts championships in 13 sports (baseball, men's basketball, women's basketball, cross country, football, men's golf, women's golf, women's soccer, women's swimming and diving, men's tennis, women's tennis, outdoor track and field, and indoor track and field.)  It could easily add softball, especially since the MW hosted a softball championship for seven seasons, beginning in 2000 and continuing through the 2006 season.  Five different seasons from 2000 to 2006, the Mountain West received multiple NCAA bids.  In 2006, when the conference hosted its final postseason championship tournament, the MW -- for the first time -- received a record three NCAA berths.  The very next season, once the postseason conference tourney was disbanded, the Mountain West dropped back to one NCAA bid.

Fourth, it creates a championship atmosphere.  This is a season where as many as six teams could win the conference title and the race is up in the air.  Imagine the exciting games that could take place this season in front of several thousand fans in one setting.  One of the nation's top fan bases and largest stadiums exists in the Mountain West.  Fresno State has ranked in the nation's Top 10 in softball attendance every year that the NCAA has kept attendance records.  The school has ranked No. 1 in average per game softball attendance 13 different seasons, more than any team in the country.  Simply put, a big stadium with big crowds provides a quality, championship atmosphere for everyone.  Heck, the Mountain West may even be able to swing a deal with a cable provider such as its conference-aligned CBS Sports Network or ESPNU to have one or more tourney games nationally televised, creating increased presence and visibility for the conference. While not every team in the MW has the facilities able to host a conference tourney, there is the option of moving the site from season to season.  San Diego State and UNLV, to name just two, would likely have the ability to host as well.  Though their stadiums aren't as big, they offer destinations where fans would want to travel.

Now that we've (hopefully) encouraged some dialogue to get a tourney at least up for consideration, let's examine a format.  A single-elimination tournament seems to be the way to go.  If you want to save pitchers' arms and create the best possible games, while keeping the tourney at a very manageable three days, here's an easy scenario with nine teams:

Thursday, 9 am GAME ONE - No. 8 seed vs. No. 9 seed
Thursday, 11:30 am GAME TWO - No. 1 seed vs. Game 1 winner
Thursday, 2 pm GAME THREE - No. 4 seed vs. No. 5 seed
Thursday, 4:30 pm GAME FOUR - No. 2 seed vs. No. 7 seed
Thursday, 7 pm GAME FIVE - No. 3 seed vs. No. 6 seed
Friday, 4:30 pm GAME SIX - Game 2 winner vs. Game 3 winner
Friday, 7 pm GAME SEVEN - Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner
Saturday, 1 pm CHAMPIONSHIP - Game 6 winner vs. Game 7 winner

So there you have it.  Quick and easy.  Eight games over three days.  Single elimination.  Every team advances to the postseason tournament, meaning every team has something to look forward to all season long.  Every team will have a chance at the end. With the current round-robin format, some Mountain West teams are playing for pride and nothing else after mid-April.  Holding a conference tournament ensures the team playing the best at the end of the season will advance to the NCAA Tournament.  And it also gives the Mountain West its best shot at grabbing multiple NCAA bids, while creating the best possible championship atmosphere for student-athletes.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Fresno State's Compton no-hits Spartans in 2-0 road win

Sophomore pitcher Jill Compton of Fresno State pitched a no-hitter as the Bulldogs picked up a key road series victory with a 2-0 shutout of San Jose State Wednesday.  Meanwhile, UNLV knocked San Diego State out of a first-place tie with a 2-1 victory in Las Vegas.  Colorado State, just minutes after Fresno State moved alone into first place, joined the Bulldogs atop the conference standings with a run-rule rout of New Mexico.  And finally, Boise State stayed in the thick of the race for the title with two wins at Utah State -- one in a game that was resumed from Tuesday.

Fresno State 2, San Jose State 0 - Jill Compton tossed the second no-hitter of her career and the 71st in Fresno State softball history as the Bulldogs won the series against the Spartans in San Jose.  Compton had the Spartans off balance all day long, striking out seven.  SJSU's lone threat came in the sixth when two walks (one intentional to Jessie Hufstetler, who homered Tuesday) gave the Spartans a pair of base runners.  Brenna Moss and Brooke Ortiz singled to lead off the third, and Moss came home on an RBI groundout by Stesha Brazil.  Michelle Solomon came up with a clutch, 2-out RBI single in the sixth for the Bulldogs' second run.  Vonnie Martin doubled in the game versus SJSU starter and loser Madison Fish.  Compton was the third Bulldog pitcher in history to no-hit San Jose State and the first since All-American Jamie Southern no-hit the Spartans in 2002. 

UNLV 2, San Diego State 1 - The Rebels knocked the Aztecs out of a first-place tie with a series victory in Las Vegas.  Amanda Oliveto and Danielle O'Toole were locked in a pitcher's duel as each allowed five hits in going the distance.  Garie Blando, who had five hits in UNLV's game two victory, hit the first pitch of the day by O'Toole for a home run to give the Rebels a 1-0 lead.  San Diego State tied it in the top of the sixth on an RBI single by Jaylene Ignacio.  UNLV came right back in the bottom of the frame with the game-winner, a double by Jenna DePippo to score Emily Haslinger, who was hit by a pitch.  The 2-time defending Mountain West champs fell a game behind Fresno State and Colorado State in the conference standings, while UNLV is a half-game behind (though two full games back in the loss column).

Colorado State 13, New Mexico 5 (5 innings) - A 5-run bottom of the fifth ended this one in run-rule fashion as the Rams won the series in Fort Collins.  Colorado State was never threatened in this one after scoring six runs in the bottom of the first to remain in a first-place tie in the Mountain West standings.  UNM remained in eighth place among nine teams.  Colorado State had 15 hits to 11 for the Lobos, and Holly Reinke scattered all 11 for the complete-game win.  Lisa Rodrigues started and took the loss, allowing five earned runs in just one-third of an inning.  CSU hit three home runs, and Chelsea O'Connor (3 hits, 5 RBI), Alysa Greckel (3 hits) and Haley Hutton (3 hits) were among the hitting stars of the day.  Danielle Wikre ended the contest via the run rule with a 3-run shot in the fifth.

Boise State 11-10, Utah State 9-1 - The Broncos won two games to complete a 3-game sweep in Logan.  Utah State struggled in a major way without its No.1 player -- ace pitcher Noelle Johnson -- who did not play in either game.  Johnson had been on base when Tuesday's second game was postponed by rain.  When the game was resumed today, Johnson had been replaced by a pinch runner and she did not bat or pitch in either game Wednesday.  Franny Vaaulu and Abby Indreland pitched for the Aggies and struggled.  In the finale, Boise State won in a 10-1 (five innings) rout despite managing just three hits in the contest and being out-hit five to three.  The culprit:  A Mountain West record 17 walks issued by Utah State in the game, including 15 by Vaaulu.  In the final two games of the series, Boise State batters walked 28 times. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Wild games galore Tuesday; 3-way tie remains

We knew this was going to be a wild week.  And it was as good as advertised.  Thrilling games, bizarre finishes, blown leads.  Today had it all.  At the start of Tuesday, three teams were tied for the top spot in the race for the Mountain West title.  At the end of the day, all three (Fresno State, San Diego State and Colorado State) remained tied.  Each split a doubleheader, winning the first game and then blowing a lead in game two.

Fresno State 8, San Jose State 1
San Jose State 5, Fresno State 3
The Bulldogs were the closest to getting a sweep, but suffered another in a month-long series of heartbreaking defeats.  Fresno State easily won game one behind 3-hit performances from both Brenna Moss and Whitney Smith and a strong complete game from pitcher Jill Compton, who won her 17th game.  The 7-run victory represented the largest margin of defeat for the Spartans on their home field in nearly two years.  In the nightcap, Fresno State led 2-0 before San Jose State rallied to tie it in the fifth.  The Bulldogs quickly regained the lead in the sixth by a 3-2 margin and held it into the bottom of the seventh.  A walk-off, 3-run home run by Jessie Hufstetler won it, with Hannah Harris giving up the game-winning runs in the seventh for a second straight outing.  Fresno State out-hit SJSU in both games, holding a 22-14 lead in that category for the afternoon.  The Bulldogs committed a pair of costly errors in the nightcap, stranded seven base runners and ran themselves out of innings with some overly aggressive base running at times.  Fresno State's last five losses have all been decided in the game's final inning when the Bulldogs either led or were tied.

San Diego St. 9, UNLV 8 (8 innings)
UNLV 12, San Diego St. 9
Both of these games were wild affairs in Las Vegas.  UNLV rallied from three runs down in the bottom of the seventh of the opener to send it to extra innings, only to see the Aztecs rally for the victory.  In the nightcap, San Diego State stormed to a 4-0 lead, then saw the Rebels come back to tie it.  After the Aztecs regained the lead at 5-4, a 4-run bottom of the fourth by UNLV put the Rebels in front 8-5.  No lead was comfortable in this one.  Immediately after falling behind by three runs, SDSU responded with four of its own to recapture the lead 9-8.  From there, it was four straight Rebels runs for the final margin.  In the top of the seventh, the Aztecs loaded the bases and brought the potential game-winning run to the plate, but Amanda Oliveto (the third Rebels pitcher in the game) worked out of a jam.  Patrice Jackson hit two home runs in the contest, giving her 15 for the season.  Reigning MW Player of the Week Emily Haslinger continued her home run barrage of late with another one.  Garie Blando had five hits for UNLV in the nightcap.

Colorado State 6, New Mexico 0
New Mexico 6, Colorado State 3
The Lobos picked up their second road win in conference play by taking the nightcap of Tuesday's doubleheader, snapping the Rams' 11-game home winning streak in Fort Collins.  After easily dispatching of the Lobos in game one behind Holly Reinke's third shutout of the season, the Rams were held in check by Carrie Sheehan in the nightcap.  Colorado State built an early 2-0 lead in the first inning of game two, and appeared on its way to a sweep.  The Rams left 10 runners stranded on base and were out-hit by UNM nine to six in game two.  Mariah Rimmer had three hits, and was a home run shy of hitting for the cycle in the nightcap. Naomi Tellez had a pair of hits and RBI.

Boise State 5, Utah State 1
Utah State 6, Boise State 5 (suspended, rain)
The Broncos won game one of Tuesday's scheduled doubleheader, but were trailing the host Aggies in the third inning of game two before lightning and rain came.  The game was suspended and will resume where it was left off on noon Wednesday.  The final game of the 3-game series will take place after the conclusion of the resumed game.  The opener was a tight pitcher's duel until the seventh.  Starters Rebecca Patton (Boise State) and Noelle Johnson (Utah State) were locked in a 1-0 game with the Broncos leading.  It remained that way until the seventh when BSU opened it up with four runs.  A Brittany McCray homer in the seventh got the Broncos started, and Tara Glover added a 2-run triple.  Johnson homered in the bottom of the frame for the Aggies' lone run.