Friday, May 15, 2015

Fresno State falls 8-7 to BYU; Aztecs fall 8-3 to Texas

A Mountain West championship season came to a disappointing end as Fresno State fought hard but ultimately could not hold a sixth inning lead and allowed BYU to escape with an 8-7 win at the Eugene Regional in the NCAA Tournament Friday.

In contrast to how the team finished down the stretch in the regular season, the Bulldogs were not all that sharp defensively or in the pitching circle for the second day in a row.  Conference Pitcher of the Year Jill Compton looked strong early, but the Bulldogs couldn't help her out with some shaky defense, a couple of base running mistakes, and leaving too many runners on base.  In a 1-run game, those miscues were the difference.

Brenna Moss led off the first inning with a single, but was thrown out trying to steal second base for the first out of the game.  It would prove crucial after Michelle Solomon launched a home run to left one batter later.  Instead of a 2-run lead, it was just 1-0, and the game remained that way until the fourth.

The first five BYU batters reached base safely in the fourth, including two with help from Compton via a walk and hit-by-pitch.  After four hits, including a 2-run double from Alexis Strid, the Cougars had put five runs on the board and led 5-1.  Taylor Langdon was summoned from the bullpen.

To their credit, the Bulldogs responded immediately in the bottom half of the fourth and made it a 5-3 game.  Bria Kennedy and Whitney Smith hit run-scoring singles, but Malia Rivers grounded out with the bases loaded, preventing a bigger rally.  An inning later, Fresno State would regain the lead.

In the fifth, Solomon walked to lead things off, and Kierra Willis reached on a fielder's choice before both runners advanced on a wild pitch.  Paige Gumz hit a sacrifice fly to make it a 5-4 game before Alyssa Villalpando singled to tie it.  After Kennedy walked and Chase LeeHong singled to load the bases with one out, Smith hit a grounder that allowed Fresno State to take a 6-5 lead when the BYU throw home was late.

The Bulldogs missed a big chance to blow the game open as Moss, who completed her 4-year career with one single in NCAA Tournament play, grounded into an inning-ending double play in what would turn out to be her final at-bat as a collegian.  Not taking advantage of scoring opportunities told the tale of the game.

In the sixth, BYU took the lead for good with the help of a big Bulldog error.  With one out and no one on base, the Cougars got a single from Lacey Hofstedt.  Gordy Bravo then followed with a single to right-center, and Hofstedt was headed to third.  Villalpando, standing at third base, took the throw and attempted to relay it to second base to get Bravo, who likely would've been out.  Instead, Villapando's throw sailed wide past second and careened into the outfield, allowing Hofstedt to score the tying run.  After Langdon got a fly out for out number two, the error proved extremely costly when Mercedes O'Connor hit a 2-run home run to left that made it 8-6.

In the bottom of the seventh, Villalpando redeemed herself with a deep blast over the fence in left, crushing the ball to pull the Bulldogs within a run.  It would be Fresno State's last hit of the season, though, as BYU pitcher McKenna Bull retired the next three Bulldog batters in succession.  Villalpando finished with a game-high three hits and two RBI to go with her two errors.  Trisha Ford's squad ended up out-hitting the Cougars 11 to 10, but the four errors in two games -- all by Villalpando and Rivers, the only two players with NCAA Tournament experience prior to this season, ironically -- were key.

Fresno State went 0-2 in NCAA Tournament regional play for the first time in 29 years and just the second time in 31 all-time NCAA appearances for the Bulldogs.  Fresno State had won at least one game in 25 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances dating to 1987.  The only previous time a Bulldog softball team went 0-2 in the NCAA tourney was back in 1986.

Immediately after eliminating the Bulldogs, BYU was itself eliminated in a 7-0 rout by North Dakota State.  The 24th-ranked Bison and No. 1-ranked Oregon, the No. 2 national seed, will meet for the Eugene Regional title Saturday.

Texas 8, San Diego State 3 - In the NCAA Los Angeles Regional, the San Diego State Aztecs surged to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning with the help of a pair of Texas errors, but watched the Longhorns score eight unanswered runs.  SDSU got a leadoff walk from Kayla Jordan and a single from Leia Ruiz to begin the game.  With one out in the first, Jenavee Peres hit a single and the Aztecs took advantage of a Longhorn error in the outfield for a 1-0 lead.  Taylor Stewart followed with an RBI single to make it 2-0 before Sydnee Cable reached on the second error of the inning with two outs, allowing a third run to score.  Down 3-0, Texas would turn it on, scoring five runs in the bottom of the first inning against Erica Romero and taking the lead for good.  The Longhorns had five hits in the bottom of the first, including four straight hits with two outs.  Among them:  a 2-run, 2-out double by Gabby Smith, who also earned the pitching win for the Longhorns.  Texas, which lost to Mountain West champion Fresno State during the regular season, would go on to score in each of the first four innings to break it open.  Erin Shireman hit a home run in the fourth inning and finished with three hits and three RBI as part of the 9-hit Texas attack.  Romero struck out two and walked five batters in the game.  Saturday, the Longhorns will meet UCLA, a 9-1 (five innings) winner over Cal State Northridge, while San Diego State meets the Matadors at 2:30 pm in the first elimination game of the Los Angeles Regional.  Cal State Northridge, the Big West champion, stumbled to the finish line and enters its game with SDSU having lost four of its last five games and six of nine.