Sunday, March 6, 2016

#21 Fresno St. faces #22 Oregon St. & # 27 Cal... and loses neither game

Blame it on a wet Southern California weekend of El Nino weather.  Or blame it on the fact we're in a Leap Year.  Or maybe it has to do with the upcoming switch to Daylight Savings Time this coming week.

Whatever the reason, it was a strange Sunday.  It was literally the strangest Sunday in Fresno State and Mountain West softball history.  Somebody grab the record books because it could be the strangest day in college softball history too.

Ties in softball are rare.  In fact, they usually only happen in regular-season tournament play when strange occurrences like travel decisions dictate the time of a game.  Well it happened to Fresno State Sunday ... twice.

In the 39-year history of the Bulldog softball program, Fresno State had one tie -- 30 years ago in a 2-2 tie with Pacific during the 1986 season -- before today.  And what happened Sunday was unbelievable as the Bulldogs (ranked 21st and 22nd in the two major national polls) took on a pair of Pac-12 and national powers at the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton.

Fresno State finished in a 6-6 tie with an Oregon State team that entered the game 16-4 overall, and ranked 22nd in the Softball and just outside the Top 25 at No. 26 in the latest USA Today/NFCA coaches poll.  The game ended after seven innings due to a pre-established, "drop-dead time" of 3 p.m. in Fullerton.  The teams agreed before the game that it would end at 3 p.m. because the Oregon State team needed to make its flight back to Corvallis.  (The game started at about 1 p.m. after morning rain delayed the action in Fullerton from the scheduled 11:30 a.m. start.)

What followed was more bizarre.  Immediately after the 6-6 tie with Oregon State, the Bulldogs were set to take on a California team that entered the game 10-6 overall, and just outside the national Top 25 rankings after dropping out last week.  Cal is ranked 27th in the USA Today/NFCA poll and 29th in the current Softball rankings.

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While the Cal Bears team was scheduled for a 7 p.m. flight, there was apparently, according to the Flo Softball video broadcast announcers, no pre-established "drop-dead" time for this game.  But promptly after six innings of play, umpires could be seen talking to Fresno State head coach Trisha Ford and giving her the news that the game was, indeed, over.  It was called after six innings of play with the score tied 2-2.  (Edited:  Fresno State's official game story is now NOT calling the Cal game a tie, and says that the NCAA will rule on the outcome at a later date.  It seems possible, given the circumstances, that it could be a forfeit by Cal, with Fresno State being awarded the win.  We will post it here when the NCAA makes its ruling.  The Bulldogs and Bears are no strangers to controversy in softball, with several games ending in drama over the years.  Today's meeting was the 110th between the schools in the sport, with Fresno State holding a 63-46 edge in the series.) (Edited again:  Cal's official game story is now calling today's game a "no contest.") (Edited again: The Fresno Bee is calling the game vs. Cal a tie.)

And there it was.  Fresno State concluded the day going 0-0-2 against the Pac-12 powers on one of the strangest days the Bulldog softball program will ever see.  Making matters worse:  the Bulldogs lost their star pitcher to a freakish injury.  With the score 0-0 in the top of the second, Fresno State's Jill Compton, the reigning Mountain West Pitcher of the Year and NFCA First-Team All-Pacific Region selection who was the NFCA National Pitcher of the Week just two weeks ago, was injured on a line drive comebacker to the circle off a Cal bat.

Compton appeared to suffer injuries to her jaw and hand, and was removed from the game and did not return.  Her status is unknown.  Taylor Langdon and Hannah Harris filled in admirably in her absence, as the Bulldogs came from two runs down to tie the game 2-2.  Fresno State had several chances to break the game open, but stranded nine, including seven in scoring position.  Just like in the previous game against Oregon State, the Bulldogs left the potential game-winning run at third base in their final at-bat.  Fresno State left the bases loaded in each of the final two innings against the Bears, and was unable to score in the fourth when it had the bases loaded with just one out.

Malia Rivers and Paige Gumz had two hits apiece against Cal, while Alyssa Villalpando completed a fantastic day.  Villalpando finished with six RBI in the two games, and her RBI single with two outs in the fifth pulled the Bulldogs into a tie.  Her game against Oregon State was even better.  Against the Beavers, Villalpando hit a pair of 2-run home runs and later added another RBI that brought her team back from a 6-2 deficit.  Bria Kennedy also homered for the Bulldogs against Oregon State freshman standout Meehra Nelson.

Fresno State had defensive issues in both games, including a few that were more of the mental variety than reflected on the scoreboard in the errors column.  Wild throws and the sometimes inability to cover first base on simple bunt plays led to big issues, especially in a 6-run top of the second for Oregon State.  Bulldog freshman pitcher Kamalani Dung got the start, and after a perfect top of the first inning, was betrayed a bit by her team's defense with some infield blunders that forced her from the game despite a fine effort.  Harris came on in relief and did a great job keeping OSU off the board after the second.

Oregon State is now 16-4-1, while Cal is 10-6-1.  Fresno State, which has now played a juggernaut of a schedule that includes Oregon, Oregon State, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Cal, Utah, Baylor and several others, is 13-5-2.  That includes a 2-3-2 record vs. teams that have been ranked in the Top 25 this season.

Elsewhere Sunday, UNLV got the first collegiate home run by Chrissi Omalza against St. Mary's, but it wasn't enough as the Gaels surprised the Rebels in Las Vegas 4-3.  New Mexico completed a 3-game home sweep of Northern Colorado with a 10-1 victory (five innings) to improve to 11-7 and hand the Bears their 10th loss in 11 games.  Boise State suffered its seventh 1-run loss of the season and third of the weekend, falling 5-4 to Seattle University.  Utah State picked up a 5-1 win over Santa Clara when the Broncos committed six errors in the game.  Colorado State won twice, 8-6 over Idaho State and 10-6 over Nebraska-Omaha, a game where freshman Bridgette Hutton threw a complete game to earned her second win.  And San Diego State was rained out at home in a game versus Portland State, meaning the Aztecs finished their home tournament with one win.