Saturday, May 21, 2016

Bulldogs beat Bakersfield before errors prove costly again vs. Titans

Fresno State's strong 2016 season came to an end Saturday evening in Los Angeles as the Bulldogs fell one game shy of reaching the NCAA Los Angeles Regional championship game.

Needing to win to stay alive in the afternoon session, Fresno State came up with an 8-5 win over Cal State Bakersfield, putting an end to the Roadrunners' season.  Then later, errors reared their ugly head for the second day in a row in a 7-1 loss to Cal State Fullerton, ending the Bulldogs' season.

In the opener, Alyssa Villalpando hit a home run and double, Bria Kennedy had a double among her three hits, and freshman Morgan Howe had a pair of hits, including a double of her own as the 'Dogs stormed to an 8-2 lead over Bakersfield.  After the Roadrunners crept closer and cut the lead to 8-5 in the fifth, freshman pitcher Kamalani Dung entered in relief of starting and winning pitcher Jill Compton, and was untouchable.

Dung retired all eight batters she faced against Bakersfield, striking out five, to earn the save in her first NCAA Tournament appearance.  Compton scattered seven hits to earn her first NCAA Tournament victory and 88th all-time in a Bulldog uniform.  It would be the last game Compton would pitch as a collegian.

Compton finished her career in sixth place in wins among Fresno State pitchers, one behind Morgan Melloh's 89 victories.  In an ironic twist, both Compton and Melloh ended their careers on the same field -- UCLA's Easton Stadium -- in the NCAA Tournament.

In the nightcap, Fresno State took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning when Lindsey Willmon homered off Cal State Fullerton's Sydney Golden, the Big West Freshman of the Year.  The Bulldogs, who had two hits in the first inning against the Titans but left both runners stranded, would not have a hit the rest of the game after Willmon's blast.  That home run was the 61st of the season for Fresno State, shattering the school record for homers in a season.  Prior to this year, the Bulldogs had never hit more than 51 round-trippers in a single season.

Dung started the late game Saturday against Fullerton and pitched well, but was betrayed by the Bulldogs' defense.  Fresno State committed three errors in the game, leading to the first four runs of the game for Fullerton.  The Titans grabbed a 2-1 lead on a 2-out home run following a Bulldog error in the second.  Two back-to-back errors in the fourth opened the floodgates and paved the way for two more runs.

Fullerton coach Kelly Ford, after Willmon's home run, replaced Golden in the circle with Big West Pitcher of the Year Desiree Ybarra, and the game was basically over.  Ybarra was on fire, and mowing down 'Dogs batters.  After Fresno State's defensive implosion, the offense fizzled too, with help from Ybarra, who did not allow a hit over the final five innings.

In a season where Fresno State reeled off a school-record 23 straight wins, no one was able to do to them what the Titans did.  Cal State Fullerton handed the Bulldogs 25% (3 of 12) of their entire losses for the season.  Fresno State finished 42-12-1 overall, and committed five errors in the three games versus the Titans, including four in NCAA Tournament play.

Dung took the loss, her first as collegian, ending a promising freshman campaign with an 8-1 record.  Fullerton (45-15) advances to face UCLA Sunday at noon for the regional title.  The Titans must beat the Bruins twice to advance to Super Regionals.

For Fresno State, the Bulldogs head home disappointed, but with a lot to be proud of this season.  In addition to 42 wins and a second-straight Mountain West title, Fresno State will almost certainly head into 2017 as the preseason conference favorite again and likely ranked in the Top 25.  Next season, the Bulldogs return 14 letterwinners, including Mountain West Player of the Year and first team All-Region pick Kierra Willis, All-MW and All-Region selection Willmon, and all-conference second baseman Malia Rivers, in addition to Dung and several other key contributors and starters.

Head coach Trisha Ford also welcomes the most decorated recruiting class of her career.  Fresno State in 2017 will feature the nation's 18th-best incoming recruiting class, as rated by Flo Softball.  That group includes state high school Gatorade Player of the Year finalists, and five players listed among Flo Softball's National Top 100 recruits.