Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ford takes job with Sun Devils as Fresno State looks for new coach

Trisha Ford, after four years as the head coach at Fresno State, has left the school to become head coach at Arizona State of the Pac-12, it was announced Wednesday.

The announcement came via Twitter as Arizona State confirmed her hiring early Wednesday morning, and Fresno State athletic director Jim Bartko sent out a pair of tweets of his own.  One thanked Ford for her service to the university, and the other signaled that Fresno State had immediately begun its national search for a new head coach.

In a rather telling move, Fresno State removed Ford and her assistant coaches' names from the official university athletic department web site's softball roster almost immediately Wednesday morning.

Ford went 143-71-1 as the Bulldogs' head coach, leading Fresno State to back-to-back Mountain West championships the past two seasons, a second-place finish in her second season, and a tie for second place in her first year (2013).  She was named conference coach of the year each of the past two seasons when Fresno State advanced to the NCAA Tournament.  The Bulldogs finished the year ranked No. 22 in both major polls.

In two NCAA Tournament appearances under Ford, Fresno State went a combined 1-4.  The one NCAA Tournament win is the fewest number of postseason victories during a 4-year stretch in program history.  That lone postseason win came this season in an 8-5 victory over surprising WAC tournament champion Cal State Bakersfield, which finished the year just 16-34 overall.

During Ford's tenure at Fresno State, she went 4-11-1 in 16 games versus the Pac-12.  One of those four wins came this season via forfeit when the NCAA awarded the Bulldogs a win in a controversial game against Cal at the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton.

Ford's game results as Fresno State head coach vs. the Pac-12:

  • March 1, 2013 - LOST vs. UCLA 7-1
  • March 9, 2013 - LOST vs. California 1-0
  • February 7, 2014 - LOST vs. Oregon 10-9
  • February 9, 2014 - LOST vs. Arizona State 7-0
  • February 21, 2014 - LOST vs. Arizona 8-0 (5 innings)
  • March 9, 2014 - WON vs. Washington 1-0
  • February 15, 2015 - LOST vs. California 14-9
  • February 21, 2015 - WON vs. Stanford 13-8
  • February 28, 2015 - LOST vs. Oregon State 16-12
  • March 7, 2015 - LOST vs. Oregon 3-0
  • March 8, 2015 - LOST vs. Arizona 7-1
  • February 14, 2016 - WON vs. Utah 2-0
  • February 27, 2016 - LOST vs. Oregon 9-0 (5 innings)
  • March 6, 2016 - TIED vs. Oregon State 6-6
  • March 6, 2016 - WON vs. California by forfeit 7-0
  • March 12, 2016 - LOST vs. Washington 12-3
For such a storied program, there were a few glitches along the way during Ford's tenure.  A 5-game losing streak in her first season is tied for the most consecutive losses in school softball history.  The 61 wins in her first two seasons, a decent amount at most programs, are the fewest during any 2-year stretch since the Bulldogs began playing NCAA Division I softball in 1982,  The team's final RPI of 116 following the 2013 season is the first and only time the program has been outside the RPI top 100 since the RPI became an evaluation tool for NCAA Tournament seeding purposes.

Ford became the only Fresno State softball coach to miss the NCAA Tournament in back to back seasons since the school joined the NCAA D-I softball ranks, failing to take the Bulldogs to the postseason in both of her first two years at the helm.  Probably most concerning to Fresno State fans was the team's 1-4 record in NCAA Tournament play in Ford's four seasons. The third-winningest program in NCAA softball history, Fresno State won 76 NCAA Tournament games, including 26 at the Women's College World Series, during legendary head coach Margie Wright's 27-year tenure that ended in 2012.

No one said following a legend would be easy.

This past season, Fresno State set several school records, including a 23-game winning streak that included a perfect April when the Bulldogs went 15-0.  The team set single-season records in home runs (61) and walks.  Conversely, Fresno State's pitching staff  -- despite a successful campaign where it went 42-12-1 overall -- finished with the highest team ERA in school history at 3.49, albeit against a difficult schedule.  The Bulldogs went 82-26-1 in Ford's final two seasons, including 42-5 in Mountain West play.

Given Fresno State's rich tradition that includes a national record 32 NCAA Tournament appearances, 12 trips to the Women's College World Series and the 1998 NCAA championship, the current job opening is expected to receive significant interest.  A big advantage for the Bulldogs in their nationwide search for a new head coach:  the school has one of the country's premier softball facilities in Margie Wright Diamond, and one of the nation's largest softball fan bases to fill it.

The new head coach will inherit a Bulldog team coming off back-to-back Mountain West titles, a strong cast of returning players, and one of the strongest classes of incoming talent in program history.  Fresno State's 2016-17 recruiting class is ranked 18th in the nation by Flo Softball, and the Bulldogs were the only non-power conference school ranked in Flo Softball's list of the top 25 recruiting classes.  Five Bulldogs are listed as national Top 100 recruits.

Among the incoming talent slated at Fresno State for next year:  left-handed ace pitcher Giselle Juarez, a Gatorade Arizona State Player of the Year finalist and West Valley Preps Girls Athlete of the Year honoree who led her high school team to back-to-back appearances in the Arizona Division I state championship final; Kindra and Maddi Hackbarth, twin sisters who captured section MVP (Kindra, a .667 hitter) and Defensive Player of the Year (Maddi, a section-leading 11 home runs this season) honors at Oakdale High; Haley Fuller, a teammate of the Hackbarth sisters who tied Maddi for the section lead with 11 home runs at Oakdale; 3-time first team all-state infielder Miranda Rohleder from Wichita, Kansas; Samantha Mejia, a 3-time conference Pitcher of the Year at Ridgeview (Bakersfield, CA); and Lizzy Torosian, a 2-time MVP at catcher for Mount Whitney High in Visalia.

Premier Girls Fastpitch just honored four of those incoming players -- Juarez, the Hackbarth twins, and Rohleder -- as All-Americans.

Returning to the Bulldogs squad next year are six players who started Fresno State's final game of the 2016 season in the NCAA Tournament:  Mountain West Player of the Year and first team NFCA All-Pacific Region pick Kierra Willis, who led the league in walks, runs and on-base percentage; first team All-Mountain West and All-Pacific Region selection Lindsey Willmon, who hit .363 and led the 2016 Bulldogs in hits (61), home runs (12), doubles (13) and triples (3); second team All-Mountain West pick Malia Rivers, who hit .306 with 56 hits and a team-high 14 stolen bases in 2016; Morgan Howe, who hit a team-high .371 as a freshman; Vanessa Hernandez, who started 48 games as a freshman center fielder and committed just one error; and pitcher Kamalani Dung, who had a stellar freshman campaign but was somehow overlooked in Mountain West postseason honors.  Dung went 8-1 in the circle as a freshman, including a complete-game win over NCAA Tournament qualifier Long Beach State.  She went 5-0 in conference play, surging into the starting lineup when 2-time all-conference pitcher Hannah Harris went down with a season-ending knee injury in late March.  Also returning: Dominique Jackson, who hit 11 home runs as a freshman last season, including one against eventual NCAA champion Oklahoma.  Jackson finished with a .568 slugging percentage and was one of the Bulldogs' most feared hitters at the plate.

Whoever comes in to coach the Bulldogs will have a host of talent ready to go.  In fact, on paper at least, Fresno State appears to be the preseason Mountain West favorite once again, and will likely begin the 2017 season where it ended this one:  firmly planted in the Top 25.

The first coaching names to surface in social media chatter:  Oregon State head coach Laura Berg, the  USA Olympian who was part of the 1998 NCAA champion Fresno State softball team, and one of just two former Bulldog softball players to have their jersey number retired at the school; UCLA assistant coach and USA Olympian Lisa Fernandez, who led the Bruins to a pair of NCAA titles as a pitcher; and Sara Pickering, an assistant under Ford the past four seasons.  Pickering was an All-American second baseman during her playing days at Washington, and often mentioned by Bulldog players as being instrumental in their on-field success the past four years.