Thursday, February 23, 2017

Bulldogs' streak in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25 poll ends

After going 2-3 last weekend at the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge, Fresno State fell out of the Top 25 rankings in the USA Today/NFCA coaches poll released Tuesday.

The Bulldogs fell nine spots, from No. 21, to the "receiving votes" category.  With seven votes, Fresno State ranks 30th in the country this week.

It snapped a string where the Bulldogs were ranked in 17 consecutive coaches Top 25 polls, dating back to week one of the 2016 season.  This was Fresno State's longest stretch of being nationally ranked since spending 19 consecutive polls in the Top 25 during the 2008-09 seasons.  In 2008, the 'Dogs reached as high as No. 10 in the USA Today/NFCA poll.  This time, Fresno State reached a peak of No. 17.

Coach Linda Garza's squad also fell out of the D1 Softball News Top 25 poll after being ranked 22nd a week ago.  The Bulldogs earned enough votes to rank 29th this week in that poll, which can be viewed here.

No other Mountain West softball team has received a vote in the national polls this season.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Weekend in review: Hits, misses & a whole lot of rain

Well, this past weekend, we learned what happened when two-thirds of the teams in one conference all go to the same rain-soaked tournament:  a whole lot of rainouts.

The Mountain West sent six of its nine teams to the DeMarini Desert Classic in Las Vegas, where rain and wet grounds cause big problems.  The entire Saturday slate was wiped out, resulting in 14 rainouts.  Sunday's schedule was reworked, but even then, wet grounds caused a portion of games to be canceled.

Meanwhile, No. 21/22 Fresno State went on its first international trip in history, participating in the highly-competitive Puerto Vallarta College Challenge, and Nevada and New Mexico appeared in tourneys elsewhere.

Here's how it went:

Fresno State - It was an inconsistent weekend for the Bulldogs, who struggled on defense at times, and had mixed results.  Fresno State is playing the most demanding schedule of all Mountain West teams again, and is paying the price a bit for scheduling so tough with such a young team and new head coach.  There were highs and lows in Puerto Vallarta.  The highs were very high:  Sophomore pitcher Kamalani Dung threw her first career no-hitter and third shutout in a 7-day span in a 9-0 rout over a Florida Gulf Coast team predicted to finish second in the Atlantic Sun Conference.  A marquee win followed over Cal State Fullerton, but it was way more difficult than it should have been.  Leading 9-1 in the fifth inning with one out and no one on base, and on the verge of a run-rule win over the Big West favorites, the Bulldogs imploded.  Fresno State allowed an astonishing nine runs -- all with two outs -- to fall behind 10-9.  The game went extra innings and the Bulldogs' offensive firepower was enough for a 12-11 win, but their already-thin pitching staff was taxed in a 3 1/2 hour marathon.  Having to face Texas Tech later that same day, the Bulldogs were leading 4-2 before again having trouble.  The Red Raiders scored seven consecutive runs before a Fresno State rally fell short in a 9-6 loss.  A key error allowed three unearned runs against Tech, and that was the difference.  Defense was a problem in all three losses in Puerto Vallarta as Fresno State gave up a shocking nine unearned runs in its three losses -- including all 4 runs in a 4-3 setback to FGCU.  No stat tells the story more than this one:  In games where the Bulldogs did not commit an error, they went 2-0.  In games where they committed errors, they went 0-3, including a tough opening-game loss to Mississippi State, where a key, 2-out error allowed two unearned runs and snapped a 1-1 tie in an eventual 4-1 loss.

UNLV - The Rebels went 4-0 in their home tournament this weekend and have played all nine of their games at home.  The game versus probably their biggest 'name' opponent of the weekend -- Memphis -- was rained out.  Three of the four wins came by one run against a group of foes who don't exactly look all that great on paper.  UNLV's victories came over teams that are currently 6-23-1 combined.  If yous subtract Northern Iowa's 5-3 record, it looks even worse:  three of the wins came against Idaho State, Weber State and UTEP, two of whom have not won a game this season.  Combined, those three teams are just 1-20-1.  So while the 7-2 record for the Rebels looks nice and the victory over UNI is solid, we will get a better measure of this team once it hits the road.  And it will come soon enough.  This weekend, the Rebels will travel to Hawai'i and meet the Rainbow Wahine twice, and nationally-ranked Oregon once, among others.

San Diego State - The Aztecs went 1-1 in their rain-shortened Campbell-Cartier Classic in San Diego, which had its final three days wiped out by rain pounding the Golden State.  A win over UC Riverside was followed by one of the tougher pills to swallow for San Diego State in recent years.  SDSU had No. 8 ranked Washington on the ropes, leading the Huskies 5-3 in the seventh inning.  But much like Fresno State, defensive miscues ruined the weekend.  The Aztecs, leading by two runs and just two outs away from their first win over a Top 10-ranked team since 2008, committed two errors in the seventh inning and allowed Washington to escape with a 6-5 triumph.  It ended a string of 24 straight games SDSU had won when leading after five innings.  There were bright spots in the loss, as the Aztecs managed eights hits, including two home runs, off UW's ace Taran Alvelo, who'd just won National Player of the Week honors days earlier.  And freshman pitcher Marissa Moreno went the distance against the Huskies, allowing eight hits to a potent office.  But to be so close, this one will sting a bit.

Utah State - The Aggies only got two games in during their stint in Las Vegas, losing in an 8-0 run-rule rout (five innings) to Memphis, and posting a 3-1 win over Southern Utah.  Games against UTEP, Weber State and Texas State (one of the best opponents USU was to face in the non-conference portion of its schedule) were rained out.

Boise State - After just two weekends, it's becoming clear this isn't the Boise State team of the last couple of years.  The Broncos, mired in last place in the Mountain West standings the past two seasons, went 4-0 in Las Vegas.  Let's be clear:  none of the victories would be considered marquee wins, and the competition wasn't great.  But baby steps for a program that has seen some rough times lately.  The biggest improvement has been in pitching.  Opponents are hitting just .277 against Boise State after two weekends, and that's a big change from last season.  The 2-1 win over Memphis, for example, was an eye-opener after Memphis dispatched of Utah State 8-0 in five innings later that same day.

Colorado State - The Rams went 3-1 in Las Vegas, being shut out 3-0 by the best team they played -- Texas State -- but winning three games against Idaho State, Weber State and Northern Iowa just like UNLV.  Not too much was surprising about these results.  Probably the best news for CSU came from across the country this weekend when Maryland upset No. 1-ranked Florida.  Colorado State beat the Terrapins twice on the opening weekend of the season and now knows it was able to beat the team that, in turn, took down the Gators.  After two weeks, CSU's pitching is well ahead of its hitting as the Rams are batting only .251 as a team.  Only three players on the entire team are currently batting over .275.

New Mexico - This wasn't a weekend to write home about as UNM went winless and dropped all five games at the Texas A&M tournament.  Offense and defense have both been problems.  UNM committed a pair of key, seventh inning errors while trying to maintain a lead in its final game of the weekend against Missouri State, and now has 12 errors already in 10 games.  On offense, the firepower is not there yet.  New Mexico is batting just .231 as a team, and it's even worse when you take an in-depth look.  Of those players on the Lobos squad with at least 10 at-bats this season, only two are hitting over .207.  With nearly 20 percent of the season already in the books, Jasmine Casados is the only Lobos player with more than six hits.  Things must improve drastically in that area for UNM to compete in the Mountain West this season.

Nevada - The Wolf Pack faced rainouts in Las Vegas, but managed to get three games in.  Nevada went 2-1 with the wins being of the 'meh' variety -- over Southern Utah and UTEP, who are 1-16 overall combined.  In the one game against a quality opponent, Nevada struggled and was no-hit in an 8-0 (five innings) run-rule loss to BYU.

San Jose State - Like nearly every other Mountain West team that went to Las Vegas this past weekend, there were some ho-hum wins -- again over Southern Utah and UTEP, who are a combined 1-16 overall.  There were also two losses, one of which was shocking.  San Jose State's bats went quiet in a 4-1 loss to previously winless Weber State.  The Wildcats were 0-7-1 entering that contest.  San Jose State was also shut out by Hawai'i 3-0, marking the fifth time already in two weekends that SJSU has scored one or no runs in a game.  For a program that's made its name lately through offense, the lack of hitting is a real surprise.  San Jose State has a team batting average of .254, nearly 100 points lower than a season ago.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Fresno State's Dung throws her first career no-hitter in win over FGCU

Fresno State sophomore right-hander Kamalani Dung tossed the first no-hitter of her collegiate career Friday as the Bulldogs beat Florida Gulf Coast 9-0 (five innings) in a run-rule rout at the Puerto Vallarta Challenge in Mexico.

Dung has flirted with perfection much of this season -- and her career -- but it wasn't until Friday that she added her name to the list of talented Fresno State pitchers to accomplish the feat.  It was the 73rd no-hitter in Bulldog history and the first by a Fresno State pitcher since 2-time Mountain West Pitcher of the Year Jill Compton got it done nearly two years ago against Iowa.

Dung went 8-0 during the regular season as a freshman a year ago, and improved to 4-1 this year with her third complete-game shutout in eight days.  Along with Friday's no-hitter, she has a pair of 3-hit shutouts this season against Big Ten teams Indiana and Purdue.

Fresno State scored in every inning as freshman Miranda Rohleder went 2-for-2 with two RBI and three runs scored.  Rohleder improved her team-leading batting average to .650 in the victory.  Junior Savannah McHellon, leading the Bulldogs and the Mountain West in RBI, added two more, along with a hit.  Every Fresno State starter reached base safely in the contest.  McHellon, Kindra Hackbarth, and Vanessa Hernandez all hit doubles.

Both the Bulldogs and Eagles are 5-3 on the season.

Errors doom Fresno State, San Diego State in tough losses

San Diego State was about to get its first win over a Top 10-ranked team in nearly a decade before a seventh inning meltdown against No. 8/9 Washington Thursday in San Diego.

Meanwhile, No. 21/22 Fresno State allowed a total of just two earned runs spread over two games Thursday, but committed costly errors that allowed six unearned runs, which were the difference in a 4-1 setback to Mississippi State and a 4-3 decision to Florida Gulf Coast.

SDSU freshman pitcher Marissa Moreno pitched well but suffered the loss.  She and the Aztecs went toe to toe with heavy-hitting Washington and star pitcher Taran Alvelo and appeared to have the game in hand, up by two runs entering the final inning.  In the fateful seventh, with one out and no one on base, Moreno gave up a home run to cut it to 5-4.  Two errors -- both by freshman shortstop Shelby Thompson -- and two unearned runs later, the Aztecs were staring at a 6-5 defeat.

While one streak ended for San Diego State, another continued.  The Aztecs had their string of 24 straight wins when leading after five innings snapped.  But their streak of 36 consecutive losses to Top 10-ranked teams continues.  SDSU has not beaten an opponent ranked in the Top 10 since 2008.

Fresno State's Kamalani Dung (3-1) suffered her first loss of the year, and her own throwing error proved to be the difference.  An errant throw from Dung, with two outs in the second inning, allowed Mississippi State to score a pair of unearned runs.  Instead of heading to the third inning tied 1-1, the error accounted for what would turn out to be the game-winning run.  Both teams had seven hits in the contest, and Dung went the distance allowing just the two earned runs but took the loss.

Things were even worse later in a 4-3 loss to Florida Gulf Coast by the Bulldogs.  All four runs scored by FGCU were unearned against Fresno State's Savannah McHellon, who went the distance and absorbed the loss, despite allowing just three hits.  FGCU scored all four of its runs with two outs in the second.  With the bases loaded, a force at the plate appeared like it would end the inning, but freshman catcher Maddi Hackbarth's miscue started what would become a 4-run rally.

Fresno State attempted its own rally in the seventh, with three runs and five hits, cutting the margin to 4-3.  The Bulldogs had the tying run in scoring position and go-ahead run on base when the game ended.  In a stinging defeat, Fresno State out-hit FGCU 9-3.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Fresno State smashes records and blasts Stanford 24-8 in romp

Well, we predicted No. 22/24 Fresno State would have perhaps the most explosive offense in school history this season.  But for it to begin on the opening weekend of the season?  And against a Pac-12 opponent?  What happened Sunday was amazing.

In her first weekend coaching Fresno State, new Bulldog head coach Linda Garza wasted no time setting records.  Fresno State tied the all-time school record for runs and home runs in a game, and set the school mark in RBI for a single game in a stunning 24-8 (5 innings) run-rule rout of the Stanford Cardinal at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe.

The 'Dogs tied the runs record set three seasons ago in a 24-4 win at Boise State, and tied the single-game home runs record of six set 13 years ago in a win at Nevada.  Fresno State's 23 RBI in the contest established a new school record, snapping the old record of 22 set in that win over Boise State in 2014.

Things got off to a strong start as Fresno State surged to an 8-0 lead in the top of the first and never looked back, scoring in every inning.  Senior Lindsey Willmon went deep with a pair of home runs, junior Savannah McHellon went yard for the second day in a row, freshman Miranda Rohleder hit her first career home run on a monster offensive day, Katie Castellon blasted a 3-run first inning shot to get things started, and Chase LeeHong capped it all with a pinch hit, 3-run dinger in the top of the fifth.

Rohleder made her first career start, batting in the leadoff spot for Fresno State, and was part of every rally with a 5-for-5 effort at the plate.  She finished just a double shy of hitting for the cycle, scored five runs, and had three RBI.  Rohleder was one of 13 different Bulldogs to have hits or score at least one run as the team pounded out 20 hits in the contest, one shy of the school record that's stood for nearly two decades.

It was the first time Fresno State had ever scored 20+ runs against a Pac-12 opponent in its long and impressive softball history.  And the Bulldogs did it against a Stanford team that entered Sunday's action 4-0 on the young season and allowing over two runs per game just once.  Cardinal starting pitcher Nikki Bauer was 2-0 entering the contest, but lasted just 1+ inning, giving up 10 earned runs.

Fresno State countered with Kamalani Dung, who finished a perfect 3-0 weekend.  Dung left with an 18-3 lead after seeing her string of scoreless innings to begin the season come to an end at 14.  For the weekend, Dung finished with the aforementioned 3-0 record, a 1.24 ERA and 15 strikeouts.  She held opponents to a .155 batting average and allowed only two extra-base hits during the tournament.

It was a strong overall weekend for Fresno State (4-1), which posted three wins over teams from Power 5 conferences -- two from the Big Ten (Indiana and Purdue), as well as Stanford from the Pac-12.  The Bulldogs also beat San Diego with a 12-run barrage, and their only loss was a narrow 4-1 setback to No. 9 Oregon.

McHellon proved to be a power on offense, finishing the weekend with a .615 batting average, eight hits, two home runs, and eight RBI.  Rohleder hit .727 for the weekend, while freshman Schuylar Broussard (.455) and Vanessa Hernandez (.400) combined for 11 hits and 11 RBI.  As a team, Fresno State finished tournament play in Tempe with a staggering .416 on-base percentage.

Elsewhere Sunday, New Mexico edged UC Riverside 1-0 to complete a 4-1 weekend, the second-best start for the Lobos in head coach Erica Beach's career; Nevada lost 6-5 to Army, ending the weekend 3-2 at the Southeastern Louisiana tournament; Utah State suffered its first loss, a 3-1 decision to Loyola Marymount; San Diego State picked up its second win of the season by beating Weber State; UNLV completed a 3-2 weekend with a home loss to Cal State Bakersfield; Colorado State lost 7-2 at Texas to finish the weekend 2-3; and both San Jose State and Boise State were idle.  The Spartans went 3-3 for the week, while the Broncos were 1-2 after being rained out of their final two games in Honolulu.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Mountain West coaches predict Fresno State to three-peat and win title

Graphic:  Mountain West Conference / Mountain West Network
Mountain West softball coaches predicted Fresno State would three-peat as conference champions in balloting revealed this week.

Coach Linda Garza's Bulldogs received four first-place votes and 59 total points to secure the top spot ahead of San Diego State, which is predicted second (three first-place votes, 57 points).  Selected third was San Jose State (two first-place votes, 55 points).

The three California schools clearly separated themselves from the rest of the conference.  While the gap between the projected top three teams was only four points, the margin between the projected third- and fourth-place finishers was a whopping 22 points.

In a closely-bunched middle of the pack (fourth thru eighth place), Utah State earned 33 points, followed by Nevada (32), Colorado State and UNLV tied (26), and New Mexico (25).  Boise State was predicted last on every ballot from opposing coaches, finishing with the minimum 8 points.

Two-time defending conference champion Fresno State (22-1 in MW play a year ago) returns five starters and 13 letter winners, including 2016 Mountain West Player of the Year Kierra Willis, and all-MW selections Lindsey Willmon and Malia Rivers.  Ten newcomers will wear Bulldog red for the first time, including an incoming freshman recruiting class ranked 18th best in the country by Flo Softball, and a pair of junior college Division I All-Americans.

San Diego State (12-12 in MW play last season) returns seven starters, while San Jose State (17-7 in MW action in 2016) returns four.

The Spartans will begin their season Thursday, February 9, in Tempe, while the Bulldogs begin their season -- also in Tempe -- on Friday, February 10.  Also starting the 2017 season on February 10 are the Aztecs, who open the year in Los Angeles.

Bulldogs ranked No. 22 and No. 24 in preseason Top 25 polls

Fresno State will begin the 2017 season with national Top 25 rankings in a pair of polls.

Coach Linda Garza's Bulldogs received 65 votes, and are ranked 24th in the preseason USA Today/NFCA coaches poll.  It is the 16th appearance in the last 23 years for Fresno State in the preseason coaches Top 25, but the Bulldogs' first since the 2010 season.

Fresno State appeared in the preseason coaches Top 25 every season from the poll's inception in 1995 until 2010, with the exception of just one year -- 2008.  And in 2008, the coaches got it wrong, as the Bulldogs ended up finishing that year ranked in the Top 10 and securing a national top 16 seed and hosting an NCAA regional at Margie Wright Diamond.

Garza's Fresno State team also finds itself ranked in the preseason D1 Softball News Top 25 poll, coming in at No. 22.  The Bulldogs are receiving votes in the preseason Softball Top 25 poll, as their 10 votes are 15 shy of the Top 25 itself, good enough for a ranking of 32nd.

No other Mountain West team received Top 25 votes in the preseason polls this year.  A year ago, Fresno State was receiving only a couple of votes in the preseason rankings, heading into the 2016 season 40th in the USA Today/NFCA rankings.  The Bulldogs would go on to rank as high as 17th last season before finishing the year 20th.

In other preseason news involving individual accolades in the Mountain West, Fresno State's Lindsey Willmon was named a preseason All-American by College Sports Madness; San Diego State's Jenavee Peres was named to the Top 50 preseason Player of the Year Watch List by USA Softball; and Colorado State's Haley Hutton and Nevada's Jennifer Purcell were named to the Fastpitch News preseason Top 50 hitters list.