Fresno State, coming off back-to-back second-place finishes in its first two seasons in the league, has been named the favorite in the 2015 Mountain West Conference softball race.
The Bulldogs collected seven first-place votes and 63 total points in a poll of conference coaches released Tuesday. Three-time defending champion San Diego State was second with 54 points and one first.
UNLV received the other first-place vote and was third with 44 points.
Fresno State returns five starters and eight letterwinners from a 2014 club that was 31-21 overall and tied for second with UNLV at 15-9 in the Mountain West.
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Senior outfielder Brenna Moss was the 2014 conference Defensive Player of the Year and hit .337 with 18 RBIs. The Bulldogs’ top four pitchers also are back, including junior right-hander Jill Compton (20-9, 2.16 ERA, 160 strikeouts in 191.1 innings).
The Bulldogs, under third-year coach Trisha Ford, open the season Friday, facing Fordham and Portland State to begin the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. Mountain West play opens March 20-22 with a three-game series at Colorado State, which was fourth in the poll with 43 points.
San Diego State has seven starters back after going 40-19 and 16-8 last season. First baseman/designated player Sydnee Cable hit .356 with 32 RBIs as a freshman. Senior designated player/left fielder Lorena Bauer redshirted, but in 2013 she hit .401 with 13 home runs and 49 RBIs.
The Aztecs’ roster includes sophomore third baseman Sam Vlot, a former Chowchilla High standout, who played in three games as a freshman after redshirting in 2013.
UNLV has 11 players back who saw regular duty, including reigning Offensive Player of the Year Garie Blando (.421, four homers, 22 RBIs), a junior shortstop. A quartet of four returning pitchers is led by sophomore Morgan Ettinger, who started 17 games and won nine games last season.