Fresno State continues to play its best baseball against ranked opponents, though the latest effort fell short in the opener of a four-game series at UC Santa Barbara.
The Bulldogs, buoyed by a pair of highlight-reel catches and a four-run sixth, were in position to move to 3-0 against Top 25 clubs, but the No. 15 Gauchos held on for a 6-5 win Wednesday.
Peter Maris’ RBI single in the eighth off Jake Shull was the go-ahead hit, though an error and wild pitch contributed to the rally.
Fresno State (16-14) had a great shot to at least tie in the ninth. Austin Guibor led off with an infield single and pinch-hitter Torin Goldstein, after Taylor Tempel worked the count full, came on to draw a walk off Robby Nesovic.
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That brought Taylor Ward to the plate, but the man who leads the Bulldogs in average, homers and RBIs took a called strike three off the right-hander. Manny Argomaniz fouled out before left fielder Cameron Newell made a diving catch of a ball off the bat of Brody Russell to end it for the Gauchos (20-7).
“We played a heck of a ball game,” Fresno State coach Mike Batesole said. “We made a couple mistakes, but so did they. That was a really good Division I baseball game.”
Earlier, it was the Bulldogs who came up with the big grabs. Aaron Arruda reached above the 8-foot fence in right to rob Maris of a home run. In the seventh, Russell made a headlong dive in center to steal at least a leadoff double away from Woody Woodward.
Jimmy Lambert went seven innings for the Bulldogs, charged with five runs. Eight of the nine hits off him and all of the runs came in the first four innings.
“That’s exactly what we needed Jimmy to do,” Batesole said. “He got us deep into the game and got us right where we wanted to be. We had a chance to beat another really good team.”
Bulldogs face softball leader
Fresno State will look to reclaim its role as the favorite to win the Mountain West Conference softball race when it visits early frontrunner San Diego State for a three-game series.
First pitch Thursday and Friday is at 6:05 p.m., with the finale at noon Saturday.
The Bulldogs dropped 2 of 3 at home this past weekend to a San Jose State team that also entered undefeated in conference play. Now, the three-time defending champion Aztecs (23-12, 6-0) are alone at the top, the Spartans (25-12, 5-1) second and Fresno State (23-12, 4-2) tied with New Mexico for third.
Fresno State received 7 of 9 first-place votes in the Mountain West preseason coaches’ poll, with San Diego State and UNLV getting one each.
This week’s series matches the conference’s top two pitching staffs. The Bulldogs have a team ERA of 2.81 with San Diego State at 3.68. Fresno State also is second in hitting (.316) and runs scored. Its batters have been susceptible to the strikeout, however, with the Bulldogs second only to 11-21 Nevada among conference teams.
Fans at the SDSU Softball Stadium will get to see four of the conference’s top 10 hitters in Fresno State’s Brenna Moss (.483, 18-23 SB) and Malia Rivers (.381, 12-12 SB) and the Aztecs’ Lorena Bauer (.402, 10 HR, 39 RBIs) and Kayla Jordan (.412, 4 HR, 10-13 SB).
The Aztecs have displayed more power, with 30 home runs compared to the Bullldogs’ 18, and also have been the league’s toughest batters to strike out.
• Moss was the 13th overall pick, going to the Chicago Bandits, as the National Pro Fastpitch league conducted its college draft in Nashville. Moss was the only selection from the Mountain West. Oklahoma infielders Lauren Chamberlain and Shelby Pendley were the first teammates to go 1-2 — both to the USSSA Pride, the two-time defending champs, who acquired the picks via trades.
Tennis: Papic’s win KO’s UCI
Nikolas Papic battled back from a 3-0 deficit in the third set to win at No. 3 singles as Fresno State escaped with a 4-3 victory over No. 72 UC Irvine in a nonconference men’s tennis match.
The Bulldogs won 2 of 3 in doubles to take a 1-0 match lead but needed Eric Komati’s 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 win at No. 5 to force the decisive singles showdown between Papic and fellow junior Tyler Pham. Papic won 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 to move to 3-0 in three-setters this season.
Fresno State (12-7) opened 5-5 but then made a lineup switch and has won 7 of 9. The Anteaters are 16-10.
• Bulldogs junior Sophie Watts won her third Mountain West women’s player of the week honor this season after going 4-0 in singles and doubles as Fresno State beat then-No. 55 Denver 5-2 and Air Force 7-0. The Bulldogs slipped three spots to No. 37 in this week’s national rankings.