Two games into the Mountain West Conference baseball tournament, the Fresno State Bulldogs have had a fairly wild ride along the top line of the bracket.
But there they are, one victory away from the championship game after taking a 15-7 victory over No. 2 seed San Diego State on Thursday that was played in a steady drizzle at Peccole Park. Fresno State racked up season highs in runs and with 19 base hits, which was more than enough to stay ahead while ace Jake Shull labored to stymie the Aztecs.
“So far so good,” said third baseman Manny Argomaniz, who had a career-high four hits and was on base six times. “You always want to stay in the winner’s bracket, especially in a tournament like this, and so far we’ve played well … well enough.”
The No. 3 Bulldogs face fourth-seeded New Mexico on Friday night for a shot at a title and automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. The Lobos beat top-seeded and host Nevada 14-4 in Thursday’s late-night game.
The key to the Bulldogs getting this far was their at-bats against Aztecs starter Bubba Derby, an all-conference selection who led the Mountain West in strikeouts by a wide margin (43 over Jacob DeVries of the Air Force) and had won his past three decisions.
Argomaniz started the barrage by crushing a 3-2 pitch over the wall in left field with one out in the second inning. Fresno State added four more runs in the third after Taylor Tempel reached on a throwing error by third baseman Ty France. Tempel, who was 4 for 6 and scored four runs, advanced to third on a base hit by Austin Guibor and scored on a squeeze bunt by Taylor Ward.
Kevin Viers followed with a run-scoring double, Kenny Corey drove in a run, Argomaniz had an RBI single and Korby Batesole drove in a run with a double.
“He has 119 strikeouts in 88 innings, that means every odd inning he strikes out one and every even inning he strikes out two, so he doesn’t leave you many outs to deal with,” coach Mike Batesole said. “You’ve got to fight with two strikes, and I thought we did a good job of that today.”
The Bulldogs struck out three times against Derby and had 11 hits and scored nine runs, only three of which were earned. And they just kept adding on, getting some production that was not always there during the regular season.
“That’s what it takes,” Batsole said. “We’re not good enough to run nine guys out there against anybody, but we can go 12 or 14 on you and if everybody contributes we can play with you and that’s what we’ve been doing the past two days.”
Argomaniz was on base six times Thursday and two times in the tournament-opening victory over UNLV. He had three hits over the last five regular-season games and six over the last 12.
Torin Goldstein, who came off the bench to deliver a tying RBI single in the bottom of the eighth against UNLV after Fresno State had blown a lead, was used in a pinch-hitting role again. He came up with the bases loaded in the eighth and drove in three runs with a double down the left-field line.
Tempel had four hits, his third four-hit game over the last 12. Guibor and Kevin Viers had two and 11 Bulldogs had at least one hit.
Batesole made a late decision Wednesday to save Shull for the Bulldogs’ second game of the tournament, and it paid off when Jimmy Lambert pitched well against UNLV.
Shull, who led the Mountain West with an ERA of 1.80, made it through six innings Thursday allowing 10 hits and five runs, only two earned.
“We’ve pitched really well,” Batesole said. “Our starters have pitched really well. That’s what you’ve got to do, Jimmy got us deep (Wednesday). He pitched so well he allowed us to make some mistakes at the end.
“Shully, they banged him around for 10 hits, but that’s a terrific ball club right there and the bottom line is he kept them from touching home and that’s what it’s all about. They can get all the hits they want, but don’t let them touch home. When he got them with runners in scoring position that’s when he was really tough.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
MOUNTAIN WEST BASEBALL SEMIFINAL: FRESNO STATE VS. NEW MEXICO
- Friday: 7 p.m. at Peccole Park in Reno
- Records: Bulldogs 31-26, Lobos 31-25
- Of note: Teams split six games in the regular season, each winning 2 of 3 at home
- Online: Check www.fresnobee.com Friday night for results