Jill Compton is steadily rediscovering her groove, and that’s a big advantage for nationally ranked Fresno State.
The Bulldogs’ senior ace was not at the top of her game in recent weeks, slowly returning from a bruised throwing hand. She suffered the injury in a March 6 game against Cal, blocking a comebacker headed for her face.
It wasn’t the physical part that bothered the reigning Mountain West Pitcher of the Year, but rather the mental anguish of having to watch and wait from the bench for the injury to fully heal.
“It was a lot of pain, but it was going to get worse if I threw, so I had to wait it out,” Compton said. “It took an effect on me mentally and when I came back I wasn’t as confident.”
Her mental focus has begun to improve, especially with the Bulldogs (24-9-1) off to a 6-0 start in the Mountain West heading into a three-game series at New Mexico.
Game 1 against the Lobos (18-14, 3-3) is at 4 p.m. Friday.
Fresno State has won nine of its previous 10 games, including six in a row to start the Mountain West.
Compton has appeared in five of the past six games, four of those starts. They weren’t all standout performances for a pitcher who was 28-11 with a 2.25 ERA in 2015, but with the support of teammates and coaches she is finding that old rhythm.
“The mentality I had last year was more pitch-by-pitch and embracing the moment and not having so much pressure on me,” Compton said, pointing to the Bulldogs’ conference-opening home sweep of Boise State as a step in the right direction.
She has improved to 14-4 this season in 17 starts and 21 games overall. Compton, who gave up a very un-acelike eight runs in five innings of the series opener vs. Boise State, has her ERA at 2.66 and has increased her strikeout total to 75 – both second-best in the Mountain West.
“Our sticks have been really hot, I feel really confident and I can attack each pitch and be confident in that because I know my defense has my back, and even if I do give up a couple of runs, that my offense will support me, too,” she said.
“I’m just catching up to my edge from last season.”
We are getting better. I think Jill put two games together that were better than what she has shown us these last few weeks.
Coach Trisha Ford, on Compton’s progress since returning from injury
Offensively, the Bulldogs have two of the conference’s best run-producers in Alyssa Villalpando and Lindsey Willmon, who have 31 and 30 RBIs, respectively.
Willmon’s nine home runs are tied for most in the league with Nevada’s Megan Sweet (Frontier/Hanford West highs). Fresno State is hitting a league fourth-best .310 overall, with senior Whitney Smith leading the way at .348, but is No. 2 in scoring and homers.
The Lobos dropped two of three at Nevada, salvaging Sunday’s series finale 3-2. New Mexico is 1-3 this season against ranked opponents, most recently upsetting then-No. 23/25 Nebraska 6-3 at the Easton Tournament on March 19.
Freshman left-hander Colette Robert is 8-6 with a 3.67 ERA in 17 appearances (12 starts). Senior outfielder Mariah Rimmer is hitting a Mountain West second-best .436 with five homers and 25 RBIs.
MOUNTAIN WEST SOFTBALL: FRESNO STATE VS. NEW MEXICO
- Series: 4 p.m. Friday, noon Saturday, 11 a.m. Sunday
- Records: Bulldogs 24-9-1, 6-0 Mountain West; Lobos 18-14, 3-3
- All-time series: Fresno State leads 34-6
- Last meeting: Bulldogs swept at home 7-1, 4-0, 4-1 in 2015
- Webcast: Mountain West Network (themwc.com)