The door to the top of the Mountain West re-opened Sunday.
And this time, Fresno State lodged its foot through the entryway.
It remains to be seen if the Bulldogs can stay up there.
But with Fresno State taking 2 of 3 from San Diego State following a 4-3 victory Sunday and New Mexico dropping 2 of 3 at UNLV, the Bulldogs moved back into first place in the Mountain West for the first time in a month.
“It feels good,” said Bulldogs senior Tim Borst, who didn’t allow one run over 4 2/3 innings and two appearances against San Diego State this weekend. “We saw they lost. There’s a lot of season left.
“Not all of it is going to be in our hands. But we’re very excited about this one and trying to take care of business the rest of the way.”
Though currently in first place, Fresno State still needs New Mexico to lose at least two more and the Bulldogs to win out to capture the Mountain West regular-season title. The Lobos own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Fresno State (32-17, 19-8) owns a half-game lead on New Mexico (32-18, 17-7) with three Mountain West games left for the Bulldogs (next weekend at UNLV) and six for the Lobos (next weekend against Nevada, then at Air Force).
Should Fresno State win out in conference, the Bulldogs still would need the Lobos to drop two games to claim the regular-season championship and the top seed in the Mountain West tournament.
The Lobos own the head-to-head tiebreaker after sweeping the Bulldogs last month in Albuquerque, N.M.
On two other occasions over the past three weeks, including as recently as Friday, Fresno State had a chance to close the gap with New Mexico after the Lobos lost a conference game.
But both times, the Bulldogs lost.
Clutch defense that included a game-ending, 6-4-3 double play, solid pitching and a two-run home run by cleanup hitter Aaron Arruda ensured the Bulldogs wouldn’t let a third opportunity go to waste.
11-9 Fresno State’s record in one-run games this season, boosted by Sunday’s 4-3 win against San Diego State
“That was a terrific weekend,” Bulldogs coach Mike Batesole said. “We played phenomenal defense. Our bullpen was terrific again.”
The Bulldogs also captured Sunday’s win amid some chippiness between both dugouts.
It began Saturday during the Bulldogs’ 1-0 victory in 10 innings.
At the conclusion of the game, Fresno State and San Diego State did not exchange handshakes.
Coaches did meet on the field later and shook hands after the players exited.
“We’re not going to take anything from them; they’re not going to take anything from us,” said Fresno State pitcher Jimmy Lambert, who started Saturday and threw seven scoreless innings. “It was just two tough competitors going at it.”
Fresno State, meanwhile, moved to 7-3 since losing top hitter Brody Russell for the regular season with a broken wrist.
The senior was hitting a team-high .415 with four homers and 35 RBIs in 38 games.
Nobody is going to go in there and replace him … They’re all capable of doing a tick more.
Fresno State coach Mike Batesole on replacing top hitter Brody Russell, who suffered a season-ending injury
Batesole was not optimistic about Russell returning by the Mountain West Tournament, which begins May 25 in Albuquerque.
“Nobody is going to go in there and replace him,” Batesole said of Russell. “But what we can do is the guy who goes in does his job.
“Brody gets about an RBI per game. A guy who goes in will give one (RBI) a weekend. We need two other guys to step up and hit one. Get an extra RBI or then make an extra play. They’re all capable of doing a tick more.”
CAL POLY AT FRESNO STATE
- Tuesday: 6:05 p.m. at Bob Bennett Stadium
- Records: Bulldogs 32-17; Mustangs 26-20
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940)
- Of note: Fresno State lost the first nonconference game between the two, falling 7-1 in San Luis Obispo.