Fresno State softball coach Trisha Ford throws batting practice, hits choppers and laughs really loud, but one thing she won’t do at practice is sing.
Thus, we’ll never know the precise words Fresno State alum Laura Berg texted Ford after the Bulldogs drew the UCLA straw for the NCAA Regionals. The safe assumption lies somewhere between acidic insults and unveiled threats of aluminum-swing violence toward the Bruins.
“Uh (laughter) ... let’s just say it was a very pro-Fresno State text,” Ford said of the message from the Oregon State coach. “So, yeah, as soon as we saw we were going to UCLA, I just started laughing. A bunch of the so-called old-timers started texting me and emailing me about it.
“I knew this was a pretty heated rivalry, so I’m pretty aware of it.”
To utter the acronym U-C-L-A to a former Fresno State softball player is to kick flaming dirt clods in their eye black. The old Bulldogs despise the Bruins, loathe the village of Westwood and have nothing but contempt for the dark azure color that is UCLA blue.
32 NCAA berths for the Bulldogs softball team
Of course, today’s Bulldogs arrived at Margie Wright Estate knowing nothing of such matters. These players were wearing onesies the last time Fresno State vs. UCLA was a prime-time happening.
No matter. They’ll be chasing someone else’s ghosts this weekend, assuming they can navigate Cal State Fullerton in Friday’s opener. The program’s 17-year road back to the College World Series runs back in time, to a place where too many Fresno State seasons met the dead-end side of the street.
Did you forget all those good old days that got Bruined?
Four shutout losses in the national championship game. Nine losses in 12 head-on collisions at the Women’s College World Series. An 0-4 record against UCLA in regional meetings. Year upon year of watching the Bruins build trophy cases while the Bulldogs built character on the other side.
20/18 Bulldogs’ rankings in the USA Today/NFCA Division I Softball Coaches Poll and the ESPN.com/USA Softball Rankings, respectively
Even when the Bulldogs finally won their one and only national title in 1998, they did it with UCLA taking a one-year vacation, courtesy of the NCAA compliance department. Put another way: The Fresno State team with the best chance to serve UCLA its cold dish didn’t even get the chance because the Bruins were put on postseason timeout for cheating.
The Bulldogs got their ring, but they didn’t get their proper rejoinder, and that still doesn’t sit well after all these years.
So, no pressure, Jill Compton and friends, but every alum from Berg to Amanda Scott to Nina Lindenberg is counting on you to deliver a good, swift one in their stead.
Obviously, times have changed, but I’m pretty excited about going down to UCLA
Bulldogs coach Trisha Ford
“We’re going to ramp up that rivalry a little bit,” Ford said. “It can fuel your fire. Obviously, times have changed, but I’m pretty excited about going down to UCLA.”
Truth is, the Bruins will hardly recognize the Bulldogs in a series long titled, “UCLA 1, Fresno State 0.”
These Bulldogs swing the bat, sending a school-record 58 home runs north of the fence. Their .511 slugging percentage will best the 1998 school record – by nearly 50 percentage points. And, yes, Compton makes sure the Bulldogs can still put up zeroes, because some things never change in these parts.
All that’s great, but around here, NCAA Regional titles are what fly; former coach Margie Wright made sure of that with her megatrillion wins and 29 straight postseason invitations.
Ford and the Bulldogs are doing all they can to get back on the map, and that means going back to the one ghost town they’ve never escaped.
Los Angeles Regional
Friday-Sunday at Easton Stadium at UCLA
- Game 1: Cal State Fullerton (43-14) vs. Fresno State (41-10-1), 3 p.m.
- Game 2: Cal State Bakersfield (16-32) vs. UCLA (35-13-1), 6 p.m.
- Game 3: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, noon
- Game 4: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 3 p.m.
- Game 5: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, 5 p.m.
- Game 6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, noon
- Game 7: Game 6 winner vs. Game 6 loser (if necessary), 3 p.m.
Regional field at a glance
- Cal State Fullerton: Big West champion for first time in 10 years, back in postseason for 26th time. Titans beat Bulldogs 5-0 earlier this season, though Fresno State holds 39-33 lead in all-time series.
- Cal State Bakersfield: Beat top-seeded New Mexico State 1-0 in WAC tournament final to earn first NCAA berth.
- UCLA: 11-time national champion is seeded No. 12 in 64-team field as it makes its 32nd NCAA appearance.