For members of the streaking Fresno State softball team, 15-0 in Mountain West play, tunnel vision isn’t constricting enough.
Nope, tunnels are too long and straight. You can see till the light at the end of them. So instead, it’s all about headlight vision.
Headlight vision? Better let senior catcher Paige Gumz explain.
“The headlights on your car can only see 200 feet in front of you,” Gumz says. “We can’t tell what’s happening down the road, but we can see the next 200 feet. We’re taking it game by game.”
This may seem like the latest incarnation of the ol’ taking-it-one-game-at-a-time cliché – which it is – but the Bulldogs go to great lengths to prove the point. Last week, assistant coach Carly Wynn put together a team-bonding exercise that literally left players in the dark.
We can’t see far in the dark. Only the next 200 feet.
Fresno State senior catcher Paige Gumz
Wynn closed the metal door and covered the windows of the building that houses the team’s indoor batting cages, converting the blue “barn” into a darkened obstacle course. The players then were divided into groups of six, and each had to make it through using one flashlight.
“They were 99-cent flashlights, so not great,” junior first baseman Lindsey Willmon says. “We had to get all six of us through the obstacles, collect some balls at the end and then get us out of there.
“The whole idea is you can only see so far. We had to get our whole team through. It was pretty cool.”
The underlying message, of course, is to focus on what’s directly in front of you and not what might happen down the road.
And right now, directly in front of Fresno State (34-9-1 overall, 15-0 MW) lies this weekend’s series against second-place San Jose State (22-21, 11-4) in the Bay Area.
That means no looking ahead to the possibility of finishing undefeated in league play, which would match the 1999 Bulldogs squad that went 24-0 in the Western Athletic Conference.
That means no looking ahead to NCAA regionals, even though Fresno State is a likely shoo-in with its No. 20/21 national rankings and RPI of 18. (The MW regular-season champ gets the conference’s automatic berth.)
Even being 15-0 – and winning 16 in a row overall – after sweeping five straight MW series isn’t a major focus.
I don’t talk about 15-0. We’ve got to beat San Jose State on Friday. That’s as far as it goes.
Fresno State softball coach Trisha Ford
Headlight vision doesn’t extend to the rearview mirror.
“We’re not looking at 15-0 at all,” Gumz insists. “We’re not looking at what’s being talked about online or said in the media. We’re just taking it game by game. We’re not out there saying, ‘OK, this weekend we’re going to sweep.’ It’s more, ‘OK, we have a game today. Let’s find a way to win, pitch by pitch and inning by inning.’ ”
That approach has certainly manifested itself inside the batter’s box, where eight of the team’s regulars are hitting .290 or better. The Bulldogs’ .320 team batting average and .408 on-base percentage have resulted in 270 total runs – an average of 6.0 per game.
No softball team in school history has averaged six runs over an entire season, with the closest being 5.94 in 1998. Yes, that’s the year Fresno State captured the national championship.
6 runs per game averaged by Fresno State softball team, which would be a program record
More than just hitting, these Bulldogs are hitting for power. The team’s 45 home runs (through 44 games) are just six off the program season record of 51 set in 2010.
Why has this team hit so well? According to fourth-year coach Trisha Ford, it’s a combination of being aggressive in certain counts and situations and selective in others. Ford also credits V-Flex, a screen placed between pitcher and hitter in the batting cage that promotes better strike-zone recognition.
The Bulldogs have put the training to good use in key situations. All three of the team’s walk-off wins, including one bases-loaded walk, were a result of drawing key bases on balls.
All three of the team’s walk-off wins, including one bases-loaded walk, were a result of drawing key bases on balls.
“That’s what hitting is: Get a good pitch and be on time,” Ford says. “We’re on Year 2 of (V-Flex) training. As unexciting as our walk-off walks have been, that’s what it’s leading to. It’s us not swinging at bad pitches.”
The plethora of hits and runs has eased the burden on star pitcher Jill Compton. The senior still boasts a 20-4 record, but her 2.84 ERA (second in the MW) is off last year’s 2.25 as well as the 2.18 she put up as a sophomore.
“Jill hasn’t been quite as dominant,” Ford says, “but she no longer feels that pressure that if she gives up a run we’re not going to come back and win.”
Six Bulldogs regulars (Alyssa Villalpando, Kierra Willis, Bria Kennedy, Malia Rivers, Whitney Smith and Gumz) were key contributors on last year’s 40-16 squad that won the MW and reached the NCAAs for the first time since 2012.
They’ve been joined by talented newcomers including Willmon, a Hawaii transfer hitting .345 with nine home runs and 39 RBIs, and freshman DH Dominque Jackson, who leads the team with 10 homers.
It makes you wonder how far this team will go. But, of course, that goes against the entire notion of headlight vision.
“We can’t see far in the dark,” Gumz says. “Only the next 200 feet.”