Clovis News: Sports

Bulldogs try to bridge softball gap

The 15th-ranked Fresno State softball team opens its home schedule today with a renewed sense of where it stands in the nation's Top 25.

"We now know what we need to do if we want to be in the top five. We've got work to do," coach Margie Wright said.

The Bulldogs are 6-3 entering today's game against Utah Valley State at Bulldog Diamond. They've showed their strengths in wins over No. 16 North Carolina and No. 18 Northwestern, but also their weaknesses in blowout losses to No. 2 Florida and No. 4 UCLA.

"The one area we need to improve is being consistent on the mound, at bat and in the field at the same time," Wright said. "Our strengths have been different every game. That's part of our frustrations.

"Our job [today] is to put everything together and hit on all cylinders."

Wright will be replacing one of those cylinders, sophomore outfielder Andrea Ortega, who suffered a severe ankle injury against Maryland last week and will seek a medical redshirt season, the coach said.

Ortega was hitting .267 with three RBIs batting in the No. 5 spot. Last year, she hit .342 with three home runs and 23 RBIs.

Filling that void won't be easy. Fresno State's other outfielders are a combined 7 for 54 (.130) at the plate.

"I don't think we're pressing," said senior Mallory Perkins, whose .267 average ties Ortega for the best among the outfielders. "We just have to keep swinging and put our hits together."

Wright will make a game-time decision on who replaces Ortega in left field. Junior Brooke Phipps has been playing center field and Perkins right. Junior Lisamarie Coronado also started seven games, and freshman Jody Badorine has seen spot time.

Fresno State's offensive strength is at the top of the order. Senior second baseman Haley Perkins is batting .367, sophomore shortstop Haley Gilleland .357, freshman first baseman Michelle Moses .273 with a team-leading three homers and seven RBIs, and sophomore catcher Caitlin Stiglich .241.

Defensively, the Bulldogs have made 13 errors in the nine games.

In the circle, sophomore ace Morgan Melloh is 4-2 with a 2.42 ERA after getting rocked by Florida and UCLA for 14 hits and 14 earned runs. But Wright might have found her No. 2 pitcher in freshman Mackenzie Oakes, who's 2-0 with a 1.75 ERA.

"That last tournament exposed some things, but we saw it as a positive to get things back together," Haley Perkins said. "The mistakes we made ... we need to make sure we grow from them. It's time for people to step up."

Also ...

- Fans will notice a change behind the outfield fence at Bulldog Diamond. The bleachers were removed and in their place is a 4-foot high grass berm for fans to set up chairs and blankets. "It will lend a more relaxed environment," Haley Perkins said.

- Utah Valley, out of Orem, is an independent that will become a member of a 12-team Pacific Coast Softball Conference in 2010. ... Coming off a 17-34 season. ... Lost 10-2 to Utah in five innings in its last outing Feb. 8. ... Team batting average of .277 and team ERA of 7.47.