Naturally, Fresno State softball star Brenna Moss was disappointed when the Bulldogs lost to North Dakota State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday afternoon.
But in particular, the senior center fielder didn’t like how the Bulldogs competed against the No. 24 Bison.
“What it comes down to is they came ready to play today and we didn’t,” Moss said after the 4-0 loss at Oregon’s Howe Field. “I promise you that (Friday) it’s not going to be the same team.”
Bulldogs ace Jill Compton pitched a three-hitter at the Eugene Regional, but Michelle Solomon collected the only two hits off North Dakota State’s Krista Menke. Only once did the Bulldogs get a runner as far as second.
Menke (33-4), a hard-throwing right-hander from tiny Friend, Neb., struck out 10 while allowing few hard-hit balls. She is tied for third in Division I in victories and ranks second with 372 strikeouts (in 246 innings), though Moss hesitated when asked if there was anything “special” about Menke.
“No,” Moss insisted, “it was just all us. Our mental game wasn’t there today. That’s on us.”
The Bulldogs, 40-15 after losing their 11-game winning streak, must win twice both Friday and Saturday to advance to a best-of-three Super Regional next weekend.
Fresno State plays at 2 p.m. Friday against Brigham Young, an 8-0 loser to host Oregon in the regional’s late game. If the Bulldogs win that one, they would play another eliminator at 5 as they try to stay alive in their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011.
“I could see the nerves going,” Moss said. “It’s the first postseason we’ve made it to in three or four years.
“I could see why that would ‘get in the way’ (mentally), but there’s really no excuse for it.”
Compton (28-11), the Mountain West Conference Pitcher of the Year, forced in the only run that the Bison needed when she walked four in the second inning. Her fifth and final walk — one off her season high — an error and two hits contributed to a three-run third. Compton struck out five.
“She’s our ace,” coach Trisha Ford said. “I mean, she’s the one that got us here. She’ll be better tomorrow.”
Ford hopes the same can be said for Fresno State’s hitters.
“We need to put the ball on the ground. … We popped up the ball too much.”
Ford said she was pleased the Bulldogs pushed Menke’s pitch count to 137. Menke struck out the first four batters she faced, and five of the first seven.
“I just attacked,” said Menke, the Summit League Pitcher of the Year, “because they weren’t swinging at the beginning.”
An estimated 450 fans turned out under cloudy skies that produced light rain in the later innings. Both teams own impressive numbers this season, but third baseman Amanda Grable of the Bison (44-9) said she wasn’t surprised about the lack of offense Thursday.
“We’ve got a good pitcher, they’ve got a good pitcher,” said Grable, whose RBI single in the third was the first hit of the game. Jackie Stifler followed with a two-run single up the middle.
Fresno State’s best scoring chance came in the sixth, when Paige Gumz hit a flyball to the warning track in left-center with Solomon on first.
▪ Friday: 11 a.m. North Dakota State vs Oregon, 2 p.m. Fresno State vs. BYU at Howe Field
▪ Of note: Game 1 is a winners’ bracket matchup, Game 2 an eliminator in the double-elimination format