Fresno State is red hot heading into the NCAA Tournament. Here’s who they play first

Fresno State, the Mountain West Conference regular season and tournament champion, will match up against Big West champion UC Santa Barbara in the NCAA Tournament Stanford regional.

The game is set for 7 p.m. Friday and will be broadcast on ESPN3.

“What’s exciting about it is our crowd will get to go,” coach Mike Batesole said. “Most of the places that we’ve played on the road this year – and one of the reasons we’ve had such excellent success this year on the road – is we generally draw better than the home team. Being so close there at Stanford I’d imagine we’re going to have outstanding crowds on our side..”

The No. 2 seed Gauchos (45-9) led the Big West with a 3.21 earned run average with Ben Brecht (10-1, 3.76), Jack Dashwood (9-2, 2.17) and Rodney Boone (8-0, 2.78) a combined 27-3 on the season. The conference title was the first for UC Santa Barbara since 1986.

No. 1 Stanford will play No. 4 Sacramento State in the opening game of the regional.

The No. 3 Bulldogs last played in the NCAA Tournament in 2012 when Aaron Judge was a sophomore, Jordan Luplow a freshman, and they won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament after an 8-10 regular season to advance.

They were a No. 4 seed at the Stanford Regional, going 1-2.

But Fresno State goes into the tournament this season having won 23 of its last 27 games with one tie since April 6 when they dropped the last two games of a four-game series at Oregon.

The Bulldogs also have won 13 games in a row away from Beiden Field including three in capturing their first Mountain West Tournament title in Reno, beating Nevada and UNLV twice.

“We just love the opportunity to play on other fields,” center fielder Zach Ashford said. “It’s a nice feeling kind of knowing that everyone is against us and it’s just us against the world. But when we have our fans that travel like they do it’s kind of like a home game no matter where we are. It’s going to be fun to play.”

During that run, they have scored six or more runs 22 times while allowing four runs or fewer 15 times, which only hints at a dynamic run.

Fresno State vs. opponents …

  • Batting average: .325 to .263
  • On-base percentage: .410 to .323
  • Slugging percentage: .516 to .351
  • Runs: 223 to 109
  • Home runs: 34 to 13
  • Total bases: 486 to 319
  • ERA: 3.61 to 7.87

The Bulldogs over the past seven weeks have five players with 80 or more at-bats hitting .346 or better – J.T. Arruda (40 for 94, .426), Ashford (39 for 95, .411), Nolan Dempsey (41 of 108, .380), McCarthy Tatum (40 for 114, .351) and Emilio Nogales (28 for 81, .346).

Ryan Jensen, the No. 1 starter, is 7-0 with an ERA of 2.42 over 52.0 innings with 60 strikeouts to 13 walks and has allowed opponents to hit just .195. Davis Moore, the No. 2 starter, is 4-1 with an ERA of 4.07 over 42.0 innings with 44 strikeouts to 12 walks and has allowed a .258 batting average.

Fresno State as a staff has racked up 247 strikeouts to just 68 walks during the run.

Jensen was selected the most valuable player at the Mountain West Tournament after striking out 10 batters and allowing one run in eight innings of a 4-3 victory over Nevada in the Bulldogs’ opener. Ashford, Dempsey, Tatum and Nate Thimjon were on the all-tournament team.

“I think the season started the first day of school and we were ready to go, we were ready to work,” Ashford said. “The first couple weeks of the season didn’t go our way, but I feel like we just knew that we were a good team and we trusted the process. Each day we went out and kept playing our game and it paid off …

“I feel like every good team needs that. It humbles you at the beginning of the year, but now I think we’re playing great team baseball and, like I said earlier, we have great pitching, great defense, great hitters and I think it’s going to pay off in the end.”

The Mountain West has not had a team advance to a Super Regional since TCU in 2012. Last season, eight No. 1 seeds, six No. 2 seeds and two No. 3 seeds in the regionals advanced to the Super Regional round.

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