The day belonged to Laura Berg, as did the night for her and the Oregon State Beavers.
Considered the greatest player in Fresno State softball history, Berg had her No. 44 jersey retired in a jubilant pregame ceremony Saturday that brought former players and longtime fans back to Margie Wright Diamond.
Like old times, Berg and her team would leave the field victorious — though at the expense of her beloved Bulldogs.
Oregon State, in its third season under Berg’s direction, defeated Fresno State 16-12 during the second day of the Louisville Slugger Bash — Berg’s first game coaching against her alma mater.
“I was nervous,” said Berg, a four-time All American at Fresno State from 1994-98. “I was ready for this day to be over because I know how rowdy the crowd can be. All the excitement and being back here, it was great to be here. But I’m glad it’s over. It was very emotional.”
Berg was a dynamic offensive player with the Bulldogs and her impact with Oregon State (15-5) could be seen from the get-go as the Beavers scored five runs on four hits in the first and finished with a season-high 16 hits.
Not even hot-hitting Fresno State (13-5), which entered with a .351 team average, could keep up.
The Bulldogs did keep the Beavers from pulling too far away, amassing 12 runs through the first four innings and receiving back-to-back home runs from Michelle Solomon and Kierra Willis in the fourth.
Berg’s homecoming just wouldn’t be spoiled.
She was greeted by friends and fans all around the stadium. Margie Wright, who became the NCAA’s career winningest softball coach with the help of Berg and others, flew in from Illinois.
“I wouldn’t miss this for anything,” said Wright, who retired in 2012. “Laura was the best outfielder in the world. She was one of those diamond players you could never replace. Besides that, she was a great practical joker, great team player. She was just the best athlete Fresno State ever had.
“She deserves it — more than anybody.”
The only thing that seemed out of place was Berg’s attire as she wore Oregon State black and orange rather than Fresno State red, white and blue.
“I think she looks a lot better in red and blue,” Wright said with a big smile.
Added Berg: “It definitely seemed a little bit weird. Not a little bit. A lot.”
Berg led Fresno State to a national championship in 1998, set five school career records and finished No. 2 in career hits in NCAA history. She also became the most decorated Olympic softball player ever, with three gold medals and one silver among her 11 medals in all international competitions as a member of the U.S. national team.
“Laura transcends the sport,” Fresno State coach Trisha Ford said. “She’s Bulldog born, Bulldog bred. Anybody who’s played softball knows who Laura Berg is. It was a really neat moment.”
Hours before arriving to the stadium, Berg was nearly in tears after meeting with Ford for breakfast.
Ford presented Berg with a replica of a Fresno State 1998 championship ring. The original was stolen in 2008 when her Fresno house was broken into while she was with the Olympic team.
Berg smiled wide and tightly hugged her good friend, then later thanked Fresno State.
“That was a great surprise,” Berg said. “It was awesome. Everything was awesome.”