Fresno State’s defensive meltdown, in some ways, came out of nowhere.
The Bulldogs sported the top fielding percentage and had the fewest number of errors among Mountain West teams entering the weekend.
Bulldogs coach Trisha Ford had seen only a few signs of struggles. Nothing, however, too alarming.
But after a 9-7 loss to San Jose State on Sunday afternoon at Margie Wright Diamond, it became quite clear that Fresno State’s defense needs a lot of cleaning up.
Especially from sophomore second baseman Malia Rivers, whose struggles led to Fresno State’s unraveling.
Rivers committed three of Fresno State’s four errors, had a handful of mental mistakes and played tentatively on a couple other plays that led to infield singles. She also had trouble with the sun on two dropped pop ups.
“Our defense is just not getting it done,” said Ford, whose Bulldogs committed seven errors in the past two games. “It’s just baffling because we had three good days of defensive work before this weekend.”
Despite all the mistakes and the fans’ growing cry for a defensive change at second, Ford stuck with Rivers throughout the game.
A coaching decision made for a few reasons: to show Rivers the coaching staff still had faith in her; to prevent Sunday’s struggles from potentially shaking the sophomore’s confidence further; other middle infield options have yet to earn Ford’s complete trust.
“I think it’s important for us to support her as a team and stick through it,” Ford said of Rivers. “She had an inning she’ll never forget. I also have to have faith in her.
“This game is about mental toughness.”
The Bulldogs lacked it most of Sunday as the Spartans scored all of their runs with two outs.
Rivers did redeem herself to a degree in the seventh, making a back-handed stop on a grounder and fielding a routine grounder.
The Bulldogs nearly redeemed themselves, too.
A day after scoring two runs in the seventh and pulling out a 3-2 win in eight innings, Fresno State sliced San Jose State’s 9-4 lead entering the final inning to two runs.
No. 3 hitter Michelle Solomon hit an RBI double and cleanup hitter Kierra Willis followed with a two-run triple, prompting the Spartans to change pitchers.
San Jose State’s Allison Lang, who threw a three-hitter Friday and worked a no-hitter through 52/3 innings Saturday, intentionally walked Paige Gumz to bring up Alyssa Villalpando with one out and runners at the corners.
Villalpando, a .309 hitter on the season but 0 for 9 at that point in the series, represented the winning run.
But the junior rolled into a 6-4-3 double play to squash the threat and end the series.
Fresno State (23-12, 4-2) dropped two of three to San Jose State (25-12, 5-1) and fell two games behind first-place San Diego State (23-12, 6-0) in the Mountain West standings.
“We have a lot of fight, but we showed up a little too late,” Gumz said. “We hold ourselves to a much higher standard and I think we’re capable of much more than we showed.”
Baseball drops finale
Fresno State amassed just three hits and its pitching carousel proved ineffective in a 5-1 loss at New Mexico.
Fresno State (16-13, 7-5), which on Saturday recorded the program’s first win ever on the Lobos’ home field, dropped two of three in the Mountain West series.
Manny Argomaniz drove in the game’s first run with a sac fly in the first. But Fresno State coughed up the lead during New Mexico’s three-run sixth.
Fresno State used five pitchers, with none lasting more than 22/3 innings. The first four pitchers each gave up at least one run.
Tennis teams earn sweeps
Despite being pushed to three sets during five singles matches, the 34th-ranked Fresno State women’s tennis team won 7-0 at Air Force.
Aishwarya Agrawal provided the lone straight-set victory at No. 4 singles.
Euan McIntosh was the Bulldogs’ only player to win against both teams.