•Fresno State enters regional hitting .328 and scoring 5.87 runs per game
• Brenna Moss sparks the Bulldogs from the top of lineup with a .446 average
• While power numbers overall are down, Kierra Willis has hit eight over the fence
Fresno State returns to the NCAA Tournament with an ability the Bulldogs haven’t had since they last reached the College World Series.
These Bulldogs can hit and score.
With a .328 average (476 for 1,453) that ranks 26th in the nation and a scoring clip of 5.87 runs per game (317 in 54) that ranks 47th, Fresno State enters the postseason with its statistically most-talented hitting team since 1999.
Fresno State (40-13) has not finished with a team average of .300 since the 1999 Bulldogs hit .303 en route to placing fifth in Oklahoma City, the site of the CWS.
These Bulldogs even rival Fresno State’s 1998 national championship team in scoring, which established a school record of 374 runs in 63 games for an average of 5.94 runs.
“Our girls have trained really hard with making sure they’re getting good pitches in their hitting zone,” said third-year coach Trisha Ford, who is making her first NCAA run with the Bulldogs after winning the Mountain West championship to secure the conference’s automatic NCAA bid.
“We’ve talked a lot about the mental approach,” Ford added. “I think it’s all those pieces coming together. You’re starting to see some of those concepts sink in with the players.”
Fresno State (40-14) will begin the NCAA Tournament in Eugene Regional against North Dakota State (43-9) at 2 p.m. Thursday to begin the double-elimination format. The Bison won the Summit League and were No. 25 in the final regular-season rankings.
No. 2 overall seed Oregon (46-6), which was ranked No. 1 in the country to end the regular season, faces Brigham Young (39-12) in the other regional opener.
During Fresno State’s last NCAA appearance in 2011, the Bulldogs batted just .250 and averaged 3.63 runs. While that team was good enough to make the field with an at-large bid, the Bulldogs went 1-2 record in the regional partly because of a limited and unbalanced offense.
Unlike nine of the past 12 Bulldogs teams to advance to the NCAAs, this Fresno State outfit has as many as five starters hitting over .300. In fact, all five are hitting at least .358.
“Offensively, we’ve got a variety of different ways that we can beat you — kids from top to bottom in our lineup,” Ford said. “And it’s been a while since the Bulldogs have had their No. 6-7-8-9 hitters hit the way we’re hitting right now.”
Senior Brenna Moss is batting .446, which currently ranks fifth in school history and 28th in the country. The leadoff hitter also is averaging 1.09 runs (59 in 54 games), which is 29th in the country.
As a team, the Bulldogs own a .417 on-base percentage, which is by far Fresno State’s highest mark in at least the past 12 years. Their on-base percentage also ranks 28th in the nation.
What Fresno State lacks, though, is consistent power. The Bulldogs hit 27 homers, which ranked last in the nine-team Mountain West. Sophomore cleanup hitter Kierra Willis has been the Bulldogs’ top power hitter with eight home runs and nine triples, which is tied for second in the nation.
Fresno State isn’t the only offensive power in Eugene.
Oregon is batting .368 with 77 home runs and averaging 7.69 runs. North Dakota State is hitting .337 with 51 homers and 6.63 runs per game. BYU is batting .335 with 45 homers and 6.24 runs a contest.
Should Fresno State’s pitching struggle against these dynamic offenses, the Bulldogs can at least take comfort knowing their offense is capable of producing big, too.
“That’s what we’ve been about, being very strong offensively,” No. 2 hitter Michelle Solomon said. “I think it’s going to carry us in the postseason.”