Fresno State’s return to the NCAA softball tournament was short and none too sweet, but the Bulldogs did not go quietly.
Playing in the tournament for the first time since 2011, Fresno State rallied from a 5-1 deficit to take a 6-5 lead in the fifth inning, only to watch Brigham Young score three in the sixth and hold on for an 8-7 victory in an elimination game at the Eugene Regional.
Alyssa Villalpando led off the bottom of the seventh with a long homer to left field to get the Bulldogs within one, but Cougars ace McKenna Bull retired the next three batters. The Bulldogs (40-16), however, did show more energy than in their regional opener Thursday — a 4-0 loss to North Dakota State at Oregon’s Howe Field.
“Today, obviously, was a tough way to end your year,” coach Trisha Ford said. “But we showed a much better fight.”
Right fielder Michelle Solomon, who had Fresno State’s only two hits Thursday, ignited the attack against BYU with a solo blast deep into the left-center field bleachers in the first inning.
“We were nervous (Thursday), because it’s the first time we’ve all been here,” Solomon said.
Ford agreed, saying, “The nerves probably got the best of them, to be honest with you. But the story of this team is they bounced back today, and I think that shows a lot of resilience.”
The Bulldogs hung tough despite a second straight rough outing for Jill Compton. The Mountain West Conference Pitcher of the Year gave up seven hits and five runs in 3.1 innings.
“Jill will be the first to tell you this isn’t how she played this out in her head,” Ford said. “But she’s our horse. She’s the one that got us here.”
The Bulldogs chased Bull after four innings, but the sophomore returned after an inning and held Fresno State to one run the rest of the way. Bull, who started the day tied for the Division I lead with 34 wins, picked up her first save of the season.
Arianna Paulson (2-3) pitched two-thirds of an inning to earn the win. Taylor Langdon (3-1) took the loss after going 2.2 innings and yielding three runs, including a two-run homer by Mercedes O’Connor in the sixth.
BYU (40-13) faced North Dakota State in the late elimination game Friday. The winner will need to beat Oregon twice today to prevent the Ducks from advancing to a best-of-three Super Regional next weekend. Oregon edged North Dakota State 4- on the winners’ side of the bracket Friday.
The Bulldogs scored twice in the fourth and three times in the fifth to gain the 6-5 lead. Villalpando’s RBI single scored Kierra Willis with the go-ahead run.
Most of the typically energetic Oregon crowd left after the early Ducks’ game, but perhaps 300 fans watched Fresno State and BYU battle on a cool afternoon with intermittent showers. Ford and Solomon like to think fans witnessed an important step in the rebirth of Fresno State softball.
“It’s a big deal that the senior class, we were able to get our team back in the postseason,” Solomon said. “Back to the legacy that was left before us.”
Ford said the incoming recruits are “a phenomenal class.” The only senior starters were Solomon and standout center fielder Brenna Moss.
“She’s been the heartbeat of this team for four years,” Ford said of Moss. “She’ll be hard to replace.”.