The first nine of 18 innings of baseball played by Fresno State and New Mexico on Friday at Beiden Field could not have gone much better for the Bulldogs.
The winner of this three-game series takes the No. 3 seed for the Mountain West Conference Tournament along with it, and the Bulldogs secured the first of a rain-prompted doubleheader when fueled by two-out home runs from Austin Guibor and Aaron Arruda and some big outs from a sizzling bullpen that allowed them to keep No. 1 starter Jake Shull in line to pitch their opener in Reno next week.
But whether that will be as the No. 3 or the No. 4 seed still is to be determined, the timely base hits that were so critical in pushing the pitching in a 4-3 victory in the first game went missing in a 4-0 loss in the second.
The decisive game of the series is set for 1:05 p.m. Saturday, but despite using nine pitchers in the doubleheader, including left-hander Casey Rodriguez in both games, coach Mike Batesole said Fresno State is set up well for the regular-season finale and the tournament ahead.
Redshirt freshman left-hander Anthony Arias is likely to start today against the Lobos, and Tim Borst (21 pitches in 11/3 innings) will be available, Garrett Mundell (15 pitches in 11/3 innings) will be available. Rodriguez, who threw two pitches in recording one out in the first game and 24 in getting four in the second, will as well.
“That’s what wins championships,” Batesole said. “We’re right where we want to be. Defensively we’re playing great. We’re throwing the ball good on the mound. The bullpen has been great and that’s what it takes to get it done.”
Shull will make his next start against an opponent to be determined at the MW Tournament, and on Friday against New Mexico only added to a strong streak of starts by allowing two hits and one earned run in five innings.
“He threw 72% first-pitch strikes, that’s killing it and that’s what you have to do,” Batesole said. “Those guys are so disciplined. We talked about that before the game: You have to get strike one on them. We killed it in the first game and the second game it was 55%. We were fighting uphill. We made some clutch pitches, but worked really hard for it in the second game.”
Batesole pulled Shull in the first game after just five innings and 74 pitches, relying on a bullpen that had an ERA of 1.09 and allowed opponents to hit just .176 over the past eight games to get the Bulldogs through — the staff wanted Shull to throw no more than 80 pitches in the game.
But freshman left-hander Ricky Thomas, who had an ERA of just 1.71 over his past four starts, was not close to sharp in Game 2, throwing 37 pitches to get four outs while allowing two hits, a walk and three earned runs.
He exited with runners at second and third after starting 2-0 against Reece Weber. Dominic Topoozian came on and completed a walk charged to the Bulldogs starter and then gave up a grand slam to Lane Milligan.
The bullpen recovered, starting with four scoreless innings from Brennon Williams, who had pitched only four times and a total of 71/3 innings since March 25. Topoozian and senior Will Munro also made big pitches to get out of jams in the third and seventh innings.
But, down 4-0 early, Fresno State could not generate much of anything against the Lobos. The Bulldogs had five hits in the second game and were 1 for 13 with a runner on base and 0 for 5 with a runner in scoring position.
“They made some great pitches,” Batesole said. “They got ahead with off-speed and then they were just picking the corners with two strikes and you can’t take them, you have to swing at them. Sometimes, you have to tip your hat. It’s not always you stink. Sometimes the other guy really pitches well.”
FRESNO STATE VS. NEW MEXICO
▪ Saturday: 1:05 p.m. at Beiden Field
▪ Records: Bulldogs 28-26,17-12 MW; Lobos 29-24, 17-12
▪ Of note: Fresno State will honor seniors Taylor Tempel, Manny Argomaniz, Casey Rodriguez, Will Munro and Garrett Mundell and undergraduate assistant Jeff Brown before the first pitch.