Fresno State is off to its best softball start in nearly two decades, undefeated at 10-0 and ranked No. 20 in the nation.
To get there, the Bulldogs have knocked off two top-25 teams and hope to double that number this weekend at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Cathedral City, where they will play No. 12 Oklahoma and No. 7 Oregon, as well as Northwestern, Loyola Marymount and Cal State Northridge.
It’s a difficult test for Fresno State, which is looking to improve off last year’s Mountain West title followed by a 0-2 run at the NCAA Regionals.
But fourth-year coach Trisha Ford is welcoming the pressure, confident in her seniors. She said their leadership has been key to the Bulldogs’ start.
“They’re comfortable,” Ford said. “They don’t freak out when we get behind. If they get a hit, they get a run.”
Fresno State takes the same approach on defense.
Senior pitchers Jill Compton and Hannah Harris have given up only a combined seven earned runs in 53.0 innings. The staff as a whole is 20th in the country in ERA (1.57), allowing 18 runs (15 earned) in 67 innings. The pitchers are backed by an infield of senior shortstop Whitney Smith, senior third baseman Alyssa Villalpando, junior second baseman Malia Rivers and a roving first base covered by freshman Dominique Jackson and junior transfer Lindsey Willmon.
“Being a groundball pitcher, I have to rely on my defense and they’ve done a great job this season,” Harris said at practice Wednesday. “Even if we make an error, we’re bouncing back quickly and not dwelling on it, and I think altogether we’ve done a great job of that.”
Ford agreed and pointed out the seniors are helping the newcomers hit the season in stride.
“We just have a lot of veteran players in key positions that have also nurtured the youngsters along,” she said. “They’ve been there before. They understand the process and have bought in.”
The Bulldogs will open the tournament at 1 p.m. Friday against Oklahoma followed by two games on both Saturday (including Oregon) and Sunday.
Fresno State is 2-0 against nationally-ranked opponents, defeating then-ranked No. 8 Tennessee 7-3 and No. 23 Utah 2-0 at Arizona State’s Kajikawa Classic.
The Sooners (8-3) are led by USA Softball Top 50 players pitcher Paige Parker and outfielder Erin Miller. Oklahoma opened the Nutter on Thursday with a 6-4 loss to Oregon State and a 6-2 victory against Utah.
The Ducks (8-3) are coming off a Women’s College World Series appearance and are hot at the plate to start the season, beating their opponents by five or more runs in six games.
Despite the competition, Ford said outcomes will be determined on how Fresno State responds to its opponents.
“We’re going to hit a bump,” she said. “This game is built around failure and we know that. But it’s how we respond to those bumps.”
She added: “It’s just worrying about us. Everybody else can do the talking. We’re going to let the talk happen on the field. We’ve got another top slate ahead of us this weekend. We’re going to go out and have fun and play Bulldog softball.”
Baseball – Another Bulldogs team is aiming to remain perfect this weekend, when the baseball team hosts Youngstown State (1-2) for a four-game series at Beiden starting at 6:05 p.m. Friday.
The Bulldogs (4-0) on Tuesday came back from a six-run deficit to beat Oakland 11-10 after sweeping Creighton over the weekend. It is the first meeting between the Penguins and Bulldogs, who can notch the program’s 2,500th win with two victories. Fresno State is 2,498-1,490-4 in its 88-year history.
FRESNO STATE SOFTBALL: MARY NUTTER COLLEGIATE CLASSIC IN CATHEDRAL CITY
- Friday: 1 p.m. vs. No. 12 Oklahoma
- Saturday: 12:30 p.m. Northwestern, 3 p.m. vs. No. 7 Oregon
- Sunday: 2 p.m. vs. Loyola Marymount, 4:30 p.m. vs. Cal State Northridge