Fresno State is on the cusp of softball history as it heads into senior weekend.
The Bulldogs, No. 17 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 and No. 19 in the USA TODAY/NFCA poll, are one series sweep away from becoming the first team to go undefeated in the Mountain West Conference, with only second-to-last UNLV standing in their way in a three-game series starting Thursday.
First pitch for the opener is 6 p.m., with another night game Friday and a noon finale Saturday.
A win in the series opener also would give the Bulldogs (39-9-1, 20-0) a school-record 22 straight victories, breaking a tie with the 1999 team.
21 straight wins for Fresno State this season ties its school record from 1999, when the Bulldogs reached the College World Series (for the second year in a row) in Oklahoma City. The winning streak is currently the longest active run in the nation.
Along the way they also will honor the careers of eight seniors who have been instrumental in the program’s success. Pitchers Jill Compton, Hannah Harris and Taylor Langdon, catcher Paige Gumz, infielders Whitney Smith, Alyssa Villalpando and Victoria Trevino, and outfielder Bria Kennedy make up the largest senior class in coach Trisha Ford’s four-year tenure.
The festivities are already in order – senior ceremonies and the Mountain West trophy presentation will take place before and after Saturday’s game. Ford, however, is trying to remind her players to remain stoic through the finish.
“I actually told them not to get emotional this weekend. It’s time for us to come out here and play ball,” she said. “It’ll be fun. It’ll be exciting, but you’re going to have time later to look back. I want them to look back on this and know that they gave everything.”
They can take their emotions and put it in two different directions: I want them to funnel it into getting excited and playing hard for their senior class and I don’t want them to think about it as this is the last time we can possibly be playing on our home field.
Coach Trisha Ford on her players’ approach ahead of senior weekend and impending NCAA Tournament berth
Compton, who on Monday was named Fresno State’s Female Athlete of the Year, believes the Bulldogs are in tune as they await the Rebels (23-29, 7-14).
“We’re not thinking too much ahead; we’re just really excited,” she said. “We know that we need to win each game. That’s just all that we’ve really been thinking about. Thursday is one game, Friday is the next and Saturday is the next.”
For Villalpando, the weekend only closes a chapter on a historic season.
It’s nice to know we achieved what we wanted to: to be Mountain West champs. But we’re not done.
Fresno State senior third baseman Alyssa Villalpando
“I’ll shed a tear or two,” she said. “But I’m excited to get these wins this weekend and move forward.
“A lot of dedication is on this team. A lot of heart. A lot of passion. When they say the grind is real, the grind is real. We’re up early in the morning; late at night working hard. It’s paying off, but we’re not done yet.”
I’m really proud of them, as cheesy as that sounds, it makes my heart warm to know where they came in and all the hard work they’ve put in … They’ve earned this. Every win and every loss they have earned and they’re seeing the benefits of that hard work and dedication.
Ford on her eight seniors
Fresno State will find out its postseason fate Sunday night during the NCAA Selection Show. The bracket will be released starting at 7 p.m. on ESPNU, when the Bulldogs – guaranteed a berth because of their conference title – also will find out if they will be one of 16 regional hosts.
“We’re really excited,” Compton said of the opportunity to play postseason ball at home. “We hope that we host because we love our fans and the support that we get here.”
Mexico-bound in 2017 – Next year’s preconference schedule will feature a trip south of the border, as Fresno State was one of 10 teams selected to play at the third annual Puerto Vallarta College Challenge in Mexico, Triple Crown Sports announced Wednesday.
The Bulldogs will play Feb. 16-18 against Florida Gulf Coast, Mississippi State, Texas Tech and Cal State Fullerton.
MOUNTAIN WEST FINALE: FRESNO STATE VS. UNLV
- Series: 6 p.m. Thursday-Friday, noon Saturday
- Records: Bulldogs 39-9-1, 20-0 Mountain West; Rebels 23-29, 7-14
- Webcast/radio: Mountain West Network (themw.com)/KFPT (AM 790)
- Of note: Departing players Paige Gumz, Jill Compton, Taylor Langdon, Hannah Harris, Bria Kennedy, Whitney Smith, Alyssa Villalpando and Victoria Trevino will be saluted as part of senior weekend. … The team also will be presented with its 2016 conference championship trophy Saturday.
NCAA SELECTION SUNDAY
- Sunday: 7 p.m. on ESPNU (Comcast 420/788, AT&T U-Verse 605/1605, DirecTV 208, DISH Network 141)
- At stake: No. 17/19 Fresno State has a locked up an NCAA Tournament berth but is bidding to be one of 16 on-campus regional hosts. Each site will feature a four-team, double-elimination tournament from May 20-22. … The 16 winning teams advance to Super Regionals on May 26-29, with the survivors there moving on to the Women’s College World Series from June 2-8 at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium/OGE Energy Field in Oklahoma City.