Stevens: Lobos Face Balanced Bulldogs in MW Action
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  04/02/2014

New Mexico Softball – Mountain West Series – at Lobo Field

Who: Fresno State (19-12, 4-2 MW) at New Mexico (10-23, 1-5 MW)

When (MT): 5 p.m., Friday; 1 p.m., Saturday; 1 p.m., Sunday

GoLobos.com: Live Stats, Box Score, Game Recaps

By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

One goal for the New Mexico Lobos looking into their three-game Mountain West softball series with Fresno State is similar to what the Lobos tried to do with San Diego State.

Get to their pitching.

The Lobos pretty much did that when they played the Aztecs three times on Lobo Field.  New Mexico scored 20 runs. Not bad.

Which brings up another goal for the Lobos vs. the Fresno ‘Dogs:  Don’t let the Bulldogs get to the Lobo pitching. 

And cut down on the walks.

The Lobo bats have been more than decent so far in 2014, but the Lobo pitchers have been more than generous in handing out free passes.  UNM has given up 199 passes to first base – 161 walks and 38 hit-by-pitches.  Six of the nine MW teams have issued fewer than 100 walks on the year with SDSU in the lead with 62 passes.

As coaches of the diamond say: “Walks will kill you.”

The Lobos probably can’t afford to help out the Bulldogs in this three-game series that begins at 5 p.m., Friday at Lobo Field.  The Fresno State Bulldogs are a solid softball team.  They are balanced.    They also might be defined as much by some of their losses as they are by some of their wins.  They lost 5-4 to a Tennessee team currently ranked No. 2 in the nation at 31-3-0.

They can pitch. They beat No. 9 Washington 1-0 and beat No. 20 Nebraska 1-0.

They can hit.  They beat Boise State 24-4 setting a school record with 13 runs in an inning.  

“They don’t lead the conference in pitching. They don’t lead it in hitting,” said Lobo Coach Erica Beach. “But they are strong in both areas.  They have good balance. Our offense is strong, but we aren’t going to score 12 runs every game.  We need to find some balance, too.”

The Fresno Bulldogs are expected to battle San Diego State for the 2014 Mountain West crown while the rest of the MW programs scramble to fill in the order beneath those two teams.  Fresno was hurt by opening with a 1-2 series mark at Boise State, but the Bulldogs rallied to a 3-0 series sweep over Utah State in Fresno.  The Bulldogs come to New Mexico looking for another sweep.

They will face a New Mexico team with its back nearing the proverbial wall with a 1-5 MW record. The NCAA automatic bid goes to the MW regular-season champion and New Mexico can’t afford to drop another series to a team projected to finish high.

“This is a crucial series,” said Beach. “We are at home and need a couple of wins on the board to stay in the race.”

The 1-5 Lobos are in last place in the Mountain West.  The Bulldogs (19-12 overall) are at the top at 4-2 along with 4-2 UNLV.   San Diego State is 2-1 with a loss to UNM. San Jose State is 2-1 and Utah State, Colorado State and Nevada are at 3-3.

The Lobos’ need is obvious. They need a few wins to work their way into the middle of the pack and then try to climb from there.   The Bulldogs will not make that climb easy.

“Fresno State has been really competitive this season and they have proven that they are one of the top teams in the conference,” said Beach, whose Lobos return to Lobo Field after a 0-3 series at Nevada. “We are prepared for that.  We have to come out and play good softball to compete with them.”

The home field is important to the Lobos and has been a factor so far in the MW race.  The home teams went 11-1 this past week and are 20-4 through the first two weeks of league play.  That can be a two-edged sword.  Teams usually play well at home.  Teams also need to play well at home and not give up that advantage.  The Lobos own two of the four MW home losses and need to change that against Fresno.

In a way, the pre-series scenario unfolds a lot like UNM’s opening series with San Diego State.  The Bulldogs have played well on the national level and lean on good pitching – just like SDSU. The Fresno ‘Dogs have not excelled as much with the bat.

That’s why it’s key that the Lobos don’t help the Bulldogs reach the bases.

Fresno State has balance, but they have been solid in the circle all year and are No. 2 in the Mountain West in team ERA at 2.85.  UNM is last at 7.08.

The Bulldogs have balance at the plate but are not always overpowering with a team batting average of .266 – No. 8 out of nine teams.  UNM is seventh at .275.  Fresno has the top fielding percentage (.962) in the conference.  The Fresno arms have the league’s best opposing batting average at .256 and UNM is last at .353.

The Bulldogs’ ace is Jill Compton with a 2.14 ERA in 17 starts allowing opposing batters to hit .226.  She has thrown 111.1 innings.  Carrie Sheehan leads UNM with 77.2 innings pitched.  If Compton gets in trouble, Taylor Langdon (5.12 ERA), Hannah Harris (3.55) or Kiley Aldridge (2.10) usually come in from the bullpen.

A stat that hurts UNM out of the circle is the Lobos’ 161 walks. Fresno State has given up 90 walks.  The Bulldogs have allowed the fewest home runs in the league with 14.  UNM has given up 28.

The Bulldogs are paced at the plate by Brenna Moss with a .377 average.  Moss has 18 stolen bases. UNM is led by Naomi Tellez with a .383 batting average.  Fresno’s Stesha Brazil has 31 RBIs and leads the Bulldogs in home runs with six.   

“Fresno is pretty much a complete package,” said Beach. “They have historically been a strong program and they have a lot of history and the pride that comes with it.”

The Bulldog’s are coached by former Stanford assistant Trisha Ford, who took over from the legendary Margie Wright, who led Fresno State to 10 College World Series including a national title in 1998. Her Bulldogs played in four NCAA National Championship games.

Fresno State was ranked in Top 25 polls for 27 consecutive years so Ford’s first season of 30-24 wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t up to Bulldog standards.   They return seven of eight every-day starters and three pitchers from 2013. They return four All-MW selections.

They are looking to return to postseason play.  They will see one of the hurdles this weekend at Lobo Field.