Fresno State second baseman Jenna Cervantez, who leads the team with 11 home runs this season, looks to lead the Bulldogs to their 26th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
As it stands, the Fresno State softball team is about as big of a shoe-in for the NCAA Tournament as there can be.
In 58 regular season games, the Bulldogs have been able to run off winning streaks of at least five games four times, including a season-best nine-game winning streak March 6-13. When added together, it all adds up to 42 wins and 16 losses for a team that Bulldogs coach Margie Wright says is as talented as any in recent memory.
Still, even with all that work, the season is just starting for Fresno State. For the Bulldogs, the real season starts today with the opening day of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament.
â€œLast year, we got knocked out … because we took Nevada for granted,” Bulldogs senior catcher Nichole Willis said. â€œThis year weâ€™ll come in with that knowledge and take it to everybody.”
But itâ€™s hard for the Bulldogs to accept the WAC Tournament as something more than a matter of pride.
Itâ€™s cracking the list of teams that qualify for the Womenâ€™s College World Series in Oklahoma City, Okla. that has the Bulldogs anxious for the postseason.
Fresno State remains the lone school in Division I to have qualified for every NCAA postseason softball tournament, yet the Bulldogs have had extreme difficulty even making it to the super regionals of late.
â€œI think for us, itâ€™s mainly making up our minds that weâ€™re gonna win,” Bulldogs second baseman Jenna Cervantez said. â€œItâ€™s almost like every year, when we get to that championship day to make it into super regionals, we fold. We pretty much lay down and die.”
That is the characteristic that Wright has tried to fix â€” laying down and dying â€” unsuccessfully with each Bulldogs team. This team, however, is different, according to Wright.
â€œI see somebody different step up every day,” Wright said. â€œI see them get along with one another. If one person doesnâ€™t have the drive to get it done, someone else steps up and does it, and people follow. And thatâ€™s a big plus from last year. Thatâ€™s what you have to do if you really want to make a long run.”
Therein lies the difference between the 1998 National Championship Bulldogs team and every team since â€” a run, and a long run.
With good reason, Wright believes this yearâ€™s Bulldogs are capable of making an Oklahoma City run. The proof comes via a 6-1 victory over then No. 2 and current No. 9 Arizona State.
â€œI think that we know that anybody can beat anybody on any given day, and thatâ€™s something we might not have really known in the past,” Wright said. â€œThis group has proven it to themselves this year.”
There is, however, still a bit more to prove. Of the 16 Fresno State losses this season, eight have come at the hands of teams currently ranked in the top 25, including two to WAC rival No. 13 Hawaii.
â€œThroughout my four years here theyâ€™ve always been the team to beat just as weâ€™ve been the team to beat for them,” Willis said. â€œItâ€™s kind of the rivalry. Itâ€™s always fun playing them.
â€œIâ€™m going into this â€” and I think the rest of the girls are â€” taking every game seriously because you never know what team is gonna come up and bite you in the butt.”
This year, it is the Bulldogs who hope to have the strongest bite, they just hope thereâ€™s enough bites for that elusive WCWS bid.
But first things first, there is that little thing called the WAC Tournament to worry about. For the Bulldogs, that will be the gauge that will determine their destiny.
â€œWeâ€™re gonna try and find that momentum and drive through it a little longer,” Cervantez said. â€œNot just expect to win, we are gonna win.”