Softball: Bulldogs pull sweep on Senior Day

SWEEP ON SENIOR DAY: The Fresno State softball team completed its series sweep over New Mexico on Sunday at Bulldog Diamond with a 4-0 win. Seniors Diane Runge and Mackenzie Mendonca were honored before Sunday’s game. Both of the seniors’ numbers were etched in the outfield during Sunday”s game in honor of Senior Day. Ricardo Cano / The Collegian

There were times during the Fresno State softball team’s weekend series finale against New Mexico on Sunday that begged the question as to what if the Mountain West Conference had a conference tournament beyond the regular season. 

Freshman pitcher Jill Compton, who is part of a freshmen trio that has shown progress in the circle, helped pave the way for the Bulldogs’ sweep against New Mexico.

The Bulldogs’ lineup, featuring several underclassmen playing key roles, produced 10 hits and was able to load the bases in key moments – which included a monster fourth inning.

Since the Mountain West does not have a conference tournament, only the regular-season champion is guaranteed a seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Fresno State (30-22, 11-7 MWC) concluded conference play this weekend with an 11-7 mark and is second in conference standings behind San Diego State (32-18, 10-5 MWC).

“I wish we could just keep playing,” Bulldogs softball coach Trisha Ford said it after Sunday’s 4-0 win that capped Fresno State’s weekend sweep over the Lobos.

“I think we’re just now starting to click, so it’d be great for us to continue and build upon understanding and grasping the nuances of the game. The tournament would be nice.”

On a weekend that had postseason implications (must-wins for a Fresno State team leaning on San Diego State losses to UNLV this weekend for the top spot in the conference), Fresno State performed.

Compton, who improved to 15-13 and lowered her ERA below .300 over the weekend, struck out a career-high 12 hitters in the series finale, striking out Lobos hitters in key moments of the game when the run support wasn’t there.

Compton, who pitched a complete game and made her second appearance of the weekend on Sunday, helped “set the tone” during the first few innings, Ford said.

“I’ve learned so much this season. It’s awesome,” said Compton, who has thrown 21 straight scoreless innings that date back her last game against San Diego State.

“Coach Ford had helped me out so much with pitching, with my mental game and my mechanics.”

The Bulldogs scored three runs off loaded bases in a crucial fourth inning.

Vonnie Martin, who hit .625 on the series, scored an RBI in the first inning.

“Vonnie has just been on a real tear this last month,” Ford said. “She’s been clutch hitting with people in scoring position and getting the job done.”

Seniors Diane Runge and Mackenzie Mendonca, the only players the Bulldogs will lose to graduation this year, were honored before Sunday’s game – where their jersey numbers were painted in the outfield.

Runge, a local product out of Buchanan High School in Clovis, grabbed two hits in four plate appearances as the team’s designated hitter.

Mendonca cracked the lineup on Sunday, as well.

The senior duo played a pivotal role in the maturation process of this season’s young roster, Ford said.

“I think they really were the glue to this team,” Ford said.

“Coming in with a new staff and it being their senior year, they both embraced us. Both of them are high character kids that represent Bulldog families and traditions.”

Fresno State finished the season with an 18-3 record at Bulldog Diamond.

Playing away from home was a different story for the Bulldogs.

Fresno State is 15-19 on the road.

The Bulldogs will close out the regular season on the road Thursday when they face Long Beach State in a nonconference doubleheader.

“It really kind of shows you how much the fan support really affects (us), especially our youth,” Ford said of the Bulldogs’ performance at home this season.

“They’re very comfortable here, and if you look at our averages at home versus our averages on the road, there’s quite a big difference.

“Hopefully, next year we get better at that. That’s something on our list for us to make sure that we have a point of emphasis of when we’re on the road we’re creating our own momentum and energy.”