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The nationally-ranked Bulldogs are back-to-back Mountain West Conference champions. (Khone Saysamongdy/The Collegian)

Softball: ‘Dogs win second-straight MW title, earn NCAA Tournament berth

The nationally-ranked Bulldogs are back-to-back Mountain West Conference champions. (Khone Saysamongdy/The Collegian)

The nationally-ranked Bulldogs are back-to-back Mountain West Conference champions. (Khone Saysamongdy/The Collegian)

The 20th-ranked Fresno State softball team clinched its second-straight Mountain West Championship and secured the league’s automatic bid into the 2016 NCAA Tournament with a 6-4 road win over San Jose State on Sunday.

After a 13-7 victory just a day ago, the Bulldogs defeated the Spartans to earn their sixth series sweep of the year with six games still remaining on the 2016 regular-season schedule.

Fresno State started off strong with four base hits in a row, putting a run on the board with two away with Bulldogs’ catcher Paige Gumz recording an RBI in the first inning. San Jose State tied the game in the bottom of the second inning with a leadoff home run.

In the top of the third inning, junior outfielder Kierra Willis crushed a solo home run to give the ‘Dogs their first lead at 2-1. But soon after, the Spartans took a 4-2 lead on a two-run shot and Bulldog error with two outs in the middle of the inning.

With the scored tied four runs apiece, a solo home run from outfielder Vanessa Hernandez followed by another homer from infielder Lindsey Willmon put Fresno State up 5-4 in the fourth inning.

“I’m so proud of this group,” Bulldogs’ head coach Trisha Ford said. “These seniors, which was the first class when I got here, have worked their tails off. Paige [Gumz] and Jill [Compton] were calling most of that game today and they settled in nicely. Vanessa Hernandez came up with a big hit and Lindsey Willmon was huge for us again today and so was Kierra Willis. I’m just so proud of them.”

As the conference leader in walks with 37, Willis reached base on four balls to lead off the fifth innings for the Bulldogs and scored from first on a standup double by senior Alyssa Villalpando (2-for-4). Villalpando leads the league in combined RBIs (50) over 47 games played.

Compton (21-4, 13-0 MW) had a solid outing on the mound, allowing just one hit in the first two innings and only allowed two runners on base for the remaining four innings after the `Dogs went ahead in the fourth. She also added three additional strikeouts to her 659 career total during the series finale.

With six games still remaining in the regular season, Compton ranks sixth in program history in strikeouts, seventh in wins (85), second in appearances (155), eighth in innings pitched (791.2) and 10th in complete games (84).

The Bulldogs have a pair of series remaining against Nevada (May 6-8) and UNLV (May 12-14) before the NCAA Regionals, which begin May 20.

“That’s what I was hired to do – continue the program’s legacy and get us into the postseason,” Ford said. “For sure we’re in again this year … but we have to continue to get better, that’s our goal every day.”

Notes

-The nationally-ranked Bulldogs have won 14 MW games with 10 or more hits and won in double-digit fashion during 10 contests this season which includes eight MW matchups.

-The squad is riding the nation’s longest win streak of 19 games, aside from continuing what is the best start to a conference season in MW history.

-The No. 20 Bulldogs have been ranked in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25 poll for 11 consecutive weeks. That streak is the second-longest in MW history, trailing only San Diego State, which was ranked for 13 consecutive weeks in the NFCA poll in 2008.

-The squad is currently 28-0 in conference play dating back to the 2015 season and is riding the longest win streak accomplished by any MW program in league history.

-The Bulldogs have won their last 19 contests including 18 Mountain West matchups and a single nonconference game. The last time the Fresno State softball program opened conference with more than 16-straight wins was a 24-0 stretch, accomplished in 1999.

-In the past four weeks the Bulldogs have swept Boise State, New Mexico and San Jose State on the road and took all three contests from San Diego State, Utah State and Colorado State at home. When combining the past six conference series, Fresno State has outscored its opponent 166-72 which includes four run-rule victories and three walk-off wins.