Hailey Dolcini shines in Fresno State’s doubleheader sweep

Haley Dolcini delivers a pitch versus Pacific on Friday, Feb. 19 2021 (Photo courtesy of Fresno State Athletics)

Fresno State softball shook off its second 0-3 start in 28 years by sweeping Pacific in a doubleheader Friday to begin the 2021 Fresno State Kickoff Classic.

“It’s always great to be home,” head coach Linda Garza said. “I think everybody was just excited for it to feel like home again.”

Fresno State only had five hits in the first game, but four of them were home runs in the Bulldogs’ 9-0 five-inning victory over Pacific in the first game. The Bulldogs’ ace Hailey Dolcini dominated in the circle, striking out 10. 

Dolcini returned in the second game of the doubleheader to record the final eight outs, helping Fresno State edge Pacific 4-3.

“That pure dominance gave us the confidence [to use her again],” Garza said, “That second game got a little closer than we anticipated, and it was just great that we were in a position to find a way to get the runs back and use her again.”

Fresno State (2-3) entered its matchup with Pacific (0-2) with a .149 batting average and two runs scored through the season’s first three games. 

But from the moment the Bulldogs stepped into the batter’s box for Friday’s first game, they busted out of their slump and found ways to score — with a few unconventional methods.

Kaitlyn Jennings drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the first inning and followed it up by stealing second base. The next batter, Miranda Rohleder, bunted for a hit, putting baserunners on the corners. 

The Bulldogs faked a double steal to move Rohleder into scoring position. Two wild pitches from Pacific starter Myka Sutherlin scored both baserunners, giving Fresno State an early 2-0 lead. 

In the second inning, Lexie Webb and Keahilele Mattson stepped to the plate for their first career at-bats at Margie Wright Diamond. 

Their first career hits were back-to-back home runs to double the Bulldogs’ lead to 4-0. That ended Sutherlin’s afternoon in the circle and Avery Croxall was brought in relief.

Leading off the bottom of the third, Kelcey Carrasco went to straightaway center field for a homer – her second in 2021 — to make it a 5-0 Fresno State lead through three innings.

In the circle, Dolcini retired the first eleven batters she faced, a stretch that included nine strikeouts (eight swinging). She allowed her first baserunner in the fourth inning when Pacific’s Madison Kahwaty laced a single into left field. 

The next batter, Hannah Krosky, hit a grounder toward Denby at shortstop. Denby’s throw to first base was late, but Lexie Webb snapped a throw back to third base to nab Kahwaty for the third out.

Mattson led off the bottom of the fourth inning with the second hit of her Bulldog career — a second home run. 

“She’s probably one of the smallest kids on the field, and they were oppo[site-field] shots,” Garza said. “I mean, how many oppo shots do you actually see and you’re seeing it from somebody who is 5-foot-3.”

Croxall walked the next two batters and hit another one to load the bases with no outs. Vanessa Strong relieved Croxall and promptly gave up two more walks – the Tigers’ fifth and sixth free pass of the game – to drive in two runs.

One more Bulldog scored on a fielder’s choice, but two groundouts kept Fresno State’s lead at 9-0 entering the fifth inning.

With the tournament’s run-rule (an eight-run lead after four innings) in effect, Pacific needed two runs in the top of the fifth inning to extend the game at least one more half-inning. 

Carly Luchetti reached on a single, but Dolcini allowed nothing else, striking out her 10th batter of the afternoon to seal Fresno State’s first win of the season, 9-0.

Fresno State jumped out of the gates again in the second game. Rohleder and Carrasco reached base with a single and walk to lead off the first inning. Alesia Denby recorded her first hit of the season to drive in Rohleder and give the Bulldogs an early 1-0 lead.

The Bulldogs’ starter, Danielle Lung, ran into trouble in the top of the second. She surrendered a walk and single to the first two Pacific batters, followed by a Rohleder error to load the bases with no outs.

Second baseman Rian Dirmeyer and third baseman Jessica Mabrey each hit RBI singles to score Pacific’s first runs of the ballgame. Lung hit a batter to drive in one more run, but she escaped the inning with a popout and strikeout to keep Pacific’s lead at 3-1.

Those were the last batters Lung faced, as Dariana Orme entered the ballgame to start the third inning. She pitched a scoreless top of the third and the Bulldogs’ bats tied it up in the bottom of the third — with the help of a Pacific miscue.

After Carrasco and Schuylar Broussard walked, Mattson hit a bloop single off the first baseman’s glove to drive in Carrasco. Broussard ran from first to third on the play and Dirmeyer tried to throw her out.

But Dirmeyer threw wide of third base and Broussard sprinted home for the game-tying run.

“Once the ball kicked off and we found a way, we saw a window and at that point, we were going to try to take it,” Garza said. “You know what, they scored one of their runs because of one of our errors, so I feel like it was one of those back-to-back things. That game is the same score if you take those errors way.”

Orme pitched around a walk and a hit by pitch in the top of the fourth, and the Bulldogs regained the lead in the bottom half of the inning when Carrassco lined an RBI double over the left fielder’s head.

Pacific starter Bethany Hammer still had a solid outing for the Tigers, pitching all six innings and surrendering two earned runs (two unearned).

Pacific knocked Orme out of the game in the top of the fifth with a walk and double to put two baserunners in scoring position. Dolcini, two hours after throwing five shutout innings, came out of the bullpen and recorded two quick outs to end the threat.

Garza didn’t let Dolcini ice her arm after the first game, precisely for what happened in the second game — an impromptu relief outing.

“We needed two wins so we put ourselves in that position and at that point, we were going to take games where we can take them,” Garza said.

Fresno State looks to take one against No. 10 Oregon (5-0) this weekend, who the Bulldogs play Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning to continue the Fresno State Kickoff Classic.

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