Coming into Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Pacific Tigers, Fresno State’s pitching staff was not doing the team any favors.
The Bulldogs (7-14, 4-8) were riding on a five-game losing streak in their return home against the Tigers (7-17, 0-9). During that span, Fresno State allowed at least nine runs in all of those losses.
And after building a 4-2 lead in the third inning, it seemed like Fresno State’s momentum was slowly shifting in the right direction. But then, the Bulldogs gave up eight runs and seven hits and recorded one error in the fifth inning.
Fresno State lost 14-10 to Pacific, suffering their sixth-straight defeat. It’s their longest losing streak since 2016.
Fresno State head coach Mike Batesole acknowledged his pitching staff has struggled since the beginning of the season, especially with getting ahead of the count. Much of the time, the Bulldogs are having to pitch with a three-ball count.
“A lot of walks, a lot of three-ball counts around that,” Batesole said. “We’re making it too easy on them. Hitting with a three-ball count is so much easier than when it’s not three balls and we’ve just really struggled from opening day. We’ve just been stuck in the mud on the mound.”
The Bulldogs have recorded at least two errors in five out of the six games and now lead the Mountain West in errors with a total of 32.
“We kicked a couple today, and we had a couple 90-foot throws we didn’t make,” Batesole said.
Fresno State starting pitcher Nik Cardinal struggled on the mound this season, allowing 14 earned runs through 16 innings. The signs of those woes seemed to carry on in the first inning versus Pacfic.
After recording the first out of the game, Cardinal allowed singles to Pacific’s Charles Middleton and Alex LeForestier. With runners on first and second, Tigers catcher Joe Fitzhugh singled to left scoring Middleton to make it 1-0 Pacfic. Cardinal escaped trouble with a double play, ending the inning.
Fresno State only trailed for about 10 minutes. The next inning, Andrew Kachel tied the game 1-1 by hitting his fifth homerun of the season off Pacfic pitcher Hunter Hayes. Kachel is now tied alongside teammate Nate Thimjon and two other players for most home runs in the Mountain West.
Cardinal settled down in the second, retiring all three batters he faced. But the Bulldogs couldn’t get it going offensively as Hayes struck out the side.
The Bulldogs struggled defensively in the top of the third. Pacfic’s Aidan Selfridge reached first on a passed ball. Pacfic’s Thomas Gavello hit a slow grounder to first, causing Fresno State’s Ryan Higgins to charge the ball.
Looking for the out of second, Higgins couldn’t quite get rid of the ball, allowing Selfridge to advance to second and Gavello to reach first.
It didn’t end there.
Middleton followed up, slapping the ball opposite field. Fresno State second baseman Josh Lauck prevented the ball from going to the outfield, saving a run. But his throw to first wasn’t on target.
With the bases loaded, Cardinal was able to strike out LeForestier. However, he didn’t have the same success next batter as Cardinal threw a wild pitch, allowing Selfridge to score. The damage was kept to a minimum. Cardinal got out of the inning, holding Pacific to one run. The Tigers led 2-1.
But again, the Tigers lead was short lived. In the bottom of the third, Jeff Jamison bunted a single. Next batter, EJ Andrews, Jr. crushed a ball to left field to take the 3-2 lead.
The Bulldogs weren’t done. Kachel drew a walk and then proceeded to steal second base. On his way to second, Fitzhugh threw the ball into the outfield, causing Kachel to make it all the way to third. Then, Kachel scored in the next at-bat off a wild pitch to extend Fresno State’s lead 4-2.
In the top of the fourth, Bulldogs pitcher Cooper Bergman came in relief for Cardinal. The freshman gave the team some momentum as he retired the side.
But that momentum did not carry into the fifth inning. Still with a 4-2 lead, Bergman gave up a long triple to Gavello to lead off the fifth. In the next at-bat, Gavello scored on a wild pitch.
It was only the beginning of a long fifth inning.
Following a walk to Middleton, Bergman gave up a single to LeForestier putting runners on first and second. Fitzhugh singled advancing the runners up a base, but the Tigers tied the game as Andrews, Jr. had a throwing error, allowing Middleton to score. The Tigers took over the lead, 5-4.
With one out, Bergman was replaced with Kyle Pruhsmeier. The junior right-handed pitcher allowed seven straight base runners and three runs. The ‘Dogs finally got out of the fifth when Pruhsmeier picked off Middleton at third base. The Tigers led 10-4 at the end of the fifth.
The Tigers added one more run in the top of the sixth. This time against Ixan Henderson, who replaced Pruhsmeier. Pacfic now led 11-4.
Batesole said his relief pitchers seem to have good bullpen sessions but need to execute that when it’s time to play.
“We just gotta throw strikes,” Batesole said. “We’ve been working on that so hard and you know we watch them throw bullpens and we’re like, all right, all right. Then, 300 feet from the bullpen, it’s different.”
But Fresno State didn’t show signs of giving up offensively. Bulldogs’ Vinny Bologna singled to left field. Then, Fresno State infielder Mason Grotto came and hit a pinch-hit home run to cut the Bulldog’s deficit 11-6. It was Fresno State’s third home run of the game.
Pacfic added one more run in the seventh to make it 12-6 but the Bulldogs made it interesting in the bottom of the seventh. After getting a run, the Bulldogs loaded the bases for Presno, who hit a ball to deep left field. It was inches away from leaving the ballpark but bounced off the wall, scoring two runs. Suddenly, the game was down to a two-run differential.
Fresno State pitcher Oscar Carvajal, who came in relief in the seventh inning, followed up the eighth with a shutdown inning. Carvajal remained in the rest of the game pitching for 2.1 innings, striking out six batters but giving up two runs in the top of the ninth. The Bulldogs now trailed 14-10.
It came down the bottom of the ninth. Fresno State loaded up the bases. Fresno State’s Blake Wink stepped up in the batter’s box with two outs, but he grounded out to end the game.
“I’m very proud of how hard they’ve played, but it’s just been super sloppy,” Batesole said.
Fresno State will continue its homestand this weekend as the Bulldogs host third place Air Force. The Bulldogs are currently last place in the Mountain West.