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The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno State’s Adriana Noriega hits the ball in the second inning of the game against Oregon at Margie Wright Diamond on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. (Kameron Thorn / The Collegian)

Fresno State welcomes new faces for Bulldog softball

The returning 2021 Mountain West Championship team is striving to meet higher goals as they enter their upcoming season with new faces in the team and coaching staff.

“We’re here to win a championship,” Bulldog head coach Stacy May-Johnson said. “That’s what we set out to do every year and we feel like we’ve got a lot of the pieces that we need to do that. And now it’s about getting out there, finding out where we stand today and learning where we need to grow.”

The Bulldogs welcomed new head coach May-Johnson in 2021, following former head coach Linda Garza, who was accused by a former player for physical altercation in the 2021 season. Garza is now the head coach at Nevada. 

Growing up in Reno, Nevada, May-Johnson knew about Bulldog softball, so she said it allowed her to join the team this season with some familiarity of how Fresno State plays. May-Johnson noted that every year every team is different but this season, with the Bulldogs, it comes down to finding those key pieces to become the best team they can be. 

“We’ve got to be good in all facets: hitting, pitching, defense, base running. We’ve got to have all those things lined up and working together. And that’s our recipe to win,” May-Johnson said. 

Last year the team performed well, taking the MW championship win on senior day. 

Outfielder Keahilele Mattson, 2021 MW Player of the Year, and returning infielder Vanessa Hernandez, all region performer from last year, both said the odds are stacked against them this season as the reigning champs. 

“Everybody thinks that we’re basically not going to stack up as we did last year, so it’ll be fun to prove everybody wrong again this year and just go out there and have fun,” Mattson said. 

“As far as just getting back to the Conference and going for that back-to-back title, I think that’s such a big thing. And just a lot of people are doubting us.” Hernandez said.

Fresno State’s Vanessa Hernandez at bat in the game against San Jose State at Margie Wright Diamond on Saturday, March 20, 2021. (Kameron Thorn / The Collegian)

Mattson, as the team’s top batter, and Hernandez are some standout players to look for this season, according to May-Johnson.

May-Johnson noted that middle infielders Adriana Noriega and Alesia Denby are players who can hit the ball well. In the 2021 season Noriega was fourth following Hernandez batting a .328 AVG and Denby was eighth batting a .222 AVG. 

She is also anticipating Cassidy West to be the Bulldog’s ace this season following the transfer of 2021MW Pitcher of the Year Hailey Dolcini. She pitched a total of three innings last season allowing 3 hits, 1 run and 3 strikeouts.  

May-Johnson also highlighted Texas transfer Bailey Williams and freshman Alex Wright from Clovis West. May-Johnson said they would be strong at bat for the season. May-Johnson also anticipates transfer pitchers Casey Dixon and Marley Hanlon to prove useful to the team in the upcoming season.

May-Johnson hopes to get the softball team back in the college world series, and is excited to play in front of fans this season.

“There’s nothing like a full crowd at Margie Wright Diamond, and I’m excited to finally get to experience that Red Wave for the first time in my career, and I’m excited to bring some wins to help, you know, our fans and our community. They deserve those wins,” May-Johnson said.

Mattson explained some things she wants to improve for her personal play, one being more consistency. In the 2021 season Mattson led the ‘Dogs batting average at a .358 and had a .976 field percentage following Noriega.

“I’m excited to just ball out again. To be able to go out there and forget about last year and then kind of just make this like a new year and fresh start, fresh everything. It’s a new team. So that’ll be fun to see how we fare out and then how we throw against everybody else,” Mattson said regarding the new season. 

Mattson is looking forward to how the team is going to perform. She also praised this year’s new coaching staff, enjoying the practices. She noted this conference season will be a hard one for the Bulldogs, but if the team focuses on things they need to improve, the team has a great chance at a run. 

Hernandez said the new faces in the team this year will result in a new playing style for the Bulldogs. With this being her final season with the Bulldogs, after starting her collegiate career in 2019, she said she is looking forward to stepping up as a leader, embracing her last year.

“For me, I would say the biggest goal is to just hit, hit, hit. Last year was probably one of my best years so far here and just trying to talk about that,” Hernandez said.

West, now a sophomore, is entering her second season with the ‘Dogs and said she is eager to play with the team and travel.

“I think we have a great amount of potential. These girls are very hardworking and they put their all into everything they do. And some of them come before practice, [and] they’re the last ones to leave after practice. So I think our chances of winning are really high,” West said. 

“I really love this new coaching staff. They put their players first, they always ask how we’re doing,” West said. “And it’s not just about softball, you know, like they truly want to get to know us as people. And I think that’s really important for team dynamics. But they’re all super hard working, they’ll change up things to fit you. I think that’s rare to see in coaches.”

The ‘Dogs opened their 2022 season in Florida at the CFX Classic tournament on Feb. 11-13. The first day, the Bulldogs played Longwood at 8 a.m., losing the game short of one point with the score of 8-7. 

The ‘Dogs closed their second day in Orlando with two tough losses against No. 12 Georgia with the score of 11-5 at 6 a.m., and UCF with the score of 6 -1 at 11 a.m. 

Their final game of the tournament wrapped up their time in the CFX classic against Minnesota at 6:30 a.m., with a score of 7-3.­

The Bulldogs play their first home game of the season against UC Davis Feb. 19 at 1 p.m. and Feb. 20 at noon in Margie Wright Diamond.

Fresno State’s Danielle Lung pitching the ball during the game against San Jose State at Margie Wright Diamond on Saturday, March 20, 2021. (Kameron Thorn / The Collegian)

Correction: March 1, 2022

An earlier version of this article misspelled one of the names of the players. She is Adriana Noriega, not Adrianna Noriega.

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