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The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

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Valentina Saldaña/The Collegian
Bulldog infielder, Murf Gray hits ball at the Mountain West Tournament on May 27, 2023 at the Pete Beiden Field at Bob Bennett Stadium.

The Fresno State baseball team is gearing up for its season opener at Pete Beiden Field at Bob Bennett Stadium this Friday against Milwaukee, starting the season with high expectations.

The Bulldogs are under the coaching of Ryan Overland, who is in his first season without the interim tag. Overland is the fourth head coach since 1948, following in the footsteps of longtime coaches Pete Beiden, Bob Bennett and Mike Batesole

“It’s about honoring what’s come before us, but at the same time, it’s about how these players work hard every day and putting them in a position to be as great as they can, moving the program forward,” Overland said. 

The Bulldogs finished the 2023 season with a 30-27 overall record and 16-14 in the Mountain West Conference. Despite ending the conference season in fourth, the Bulldogs enter the season predicted to finish second in the MW Coaches Preseason poll.

The ‘Dogs have 20 players returning from last season, including infielder Murf Gray, pitcher/utility Tommy Hopfe and pitcher Jake Dixon, who were all named to the preseason All-Mountain West team. 

Gray is coming off a season where he hit .297 with eight home runs while driving in 38 runs. The conference’s reigning freshman player of the year is hoping to simplify the game.  

“I think it’s just keeping your head down. We’re gonna stay focused, get the job done. We’re not gonna overthink anything and overemphasize anything. We’re gonna work hard no matter what,” Gray said.

He added that “playing as a team” is one mindset that he and the rest of the Diamond ‘Dogs are looking to build and capitalize upon throughout the season. 

“I feel like we had a lot of at-bats last year that could have led to a lot more runs being scored,” Gray said . 

Hopfe is returning as a Bulldog for his senior year after leading the team with a .321 batting average and a .592 slugging percentage. 

The slugger also made a name for himself on the mound, serving as the Bulldog’s closing pitcher. His 11 saves ranked 14th in the nation a year ago. 

“I’m just trying to help this team win any way I possibly can. And whatever I’m called upon to do is do my best,” Hopfe said.

Hopfe had an opportunity last year to meet and get advice from Ben Fritz – a Bulldog alum who was a pitcher/catcher at Fresno State (2000-02). Fritz currently works in Major League Baseball as a bullpen coach for the San Diego Padres. 

“Being able to pick his brain was really cool,” Hopfe said. “To hear about the highs and lows, how things go and sometimes you fail and being able to get through that and move on and be the best person possible.” 

The offense for the ‘Dogs is something that should excite fans. 

The team is returning seven hitters who made at least 30 starts in 2023, including Gray and Hopfe while also welcoming Long Beach State transfers Eddie Saldivar and Rocco Peppi back home to the Valley. 

“We’re never going to be out of an inning with this lineup,” Overland said. “There’s a lot of excitement with the way these guys play. Lots of power and speed, 1 through 9.” 

While Overland hasn’t made a formal decision, either Dixon or UNLV transfer Noah Beal is expected to open on the mound Friday for Fresno State. 

Dixon, a fifth-year senior, struck out 42 batters a year ago in 40.2 innings pitched before his season was cut short due to an injury. 

Despite the team losing starters Ixan Henderson and Roman Angelo from the rotation, he’s confident in his team and there’s no looking back.

“It’s business as usual. You can’t try and replace them. You just have to go about your business and take care of it,” Dixon said.   

In addition to Dixon and Beal, Overland mentioned that Jack Anker, Victor Arreola and Aidan Cremarosa along with Hopfe would all play a huge role for the pitching staff during the 2024 season.  

This weekend’s series opens up from Feb. 16-18 against Milwaukee at the Pete Beiden Field at Bob Bennett Stadium.

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