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Diamond ‘Dogs are now tied for first in the Mountain West after win against Falcons

Bulldog+infielder+Murf+Gray+hits+the+ball+on+March+24+at+the+Pete+Beiden+Field+at+Bob+Bennett+Stadium.
Jacqueline Carrillo/The Collegian
Bulldog infielder Murf Gray hits the ball on March 24 at the Pete Beiden Field at Bob Bennett Stadium.

The Fresno State baseball team took a 2-0 series victory against Air Force Academy after a dominant performance in the last two games to tie for first place in the Mountain West conference.

A few days before the series against Air Force, the ‘Dogs lost in a nail-biting game against Loyola Marymount University. The game was tied at 8-8 going into the ninth inning. Fresno State ultimately lost after an unsuccessful last at-bat. The Lions were able to score four runs to make the final score 12-8.

That was not the fate of the Diamond ‘Dogs in this series. In the last match, Fresno State shortstop Ben Newton went 3-4 at the plate with a triple, two doubles and three RBIs. He was also able to make some crucial defensive plays including a double play in the sixth inning that prevented Air Force from earning potential runs.

“That double play that he [Newton] and [Eddie] Saldivar turned today was unbelievable,” said Fresno State Baseball Head Coach Ryan Overland. “To have a senior playing shortstop, making plays like that and getting big hits is huge for us.”

Despite a slow start in the series, the Bulldogs locked in and secured back-to-back wins.

Fresno State 3, Air Force Academy 4 (March 22)

Starting on the mound for the Bulldogs in Game 1 was Jake Dixon who had a 2.66 ERA and 25 total strikeouts going into this match. He kept the Falcons scoreless during the full six innings he pitched and had eight strikeouts, lowering his ERA to 2.23.

The game remained scoreless until the third inning when the Bulldogs scored two runs. Fresno State center fielder Michael McKernan started things off with a single. Second baseman Eddie Saldivar doubled down the right field line in the next at-bat.

A single to right center from left fielder Rocco Peppi allowed both runners to score, putting the score at 2-0. Pitcher Tommy Hopfe grounded into a double-play to end the inning.

The ‘Dogs earned their last run of the game in the seventh inning on a left-field home run by right fielder Grady Morgan, making it his 27th home run this season.

A two-run homer from Air Force catcher Walker Zapp in the next inning gave the Falcons its first runs of the game. Another two-run homer from Air Force first baseman Sam Kulasingam in the ninth inning sealed the deal for the Falcons. The ‘Dogs fell short 4-3 to end the game.

Fresno State 6, Air Force Academy 1 (March 23)

Fresno State pitcher Noah Beal started on the mound in Game 2. Previous to this match he had a 4.33 ERA and 36 strikeouts. Similarly to Dixon, Beal kept the Falcons scoreless through six innings. He had four strikeouts and lowered his ERA to 3.55.

The ‘Dogs took an early lead in the first inning starting with Saldivar who got on base first with a single to right field. Peppi was hit by a pitch in the next at-bat, allowing him to walk. A single up the middle from Morgan earned him two RBI’s. Newton struck out swinging to end the first inning, 2-0.

The momentum picked back up for the Bulldogs in the fifth inning when designated hitter Bobby Blanford homered to right field on the first pitch he saw. A few at-bats later, Saldivar tripled down the right field line which brought in McKernan who previously singled.

Morgan also earned an RBI with a double to left center, making it a 5-0 game. Third baseman Murf Gray struck out swinging to end the inning.

Both teams earned a run in the seventh inning, including a home run from Peppi. The Diamond ‘Dogs ended the game defeating the Falcons 6-1.

Fresno State 18, Air Force Academy 4 (March 24)

Fresno State pitcher Jack Anker started in the last match of the series and now has seven wins under his belt, 35 strikeouts total and a 2.27 ERA.

Overland told The Collegian how crucial of a player Anker is on the mound.

“He’s been throwing the ball really well for us so far and especially having a guy like that going on Sundays is a huge advantage,” Overland said. “He’s a Friday night caliber guy that you got in your pocket for Sunday to finish off the weekend well and he’s been doing a really good job.”

Jack Anker pitches the ball on March 24 at the Pete Beiden Field at Bob Bennett Stadium. (Jacqueline Carrillo)

The Bulldogs got off to a hot start in Game 3, scoring six runs in the first inning. Hopfe earned two RBIs after hitting a single to right field. Newton earned three RBIs on a triple to right center. He would eventually score off of an error from Air Force third baseman Jay Thomason.

Another RBI from Bulldog McKernan forced the Falcons to make its first pitching change of the game. This was the first of six pitching changes they would make. The first inning ended after Saldivar grounded out to the pitcher.

The Bulldogs took an early 6-0 lead.

The Diamond ‘Dogs picked up three more runs in the third inning. Saldivar earned one RBI with a double down the left-field line, and Hopfe earned two RBIs with a single that got past the shortstop.

Fresno State was now up 9-0 going into the fourth inning.

The Falcons scored a combined three runs in the fourth and fifth innings, giving them some momentum, but that was crushed when the Bulldogs scored nine more runs in innings five and six.

Air Force earned one more run in the seventh, but ultimately lost 18-4 in a mercy rule win for Fresno State.

“My teammates definitely came out swinging,” Newton said. “You know, It’s contagious. So just to come out, especially on a Sunday, that was good.”

Fresno State is in a four-way tie for the first seed with Air Force, the University of Nevada, and the University of New Mexico in the Mountain West standing at a 6-3 record. The ‘Dogs will be on the road for their next match, facing the University of Southern California today at Dedeaux Field.

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