Trouble has been no trouble for Fresno State pitching staff at MW Tournament

Fresno State advanced to a second elimination game at the Mountain West Conference Tournament on Friday and third overall with a 10-1 victory over Nevada, a game which, by the Bulldogs’ standard to this point, was relatively tame.

Left-hander Tyler Linehan shut down the Wolf Pack on five hits, allowing only one run. He struck out eight. Nevada left six runners on base, which is quite a switch from the Bulldogs first two games in the tournament when Nevada stranded 15 runners in a 12-inning victory over Fresno State in the first-round on Wednesday and Air Force left 17 on base in an elimination game on Thursday.

Fresno State pitchers have left 38 runners on base in 30 innings, and allowed the Wolf Pack and Falcons only four hits in 34 at-bats with a runner in scoring position, a .118 batting average.

In tough season, left-hander Tyler Linehan keeps Fresno State alive in MW Tournament

It has been a rough year for Tyler Linehan, the Fresno State Bulldogs’ left-hander. Any good outing was followed by a bad one, and there were far more of those through February, March and April. He couldn’t gain any traction, struggling with his mechanics and to find the strike zone – he walked 22 batters and hit six others in his first 34 1/3 innings, his ERA at that point 8.39.

Fresno State left-hander Tyler Linehan

But the Bulldogs’ junior made two solid starts at the end of the regular season, throwing three scoreless innings in a victory over Hawaii on May 7 and four scoreless innings in a win over Nevada on May 16, kindling the thought he could contribute come the Mountain West Conference Tournament.

That, he said after that victory over the Wolf Pack, would be awesome. For the Bulldogs, the No. 4 seed in the tournament, he did and it was, Linehan building on his late-season run on Friday by taking out Nevada 10-1 in an elimination game at Beiden Field and carrying the ‘Dogs into another must-win game at 3 p.m. against San Diego State, the No. 3 seed in the tournament.

‘’The beginning of the season was tough, a really slow start, not doing what you want to do and stuff,’’ said Linehan, who allowed only five hits and one run while striking out a season-high eight batters in his complete game victory. ‘’But working with (pitching coach Steve Rousey), he’s a great coach, working things throughout the year he stuck with me. We fixed some things the last couple weeks and just got it rolling and got momentum and got confidence going out there.’’

Linehan was sharp from the start, retiring the first eight batters he faced before a two-out walk in the third. He was getting ahead of the Wolf Pack hitters and pounding the strike zone – 16 of his first 20 and 24 of his first 34 pitches were for strikes.

He gave up only that single run in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by first baseman Hugo Hernandez. And, while in tight at that point, the Bulldogs ended up putting the game away with four runs in the bottom of that inning, three coming on a home run by left fielder Brody Russell.

Fresno State (23-32) added five more in the bottom of the eighth, including a three-run home run by leadoff hitter Jordan Luplow.


MW Tournament: top-seeded New Mexico powers its way past Nevada

New Mexico won the regular-season championship in the Mountain West Conference by daylight, seven games ahead of UNLV. They crushed the ball all season, scoring an average of 9.3 runs in its 30 league games. So when Josh Walker gave up a two-run home run to Nevada designated hitter Hugo Hernandez in the first inning of their opening game in the conference tournament, he didn’t fret at all.

The Lobos’ starter settled in, kept firing his fastball for strikes, and the offense took care of the Wolf Pack in a 7-3 victory on Thursday at Beiden Field.

With the win, New Mexico (38-18) advanced to a 7 p.m. match up against UNLV on Friday, one win closer to what would be its third consecutive MW tournament title.

The top-seeded Lobos scored six quick runs against Nevada starter Tyler Wells, getting a two-run double from Mitch Garver in the first inning, a two-run homer from Sam Haggerty in the second and a two-run homer by Luke Campbell in the third.

DJ Peterson, with Garver a co-player of the year in the conference for a second year in a row, put the Lobos’ seventh run on the board with a towering home run to left in the seventh, his 17th this season.

That was plenty for Walker.

The junior right-hander, who threw a three-hit shutout to beat Fresno State on May 10 the last time he was on the mound at Beiden Field, allowed only five hits and one run after the first, improving to 11-0 this season.

He left the game with two outs in the ninth, after Brad Gerig reached on a fielding error by shortstop Jared Holley and Lance Berringer drew a two-out walk.

Gabe Aguilar came on to get the final out, retiring Brett Jones on a fly ball to left and drop Nevada (24-31) into an elimination game on Friday at 11 a.m. against Fresno State.

Walker on his outing …


Wynns was on the field for about 90 seconds, not nine innings, but still had big impact for Bulldogs

A year ago at tournament time, when Fresno State was making its way through the bottom half of the bracket to emerge as champions of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament, Austin Wynns caught every inning of every game, 58 in all including 18 over two games in one day, in temperatures that hit a high of 101 degrees in the opening game against Hawaii.

Fresno State catcher Austin Wynns

Coach Mike Batesole thought better of that on Thursday, when the Bulldogs faced an elimination game against Air Force in the Mountain West Conference Tournament at Beiden Field.

Wynns, a senior, didn’t start. But he kept pestering Batesole to get onto the field and he ended up playing a huge role in the Bulldogs’ 6-4 victory that kept them alive for a chance to extend their streak of conference titles, either regular season or tournament, to eight.

Coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning, after the Falcons had closed to within one run in the top half, Wynns punched a 1-0 pitch into right for a two-run single to give Fresno State and its bullpen a bit of a cushion to get through the eighth and ninth innings.

‘’He was nudging me all day to get in there and he wanted to start and catch today,’’ Batesole said. ‘’But I was thinking there’s a chance if we’re going to get through this he’s going to have to catch five (games) in three days so we tried to get him a little break and good for him for coming in and doing what a senior is supposed to do.’’

When it comes to pitching, Bulldogs’ freshman Tim Borst got a win in victory over Air Force … and a save

Fresno State used three of its best pitchers in Blake Quinn, Derick Velazquez and Jordan Brink in the opening game of the Mountain West Conference Tournament, only to fall into the deep end of the bracket with a 12-inning loss to Nevada.

So on Thursday, in an elimination game against the Air Force, the Bulldogs needed a strong start from freshman Tim Borst, not only to win the game but to preserve some pitching for the remainder of the tournament.

Fresno State freshman Tim Borst

With the help of some stellar defensive play, they got it. Borst went seven innings in the Bulldogs’ 6-4 victory over the Falcons, scattering 11 hits and allowing three runs – not bad considering the Falcons had 18 plate appearances with a runner in scoring position and left 12 runners on base when the freshman right-hander was in the game.

‘’That was huge,’’ Coach Mike Batesole said. ‘’He’s our toughest pitcher, and that’s why we picked him instead of some of the other choices we had. We had to have him. We knew with the short turnaround, being here late last night and getting here early this morning, that it probably was going to take our toughest guy to get through that and that’s what he is and that’s what he did.’’

With Borst taking seven innings out of the equation, the Bulldogs were able to keep some solid options for an elimination game on Friday against either San Diego State, Nevada or New Mexico. They are to play the lowest losing seed from games four and five in the tournament.

Left-hander Tyler Linehan remains on the board, as does freshman Jake Shull. Garrett Mundell and Will Munro have yet to pitch in the tournament. And Batesole said there is a possibility that Quinn and Velazquez, who threw 60 and 63 pitches, could come back to pitch.

‘’I’ll have to talk to (pitching coach Steve Rousey) and see,’’ he said. ‘’I don’t think Brink will be able to, but the other two guys he might be able to run enough (to loosen up). We can’t run Brink into the ground because he’s going to be playing. But the other guys we might be able to run some of it out of them and get them out a day early. I don’t know, we’ll see.’’

With the prospect of two games on Friday, pitching will be at a premium. And the Bulldogs have some after the outing by Borst, who had been working mostly out of the bullpen the past two months. The seven innings against Air Force was a season-high.

”You have to give Borst some credit,” Batesole said. ”I mean, that kid was out there throwing on Thursday and Saturday (against Nevada) and now back out here again and dumps in 120 pitches. That’s a pretty gutsy performance from a pretty tough little freshman.”


MW Tournament: Bayardi grand slam leads UNLV past San Diego State in Game 4

Patrick Bayardi, the UNLV right fielder, came into the Mountain West Conference Tournament leading Division I in career hits, RBI and total bases and it figures there would be a big one or two in there somewhere. The senior is a three-time first-team all-conference selection, has led the Rebels in home runs and RBI the past two seasons.

But in his first at-bat on Thursday against San Diego State right-hander Michael Cederoth, Bayardi struck out with runners at first and second. And in his second at-bat, he struck out looking when leading off the fourth inning.

But coming up with the bases loaded in the fifth, Bayardi crushed the first pitch he got from Cederoth over the wall in left center field, the grand slam, his 11th home run this season, leading the Rebels to a 6-3 victory in Game 4 of the tournament at Beiden Field.

UNLV (37-18) will play New Mexico or Nevada in Game 8 on Friday at 7 p.m. The Aztecs (27-29) at either 11 a.m or 3 p.m. will play an opponent to be determined – the lowest losing seed from Games 4 and 5 plays at 11 a.m. and the highest losing seed from those games plays at 3 p.m.

Fresno State, which beat Air Force in an elimination game on Thursday, plays in the 11 a.m. game.

Bayardi struck out for a third time in the seventh against Aztecs’ reliever Ethan Miller, making it an all or nothing afternoon. But UNLV was able to add a run there on a RBI single by Patrick Armstrong, backing some solid pitching from starter Erick Fedde and relievers Brayden Torres and Kenny Oakley.

Fedde allowed seven hits and three runs in 7 1/3 innings, improving to 7-3.

On the grand slam, Bayardi said in the following video that he was looking to do something early in the count.





Thursday night could be major tuneup for Fresno Grizzlies’ Mike Kickham

Yes, Mike Kickham is still scheduled to be on the mound Thursday for the Fresno Grizzlies in their 7:05 p.m. series finale against the Oklahoma City RedHawks at Chukchansi Park.

But next week, who knows.

The 24-year-old left-hander is a leading candidate to fill the vacancy in the San Francisco Giants’ starting rotation created by Ryan Vogelsong’s broken pinky.

After tonight, Kickham’s next scheduled start would be Tuesday. Interestingly, that’s the same day the Giants will need another starter. So that part fits.

Also, Kickham has been pitching well lately. After a rocky April in which he struggled to throw his 93-94 mph fastball for strikes, Kickham has produced four straight quality starts.

Earlier this week in the Grizzlies clubhouse, I asked Kickham if Thursday’s start would come with any extra pressure. He seemed genuinely nonplussed.

“You always want to think about yourself pitching in the majors and you go out there every start to showcase what you’ve got,” Kickham said. “I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and not let some situation get in my head.”

Here are some facts and figures, courtesy of Grizzlies PR man extraordinaire Chris Kutz:

*** Over his last 4 starts, Kickham is 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA and 25 strikeouts against 6 walks.

*** His 50 strikeouts this season are tied for 5th in the Pacific Coast League.

*** His has won two straight starts. He has never won three consecutive starts in his career.

Kickham began the season as the No. 5 rated prospect in the Giants’ farm system, according to Baseball America. His opponent tonight, RH Jarred Cosart, is No. 7 in the Houston Astros chain. So it’s a good matchup tonight at The Chuk.

MW baseball: San Diego State breezes past Air Force 15-6

The Mountain West Tournament could not have started much better for the Air Force, with first baseman Seth Kline drilling a two-run home run in the top first inning to get the last-place team in the conference a quick lead. But it didn’t take long before the Falcons took a predictable turn … it was the bottom half of the inning.

San Diego State took advantage of three errors – two on one play – to capture the lead and went on to a sloppy 15-6 victory in the first of two games on Wednesday at Beiden Field.

The No. 3-seeded Aztecs (27-28) will play No. 2 UNLV on Thursday at 3 p.m., while Air Force (15-38) will play in an elimination game at 11 a.m. against the loser of the game between Fresno State and Nevada.

In that first inning, Jake Romanski reached on a one-out fielding error by Air Force shortstop Matt Thorne. Tim Zier followed with a single to center and both runners moved up a base when Falcons’ starter Steven Trojan fired a wild pitch, low and away.

Ryan Muno then singled to right, driving in Romanski, and Falcons started throwing the ball all over the diamond and Zier and Munro ended up scoring.

San Diego State added four runs in the third, the big blow a two-run single by John Spirk. And it added four more in the sixth, three coming on a bases-loaded double by Muno.

Zier had four hits for the Aztecs, the No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 spots in the lineup a combined 9 for 13 with six runs scored and seven RBI.

Phillip Walby went eight innings for the Aztecs, allowing nine hits and five earned runs.

San Diego State Coach Tony Gwynn, after the victory.


Prep baseball playoff notes

A shoulder strain has removed Jake Gatewood from Clovis’ pitching rotation — or even bullpen — in the Division I baseball playoffs.

Clovis High junior star pitcher/infielder/center fielder Jake Gatewood, who was just selected for the Under Armour All-America Baseball Game, has a strain in his right (throwing) shoulder, meaning he’s “probably out of the question for the rest of the playoffs,” Cougars coach James Patrick says.

Gatewood, as a result, didn’t even play defense as a designated hitter in Clovis’ 3-2, nine-inning win over Centennial in Friday’s Central Section Division I quarterfinals.

Patrick says junior right-hander McCarthy Tatum (10-2, 2.22 ERA) will pitch Wednesday in the third-seeded Cougars’ semifinal at No. 2 Clovis North at 6:30. The winner will advance to Friday’s championship to play either No. 1 Buchanan or No. 4 Stockdale. The host Bears, the Tri-River Athletic Conference champions, and Mustangs of the Southwest Yosemite League play Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.

The Clovis-Clovis North game matches Patrick against his son, Chris. Pops is 3-2 against him since the Clovis Unified programs began playing each other in 2011. That’s when the Broncos graduated their first senior class, and they went 0-3 against the Cougars that year, meaning they’ve gone 4-2 against Clovis the past two seasons.

More on the Patricks: Combined — with James (108-54), Chris (109-48) and brother Kevin (121-40) of Clovis West — they are 338-142 (.705%) since Clovis North began playing varisty baseball in 2009.

The rest of today’s section baseball playoffs:

Division II: No. 3 Western at No. 2 Madera, No. 5 Redwood at No. 1 Memorial.

Division III: No. 13 Madera South at No. 9 Tehachapi, No. 3 Sanger at No. 2 Golden West.

Division IV: No. 3 Bakersfield Christian at No. 2 Fowler; No. 4 Selma at No. 1 Kerman.

Division V: No. 3 Exeter at No. 2 Firebaugh; No. 4 Immanuel at No. 1 Caruthers.

Division VI: No. 3 Sierra Pacific at No. 1 Minarets (championship).

Bulldogs’ Judge, Mariscal and Quinn earn all-conference honors

Fresno State center fielder Aaron Judge, who is leading the Bulldogs in every major statistical category and is likely to be a first-round pick next month in the MLB first-year player draft, has been selected first-team All-Mountain West Conference.

Fresno State center fielder Aaron Judge was selected first-team All-Mountain West Conference. He leads the ‘Dogs with 11 home runs.

Sophomore shortstop Chris Mariscal and right-handed pitcher Blake Quinn were selected to the second-team, and Quinn shared freshman of the year honors with New Mexico’s Sam Haggerty.

Judge is hitting .373 going into the MW Tournament – the Bulldogs play Nevada on Wednesday at Beiden Field in the first round, the first-pitch scheduled for 7 p.m. He also leads the ‘Dogs with 72 hits including 15 doubles, four triples, 11 home runs and 35 RBI. He hit a home run last week against Nevada that traveled close to 500 feet, almost reaching the fence along Cedar Avenue.

Mariscal, a Clovis North graduate, is hitting .302 this season with 61 hits including 12 doubles and two home runs.

Quinn, who is starting against Nevada on Wednesday, has been one of the top pitchers in the conference over the past month-plus. The former Bullard High ace is 2-2 over his past six starts, but has allowed only 34 hits and nine earned runs over 35 2/3 innings. His ERA in those six games is 2.27.