RUSTON, La. - With the Fresno State softball team on its potential final trip to the rustic town of Ruston, La., as a member of the Western Athletic Conference, the visiting Bulldogs built a midgame lead and never looked back for a WAC opening 2-0 victory over Louisiana Tech.
The bond between the two schools has grown closer throughout the years, especially on a sultry night on the Louisiana Tech University campus as the Bulldogs and Lady Techsters opened their WAC slate.
During its last visit, the Lady Techsters hosted their first DART (Domestic Abuse Resistance Team) charity game in part to honor Fresno State's head coach Margie Wright's fight to curb domestic violence and raised $8,000 through the event.
And on Friday night, Tech rejoined forces with DART to raise more awareness and support for their programs with concession sales and donations.
With the shared off-field venture, the teams opened WAC play by featuring two of the conference's best pitchers on center stage.
For Fresno State, junior pitcher Mackenzie Oakes was fresh off taking down then No. 5/6 Michigan last weekend and returned to the circle for her ninth start of the season.
For Louisiana Tech, senior pitcher Meghan Kreig picked up a nine-inning, two-hit victory on Wednesday night.
Both pitchers contained their opposing hitters before Michelle Moses ripped a fourth-inning double to spark a resilient Bulldog offense in the clutch. Moses came around to score two batters later on an RBI single by Caitlin Stiglich as Fresno State (17-8, 1-0 WAC) struck first and added the insurance run when Krieg (5-12) beaned Moses in the fifth with the bases loaded to plate Rebecca Hall.
Meanwhile, Oakes (11-2) continued to dazzle as she danced out of trouble with precision and purpose for her second complete game shutout this year. The Dogs remained an unbeaten 9-0 when Oakes gets the starting nod.
"Mackenzie made quality pitches and executed when we needed it," Wright said of the righthander from Bakersfield, Calif.
Louisiana Tech (9-22, 0-1 WAC) scattered five hits, stranded ten baserunners in the contest and hit into a pair of double plays.
The first squashed a third-inning bases-loaded scare when Meghan Knowles smacked a grounder to Moses at first, who threw home to get a Tech runner at the plate, and Stiglich fired back to first to retire Knowles.
"That double play was huge for us," Wright noted. "It was great execution when they were threatening. We did a nice job when we had to make plays."
The second double play came on Tech's Heather Dorian line drive to the Fresno State's second baseman Brooke Ortiz and doubled up the Tech catcher Allie Geisler at first base. The pair marked the 10th and 11th double plays turned by the Dogs this season.
Fresno State improved to 18-1 in WAC openers and 23-3 all-time in conference openers during Wright's 26-year tenure. Since Tech joined the WAC in 2002, Fresno State is now 15-3 in games played in Ruston.
Bulldog freshman Vonnie Martin made her fourth appearance in a game when she pinch hit in the top of the sixth. Martin is a native of Plano, Texas, which is about a four-hour drive from Ruston.
With three wins over Top 20 teams (then No. 5/6 Michigan, No. 8/10 Missouri and No. 19/18 Oklahoma State), the beginning of conference play signifies the turning of the page to a focus of qualifying for May's WAC Tournament. All eight WAC institutions are competing for the six slots in the postseason competition hosted May 11-14 in Fresno that awards the conference's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
At Fresno State, the expectation to make the NCAA Tournament is natural - the Bulldogs remain the nation's only program to compete in all 29 NCAA Tournaments and can extend the record to 30 this May.
The Dogs and Lady Techsters will compete in a doubleheader on Saturday with the first game starting at 11 a.m. Pacific.
"We Are Your Team!" --- Fresno State continues WAC play on Saturday in Ruston, La. The Dogs will return to Bulldog Diamond for a nationally televised showdown with No. 21/25 Hawai'i on April 1 at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU. Fans can purchase tickets by logging on to www.gobulldogs.com, calling 559-278-DOGS or by visiting the Bulldog Ticket Office.
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