By Daniel Reedy:
If all goes as planned, the Spartans could be Mountain West champions as early as Thursday.
San Jose State takes on UNLV for a three-game set beginning May 11, needing only one win and a loss by San Diego State to clinch the conference title.
“We’ve been playing well,” said third baseman Emma Entzminger. “If we keep on this upward climb, we can [win].”
The Spartans lead by two games heading into the final weekend of the season and face the Runnin’ Rebels who are tied for last place in the conference.
While the Spartans bring the conference’s best defense by fielding percentage, the Rebels sit at the bottom of the conference thanks to 87 total errors. The next closest team, New Mexico, has 64.
UNLV has especially struggled at the plate. It has the conference’s lowest run output in addition to last-place rankings in on base percentage, slugging percentage, doubles, triples, home runs and walks.
The Rebels are second to last in batting average and hits. Their lineup doesn’t have a single player in the top-10 in any major hitting categories.
The hosts do boast respectable pitching, ranking fifth in ERA and sixth in opposing average. The Rebels are led by Morgan Ettinger (12-16) who has a 3.34 ERA, but the staff as a unit has struck out just 153 batters this season.
Spartan hurler Katelyn Linford has 183.
Linford is 22-7 and fellow senior Collette Riggs is 10-3 ranking among the best pitchers in the conference, leading SJSU to it’s top-ranked 2.94 team ERA. Riggs leads the league with her 2.07 mark. The pair ranks third and fourth respectively in opposing batting average.
Pitching coach Letty Olivarez credits Linford and Riggs’ psychological strength.
“They’ve been mentally tough,” Olivarez said. “They’ve done a great job at recognizing when they start to freak out a little bit and making the step forward to overcoming those feelings.”
The pitching from the pair of aces — which Olivarez called “awesome” — has been the headline story all year for the team, but it’s not as though the Spartan bats have been quiet.
First baseman Madison Aurin enters the series in Las Vegas following a 6-for-10, 6-RBI weekend against Utah State. Aurin was named Mountain West Player of the Week for her performance.
“It’s a great feeling, being able to support my teammates” Aurin said of receiving the award. “I want to win. I want to win for the seniors … for coach … for the whole coaching staff.”
Aurin and the Spartans tagged the Aggies’ previously-top ranked pitching staff for 30 hits over the three games last weekend, eight of which came from senior Casey Watt.
If San Diego State loses and San Jose State wins on Thursday, the Spartans will clinch the Mountain West title and an automatic bid to the NCAA championship tournament.
First pitch at UNLV is scheduled for 6 p.m. on May 11.