CSU looks to rebound against San Diego State

Austin White

Colorado State will look to rebound in conference play this weekend after dropping two of three games to Boise State in their last series.

The Rams (13-9, 1-2 Mountain West) will welcome in San Diego State (17-11, 1-2 MW) for their first home conference series of the season, March 24-26.

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CSU comes into the series after struggling against Boise State, falling 8-5 to the Broncos Sunday, where all eight runs for the Broncos were unearned. The Aztecs come to Fort Collins after a 1-2 weekend against Fresno State where they won the final game of the weekend.

Defense was an issue over last weekend for the Rams as they held a 5-4 lead in the fifth inning in that 8-5 loss to the Broncos. Four runs were scored in the fifth inning by the Broncos in which the Rams helped them load the bases with two outs by giving up three errors. CSU finished the game with five errors.

Pitching also proved to be of concern for CSU, as the Rams have struggled to prevent runs in the past seven games. CSU is 2-5 in those games. Larisa Petakoff, Bridgette Hutton, and Kaylynn Pierce all had at least one complete game shutout in the first Colorado State Classic, but then all struggled in the second Classic against Maine and Wisconsin.

Pierce and Petakoff both had sub 2.00 ERAs before the Maine and Wisconsin matchups, but after the trip to Boise State, Pierce has a 4.00 ERA and Petakoff has a 2.29 ERA. Wisconsin was able to mercy-rule the Rams 16-0 on March 12 and the Rams’ first matchup with Boise State ended in a 10-3 loss.

Head coach Jen Fisher is looking for the pitchers to get back to how they were performing early in the season.

“The pitchers have to understand what they did so well (in the first Colorado State Classic) and repeat that performance,” Fisher said.

The offensive duo of senior Haley Hutton and sophomore Amber Nelson have been consistent from the plate. Nelson leads the Mountain West in batting average at .491 and Hutton is 11th at .397. Nelson also leads the conference in slugging percentage ( .964) and on base percentage (.633). Hutton is tied for fourth in runs scored with 24, with Nelson hitting behind her in the lineup.

“Amber, when she gets good hits that helps all of us,” Hutton said. “It helps the team…everybody is doing their job and if everybody is doing their job it is one well-oiled machine.”

Nelson’s eight home runs also lead the conference, most of which have been hit to opposite field. Nelson bats left-handed, and all of her home runs have been hit to left field or left center fence.

“I am a lot more confident,” Nelson said. “Not just at the plate but also behind the plate catching.”

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The sophomore slugger has been playing well behind the plate with four throw outs and has only allowed one passed ball. Hutton matches her on defense as well by making either diving plays or showing off her arm strength throwing runners out at first. Hutton does have eight errors this season though, which is second on the team.

With the Aztecs coming to town, Nelson and Hutton will look to take advantage of their pitchers as all four SDSU pitchers hold ERAs north of three. SDSU’s best pitcher has been freshman Marissa Moreno, who holds a 3.32 ERA, to lead her team and her 11 walks are tied for the third lowest in the Mountain West.

However, the numbers can lie as San Diego State still has senior Erica Romero pitching. In 2015, Romero was named to the All-Mountain West First-Team after leading the nation with 36 wins. This season, the senior has a 3.41 ERA with five wins and is in second in the conference in walks (nine).

The story for the Aztecs this season though has been their offense as they average 6.2 runs per game and have a run differential of plus 57.

Sophomore Molly Sturdivant is leading the way with a .427 batting average — seventh in the conference — and the sixth most RBI (26). Junior Jenavee Peres is in third with 29 RBI and senior Sydnee Cable is in fourth with 28. Peres and Sturdivant are right behind Nelson for the home run lead as well as they are both one behind Nelson at seven home runs.

That run support has helped San Diego State through a challenging season as they have played five teams who were ranked at the time including a 3-2 victory over then No. 17 Utah. The Aztecs also stuck around against No. 1 Florida State falling 6-4 to the Florida State Seminoles on Feb. 24.

The two teams have one common opponent coming into the matchup as both teams defeated Weber State — CSU winning 4-0 Feb. 19 and the Aztecs winning 16-7 Feb. 12.

“We are playing loose, which I like as we begin conference play, but we need to clean up on defense,” Fisher said in a statement following the Boise State series. “We also need to be able to execute in all areas of our game and get everyone firing on all cylinders.”

Bad weather is in the forecast for the series, as Friday calls for rain or snow showers. As it stands now, game one is set for 4 p.m. Friday, game two at 1 p.m. Saturday and game three at 12 p.m. Sunday.

Collegian sports reporter Austin White can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @ajwrules44