Boise State softball wins on senior's walk-off bomb
Junior shortstop Rebekah Cervantes says her team was "pretty angry" when the Mountain West Conference preseason softball poll was released in early February.
After breaking through for the first postseason berth in program history the year before, the league's coaches predicted Boise State would finish seventh out of nine teams in 2018.
"I think our mentality turned to just proving them wrong," Cervantes said. "Instead of worrying about what people really think of us, show them what we really are."
With just three conference series left in the regular season, the Broncos are two games behind first-place Fresno State. The Bulldogs (29-16, 12-3 MW) will be in Boise this weekend for a three-game series against the Broncos (32-13, 10-5) beginning at 4 p.m. Friday at Dona Larsen Park. The two teams meet again at 4 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday.
Only the conference champion is guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Boise State was invited to play in the National Invitational Softball Championship last postseason but never has qualified for the NCAAs since the program's inception in 2009.
Two years ago, the Broncos totaled just 14 wins in 52 games and finished last in the Mountain West. In 2017, Boise State racked up 33 wins — the second-most in program history — and advanced to the title game of the NISC regional in Ogden, Utah.
The postseason experience changed the way the 2018 team operates.
"I think it's just going all out, going hard all the time in practice, in games, in weights, in conditioning," Cervantes said. "It's knowing that if you don't think you can do it, you're not going to. Believe in yourself that you're going to do it and you will do it."
Cervantes has played a crucial role in the Broncos' upward climb.
She was the 2016 Mountain West Freshman of the Year and a first-team all-conference selection the past two seasons. Cervantes was named a preseason All-American this spring by Fastpitch News, the first such honor in program history.
"She has a coach's mind in a player's body. She's somebody that knows the strategy of the game very well," Boise State coach Cindy Ball said. "And athletically, it's crazy. At the plate we talk about how no one has ever gotten her out, she only gets herself out. ... She's one that's definitely paved the way for our offense and where it is today."
Boise State leads the Mountain West in team batting average (.357), runs (305), hits (454), doubles (80), home runs (43) and RBIs (265).
Cervantes — a native of Visalia, Calif. — set the Broncos' career doubles record last weekend and has 36 going into the Fresno State series. She ranks first on the team this season in runs (44), hits (62), doubles (15), triples (2) and RBIs (47). She's batting .431 with a slugging percentage of .708 and is tied for second on the team with seven home runs.
"From her first day out here, I think she was an individual who didn't quite know her capacities of how hard to push and what it was like to push, what it felt like to go above and beyond what she thought she was capable of physically," said Ben Jaeger, Boise State's associate director of sports performance.
"Now I see somebody who voluntarily does that on a daily basis. The entire team trains really hard in season, and it's impressive to watch them ."
The hard work behind the scenes has brought the Broncos closer together, and narrowed their focus.
Boise State is just two victories away from tying the school record for wins at 34, which was set in 2012. The Broncos also are in the hunt to claim the program's first Mountain West title.
The rest of the conference might not have seen it coming, but the Broncos did.
"I think that's what pushed us to get so far," Cervantes said. "Yeah, it's crazy that we got picked seventh, but we're proving people wrong."
Note: The Boise State track and field teams will be hosting the Border Clash on Friday and Saturday at Dona Larsen Park, leaving limited parking for fans at DLP. Parking will be on a first-come, first-serve basis with a cost of $5. There will be a free shuttle all weekend long from the Albertsons Stadium East Lot, where fans can park for free.