Boise State softball celebrates its first Mountain West crown
The Boise State softball team began the day in the locker room listening to the song "Started from the Bottom" by Canadian rapper Drake.
It was the perfect precursor.
Two years after finishing last in the Mountain West Conference, the Broncos hoisted their first regular-season trophy with a 10-1 victory over New Mexico in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday morning at Dona Larsen Park.
The win assures the Broncos another program first: an NCAA Tournament bid.
"It's just been a whirlwind of emotions, and we stuck through it," Boise State coach Cindy Ball said. "The players stuck through it and they believed. ... Great things can happen when you put minds together and the talent that we have."
Boise State, which endured back-to-back last-place seasons in the Mountain West in 2015-16, has a program-record 40 victories so far this season. The previous record was 34, set by the 2012 team that came in second in league play.
Through May 10, Boise State (40-14, 18-6 MW) led the nation with a team batting average of .357.
"I think about our seniors, because that was my first class when I got here," Ball said. "... They make me so darn proud to see how much they've developed and grown. They truly, truly honor orange and bleed blue."
Seniors Makenzie Sullivan and Shaelee Pearson have been with the Broncos the past four seasons, while senior Paige Reimann joined as a transfer from Salt Lake Community College in 2016. Senior third baseman Madison Anthony has added strength to the lineup in her one season with the Broncos after transferring from Oregon State.
"If you put in the work and you keep a positive attitude no matter what, things will turn around," Sullivan said. "... We wouldn't be where we're at now without going through the struggle. It taught us a lot about who we wanted to be and the kind of team it takes to go and be No. 1."
The Broncos close out the regular season six spots ahead of their preseason conference ranking of No. 7 — the largest outperformance for any league champion in Mountain West softball history. The last time a team won the conference after being predicted to finish in the bottom half of the coaches' poll was BYU in 2001, when it was picked to finish fifth out of six teams.
"We started winning out of the classroom. We started doing a lot of community service, and we actually won an award for that," Sullivan said. "That taught us how to win, and from there we just built and we grew."
The 2018 NCAA Division I Softball Championship bracket will be announced Sunday at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.
The regional round features a four-team, double-elimination format and will run May 18-20 on 16 campus sites. The 16 winning teams advance to the Super Regionals, May 24-27.
"Selection Sunday, when we see where we're going, it's going to be awesome," Sullivan said.
In Boise State's 10-1 win against New Mexico, freshman pitcher Gianna Mancha struck out a career-high 10 while also tying Boise State's record for most wins by a freshman (13). Aubray Zell won 13 games in the Broncos' inaugural season in 2009.
Boise State needed just five innings to take the opener as Anthony, Sullivan, Jessica McKay and Morgan Lamb each hit home runs.
The Broncos then came from behind to win 6-5 in Game 2 on Anthony's walk-off double with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
"We were consistent the whole year, even in fall we came out strong," Mancha said. "... I feel like we stuck together the entire time. I wasn't here when they struggled, but I committed early, so I've seen the progress we've made as a team."