Boise State softball coach Justin Shults has plenty of things on his plate. Getting lights installed at Dona Larsen Park by next season is now near the top of the list.
The Broncos won the regular season Mountain West title last Friday night with a a 3-0 win at Fresno State, meaning Boise State gets to host the conference tournament next season – assuming they can get lights put up in time.
“I’ll be giving (athletic director Jeramiah Dickey) a call after this to see what the plans are and how fast those lights are going up,”Shults said with a laugh during a postgame phone interview with Bronco Nation News.
Boise State (31-14, 16-4 MW) clinched just the second regular season Mountain West title in program history and will head to San Diego next week for the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed. The winner of the conference tournament earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Players mobbed pitcher Lindsey Walljasper on the mound after her strikeout ended the game. Walljasper allowed just one hit and never let Fresno State get a runner into scoring position in a dominant game in the circle.
The celebration seemed unlikely even a week ago after the Broncos lost two straight games to San Diego State at home. A loss in the series finale against the Aztecs would have eliminated them from title contention.
But the Broncos won Sunday to remain in the hunt, and headed to Fresno knowing two wins in the three game series would clinch the title. The Broncos needed just two games to get the two wins, winning 4-2 on Friday night before the 3-0 shutout on Saturday.
“It feels amazing,” Shults said. “I couldn’t be more proud of this team right now…. We got to spend the day graduating four student-athletes and to finish the night with a championship, it’s truly all the emotions you can throw into one thing right now.
“I’m going back through my coaching career right now and you have to appreciate these moments because it’s hard to win, no matter what conference you are in. … This team is just so resilient.”
Ayy Ayy Ayy Ayy
POV: the hardware 🏆#BleedBlue | #WhatsNext pic.twitter.com/iJBso6spMD
— Boise State Softball (@BroncoSportsSB) May 6, 2023
Shults saw this coming since the day he took the job on on June 16, 2021, after serving as the hitting coach at Oregon. That only made the celebration feel more special on Saturday.
“I told Jeramiah when I accepted the job that I expected to win the conference championship immediately,” Shults said. “I expected a very quick turnaround and I now expect this is the standard at Boise State.”
After landing on the wrong side of the bubble last season – the Broncos were literally the first team out of the NCAA Tournament – Shults put together a much tougher nonconference schedule in hopes of changing their fortunes this year.
The Broncos started 1-4 at an opening weekend tournament at UCF and went 0-7 against ranked teams in the first four weeks of the season. But Boise State is 20-4 since, including a 16-4 mark in conference play, to get back in the NCAA at-large conversation for the second straight year.
“We had our ups and downs early in the season with a tough schedule, and I think lesser teams would start to doubt themselves,” Shults said. “But we used it as preparation and we’ve been lights out the last 25 games. It’s bittersweet because in a normal year we’re thinking about regionals already, but we have to go to the conference tournament and keep building our resume.”
This is the first season the Mountain West has held a postseason conference tournament. In previous years the regular season champ earned the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“We put ourselves in the mix again and that’s all you can ask for,” Shults said. “Last year I was frustrated we didn’t have the tournament and this year I’m frustrated we do have the tournament. But I think its good for the conference and puts us on a national stage late in the season.”
As for the lights? Shults is confident a solution – whether permanent or temporary – will allow for the Broncos to host the conference tournament next season.
“Yeah I think so, whether we put them in or we bring (portable) lights in,” Shults said. “Jeramiah and I have talked about it and he knows how important it is to keep pushing for Boise State softball, so I think we’re going to get it done. We’ll sit down after the season and figure all that stuff out.”
The Broncos still have plenty of work left to do this season, first.