For the better part of the last decade, Jill Compton and Jessie Hufstetler have been rivals.
The two Central Coast natives have carved out remarkable college softball careers, Compton as a shutdown pitcher at Fresno State and Hufstetler as the hard-hitting first baseman at San Jose State.
A rivalry rooted in San Luis Obispo Country began on the club softball circuit, took shape in the PAC 8 and carried over to the Mountain West Conference. Years of head-to-head matchups fostered a mutual respect between the two, a sentiment that wasn’t revealed until recently.
When their teams met for the final time in late April, Compton and the No. 19-ranked Bulldogs were riding the longest winning streak in the country and closing in on their second straight conference championship.
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Hufstetler knew the feeling.
She helped lead the Spartans to a Mountain West title as a freshman in 2013 and could see “that same special bond” within Fresno State’s program.
Perhaps feeling introspective in the final month of her senior season, Hufstetler, an Atascadero High alumnus, reached out to Compton, a former star at Arroyo Grande, with a lengthy, heart-felt text message.
“All the home runs, great plays, (and) strikeouts mean nothing if they aren’t done altogether,” Hufstetler wrote. “And it doesn’t just take those plays, talent and determination to win, it’s a mindset. A mindset that I can tell as an opposing player, that you all have. You are all in.”
The Bulldogs (39-9-1, 20-0 Mountain West) went on to sweep the Spartans in San Jose behind a pair of complete-game victories from Compton. The nation’s longest winning streak has since grown to 21 straight games with Fresno State earning the conference’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
Gaining the respect and admiration of Hufstetler — one of the most consistent players in the Mountain West over the past four years — gave an already motivated Bulldogs team extra incentive to keep pushing.
“They were blown away,” Compton said of reading the entire message to her teammates. “The best player on our rival team sent that to us. It was really awesome.”
Owning the circle
Coming out of Arroyo Grande High, Compton was recruited and signed by legendary Fresno State coach Margie Wright, who led the Bulldogs to the Women’s College World Series 10 times and won a national championship in 1998.
Wright retired in 2012 after 27 seasons at Fresno State with the most coaching victories in NCAA softball history. Her replacement was Trisha Ford, a longtime assistant at Stanford known for developing pitchers and a seemingly good fit for a school with 12 All-American pitchers in program history.
Compton’s arrival couldn’t have come at a better time for the new head coach.
The 2011 Tribune County Player of the Year went on to earn first-team all-conference honors three straight seasons, and was named the Mountain West Pitcher of the Year in 2015.
Compton’s named is etched deep into the Fresno State record books, and her career statistics stand up with some the all-time greatest pitchers in Mountain West history.
Entering this weekend’s regular season finale against UNLV, Compton ranks second in conference history in career victories (86) and complete games (85), third in strikeouts (671) and fourth in appearances (157) and innings (799 1/3 ).
Those numbers would likely be even higher if it weren’t for a hand injury that limited Compton early this season.
“It really taught me to embrace everything, embrace the moment,” said Compton, who is 23-4 on the year. “I’ve been talking to my coaches a lot about that because there’s not much left.”
Having already qualified for the postseason, Compton isn’t ready to begin reflecting on her career just yet. She has another year of school left to complete her degree in business accounting and plans to stick around the program as an assistant coach in 2017.
When Compton does look back on a sensational four-year campaign, she won’t have to look far for memories of dominance.
One stretch during her sophomore year stands out in particular.
Compton was nearly unhittable for a month straight, becoming the first player in conference history to win four consecutive Mountain West Pitcher of the Week awards. She owned a 0.86 ERA, a 12-1 record and pitched nine complete games with four shutouts during that stretch. Compton struck out 72 against 16 walks and held opposing hitters to a .165 average.
Yet, somewhere near the top of list will be the letter she received from Hufstetler during a pivotal time in her most successful season.
“We didn’t really talk that much until this year,” Compton said. “But I’ve always respected her as an athlete. I know that she’s very hard working, and she’s done an amazing job at San Jose.”
Leading the way
After earning Tribune County Player of the Year honors in 2012, Hufstetler merged seamlessly into a veteran San Jose State team that won 42 games and reached the NCAA regionals. She hit over .300 and started 47 games as a freshman, marking the start of perhaps the most complete offensive career of any Spartan.
“As a freshman, I had the best senior class to look up to,” Hufstetler said. “They really outlined the leadership that we needed as a team to win a championship, and that’s what we did.”
San Jose State (25-24, 14-7 Mountain West) hasn’t reached the postseason since and will close out the 2016 campaign at home against New Mexico this weekend.
It’s certainly not for a lack of production from Hufstetler, who will likely conclude her career as the Spartans’ all-time leader in career batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, runs, doubles and RBI. She ranks second in hits and home runs.
Off the field, Hufstetler said she will graduate May 20 and return to San Luis Obispo to begin an internship as a conference event coordinator at Cal Poly in June.
“I’m graduating, then I’m on to planning someone else’s graduation,” Hufstetler said.
She’ll also keep a watchful eye on Compton and a red-hot Fresno State team as they pursue a coveted trip to the Women’s College World Series.
“I think we’re ballplayers that respect each other in the sense that we know where we came from and we know what it took to get here,” Hufstetler said. “I have so much respect for her and her team because they did earn it.”