June 2, 2008
LONG BEACH, Calif. - For a team that entered the season with high hopes and a Top 25 national ranking, it shouldn't be a surprise that Fresno State is advancing to the 2008 NCAA Super Regional round.
But after some injuries and adversity, especially the loss of pitching ace Tanner Scheppers six weeks ago, some thought the Bulldogs didn't figure to have enough firepower to get very far in the NCAA tournament.
To get there, the Dogs would have to win the Long Beach Regional played at Blair Field, where the three other teams were ranked in the Top 17 nationally.
As the No. 4 seed the Bulldogs would need to beat the top seed and 11th ranked Long Beach State in the opening round and then sixth-ranked San Diego to have a chance. That's just what they did. Fresno State upset the Dirtbags 7-3 and then beat USD 6-0 to advance to the regional championship.
After knocking off San Diego 5-1 Monday and beating the Toreros for the second time in three days, Fresno State earned the regional championship.
The Bulldogs advance to the Super Regional at No. 3 Arizona State. The teams will play best two of three series with the Super Regional winner hitting the "Road to Omaha" and the College World Series. Fresno State is believed to be the first No. 4 seed to advance to a Super Regional.
It was the fifth win over the Toreros in the NCAA tournament in the last three years.
"I'm just so proud of this group of seniors," said Batesole. "As a group, the eight of them have provided great leadership to get us through the WAC regular season, the WAC Tournament and now this. That says a lot about them. I'm especially proud they all will graduate within the next two semesters. They are a special group."
Arizona State won the Tempe Regional by beating Oklahoma on Sunday.
Just like their first two wins in the Long Beach regional, Fresno State got outstanding pitching and timely hitting against USD.
Junior Holden Sprague earned the start in the game. A junior from Fresno's Bullard High School, Sprague made his ninth start of the season, owned a 3-2 record and a 3.60 ERA, third-best on the Bulldog team.
San Diego started left-handed pitcher Sammy Solis (3-1, 3.89 ERA). The Toreros entered the game with a team ERA of 3.40.
Both starting pitchers showed solid command early. Despite allowing the bases to be loaded with one out in the second inning, Sprague was crafty enough to set the Toreros down without allowing a run.
Solis worked out of his own jam in the fourth inning, to that point in the game Fresno State's best chance to get on the scoreboard. Bulldog center fielder Gavin Hedstrom led off with the single to center field, his second hit of the game. Second baseman Erik Wetzel drilled a single past the drawn-in third baseman for his 95th hit of the season, tying Alan Ahmady for the team lead. WAC Player of the Year Steve Susdorf flied out to deep center field, allowing Hedstrom to advance to third base. Solis got a couple Dogs to pop-up to the infield to get out of the inning.
The Toreros scored the game's first run in the top of the fifth inning. With two outs and runners on first and third bases, the USD batter hit a hard ball back up the middle that ricocheted off Sprague's leg for a single. After an error that allowed Torero runners to advance to second and third base, Sprague calmly got a ground out to Wetzel and second and USD led 1-0.
Fresno State answered with two runs in the bottom of the fifth in classic Bulldogs baseball style. It started when Tommy Mendonca was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. Designated hitter Jake Johnson laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Mendonca to second base. Catcher Danny Grubb drew a walk, his 23rd of the season, setting the stage for leadoff hitter Danny Muno, who played terrific in the regional and reached base four times against USD in Sunday night's loss. He pushed both runners up on a fielder's choice groundout to first base. Hedstrom then got his third hit of the game on a single to right field on two-strike count that scored Mendonca and Grubb, who slid in safely from second base to beat the throw to home plate. That gave Hedstrom 26 RBIs on the season, and the Dogs a 2-1 lead.
Sprague left the game in the sixth inning when Bulldog record-setting pitcher Brandon Burke made his first appearance of the Long Beach Regional. A first-team All-WAC selection, Burke holds the Bulldog career record for most saves (21). The senior from San Diego had 10 saves in the regular season, picking up three in the WAC tournament. He set down the two Toreros he faced in the inning as USD left two base runners.
Solis was pulled after getting one out in the bottom of the sixth in place of USD's own stellar closing pitcher E.J. Griffin, who had a 1.87 ERA and 14 saves during the season.
Burke was spectacular in the seventh inning, setting the Toreros down on just six pitches.
"Burke has more saves than anyone in Fresno State history," said Batesole. "When I handed him the ball, I had a very good feeling."
The Toreros had a runner on first with no outs in the eighth, but again Burke was masterful get two USD batters and Grubb ended the inning throwing out a runner attempting to steal second base.
The Bulldogs put the game away with three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to take a 5-1 lead. Muno singled up the middle in the bottom of the eight. Hedstrom pushed him to second on a sac bunt. Wetzel doubled to left center and Muno scored from second base. After Susdorf reached on an intentional walk, Ahmady reached on an infield single to load the bases. Steve Detwiler grounded out hard to third base, that scored Wetzel, his 86th run of the season. Attempting to turn the double play, the USD second baseman overthrew first base and that also scored Susdorf on the play. It was the first error of the game for the Toreros.
Burke closed the game and earned his 11th save of the season, 22nd in his career, in the ninth inning to the cheers of several hundred Red Wave fans in attendance.
"I told Sprague this was the biggest game he was ever going to pitch before the game, trying to joke and get him relaxed," said Burke. "He did the same to me when I came off the mound after my first inning. We fed off each other. It helped."
The duo only allowed one hit over the final four innings.
The win gave the Bulldogs their 40th victory of the year, marking the second time in three seasons the Dogs have done that. Fresno State is 7-5 in the NCAA tournament under Batesole.
The Super Regional at Arizona State will begin Saturday, June 7. Saturday night's game will begin at 6 p.m. on ESPNU, with Sunday's game starting at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. If there is a game three, it will be Monday at 4 p.m. on ESPN2.
2008 Long Beach Regional Results
Saturday, May 31
Sunday, June 1
Monday, June 2
Fresno State advances to Super Regional vs. Arizona State.
"Join the State - Fresno State!" - The Fresno State baseball team continues play at the 2008 NCAA tournament at the Super Regional in Tempe, Ariz., against No. 3 Arizona State. The Fresno State games will be broadcast live in the Valley on KMJ Radio 580 AM. Follow gobulldogs.com for further updates.