June 22, 2008
OMAHA - For the Fresno State baseball team, most thought the team's magical run through the NCAA Tournament would end Sunday night at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium. Someone forgot to tell the team.
While battling the nation's best pitching staff, the Fresno State team put together 10 timely hits and got a heroic pitching performance from an outstanding senior. In the end, Fresno State beat No. 2 North Carolina, a team accustomed to playing for the national championship, 6-1.
Nicknamed the "WonderDogs" during the College World Series, Fresno State eliminated the Tar Heels and won Bracket 2 with a 3-1 record. Fresno State will play No. 8 national seed Georgia, winners for the other side of the bracket. The CWS Championship Series is best of three and will begin Monday. The first game will be at 4 p.m. PT on ESPN2.
The "WonderDog" tag was bestowed to a team that entered the College World Series as the team with most losses in CWS history and just the fourth-seed to reach this stage.
Fresno State's magical run in the NCAA tournament included wins over four teams ranked in the Top 11 and four conference championship teams: No. 3 Arizona State, No. 5 Rice (C-USA), No. 6 San Diego (West Coast), No 11 Long Beach State (Big West).
The Dogs improved to 4-0 in elimination games during the 2008 NCAA tournament.
Senior pitcher Brandon Burke may have summed it up best when he said: "The win is even sweeter knowing we were facing elimination. Now we're one of two teams fighting for the national championship. It's inconceivable."
Senior pitcher Clayton Allison (3-5, 4.07 ERA) who missed two starting opportunities finally got on the mound during the College World Series. He last pitched three two weeks ago in Fresno State's win over No. 3 Arizona State in the Super Regional. He was scheduled to pitch against the Tar Heels on Tuesday, but missed the game with a sore shoulder. Sunday's game was the first he's felt well enough to pitch. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the recent Major League Draft.
Allison's performance was one of the ages, a classic that will go down on Bulldog lore. Head coach Mike Batesole didn't know what to expect or how long he could last. What Batesole got was a gutsy six inning performance that kept the Tar Heels off balance all night.
"That was a gutsy performance when we needed it the most," said Batesole. "It was a mental battle for (Clayton) Allison, and he won it. The infielders made smart decisions and all three pitchers were locked in and located their pitches. They (pitchers) had outstanding plate discipline. To have the focus they did on the mound is what I'm most proud of. These guys are worn down and they found a way to focus all nine innings."
Allison allowed a double off his first pitch to start the game in the first inning and after allowing a walk, shut the Tar Heels down with a fly ball, popup and ground ball out. He set the Heels down in order in the top of the second inning.
Adam Warren (9-2, 4.32 ERA) was the losing pitcher in the first Fresno State vs. North Carolina match-up. He returned to the mound to start for the Tar Heels for the second time in the tournament.
Shortstop Danny Muno, the 2008 WAC Freshman of the Year, drew a walk off a 3-2 count in the bottom of the first. Centerfielder Gavin Hedstrom pushed him to second with a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt. With All-WAC second baseman Erik Wetzel at the plate, Muno moved to third base on a wild pitch. He was stranded there as Warren struck-out the next two Bulldogs.
All-WAC first baseman Alan Ahmady, one of the NCAA RBI leaders, drew a walk to start the second inning for Fresno State. Third baseman Tommy Mendonca, who has two homeruns in the CWS, also drew a walk. Catcher Ryan Overland tried to move the runners up, but his sacrifice bunt attempt back to the pitcher was thrown to third base to force out Ahmady. After designated hitter Jordan Ribera walked to load the bases, North Carolina brought in Brian Moran (1-1, 2.45 ERA) to pitch. Moran made a brief appearance in Saturday night's win for the Tar Heels.
With the bases loaded, he got Muno to ground out to the shortstop who made a diving grab and flip to second base to barely beat Ribera on the force out and end the inning.
The Dogs took care of the three batters in the UNC half of the third inning, which ended when Mendonca made a tremendous play on a chopper near third base to start a long double play to end the inning.
Wetzel got Fresno State's first hit by pulling a single to left field in the fourth inning. He entered the game leading the Dogs in hitting in the College World Series with a .500 average and Susdorf followed that with a double to center field, moving Wetzel to third base.
Ahmady was intentionally walked to load the bases. After Ahmady got picked off first, Mendonca drilled a two-strike two-out single to left field to drive in Weztel and Susdorf and give the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead.
North Carolina scored its only run in the fourth inning with one out and the bases loaded when Allison, who had shown great command until that point in the game, walked in a run. Allison then got a strikeout and a ground out as the Heels led the bases loaded and Dogs maintained a 2-1 lead.
The Tar Heels brought in Colin Bates (6-1, 2.83 ERA) to pitch in the bottom of the fourth inning. Ribera greeted him with a single to left field. After several pickoff attempts by Bates, he threw a ball by the first baseman that ended up in the right field bullpen allowing Ribera to go to third base. With two strikes, Muno pulled a single into right field for the RBI, his sixth of the CWS. That gave Fresno State a 3-1 lead over the Tar Heels.
At that point, the Bulldogs had driven in 19 of their 28 runs in College World Series with two strikes.
Hedstrom singled off the pitcher and Muno moved to second base. Susdorf flied out to left when the UNC outfielder made a great sliding catch while slamming into the wall near the Bulldog bullpen. That ended the inning as Fresno State took a 3-1 lead into the fifth.
Rob Wooten (6-2, 1.73 ERA) pitched the fifth inning for North Carolina, the third time the Dogs faced him in the CWS. He walked the lead-off man Ahmady, who reached via walk for the third time today. Mendonca followed with a hard double to the gap in right center field that scored Ahmady from first base. It was Mendonca's fourth RBI of the CWS and gave the Bulldogs a 4-1 lead.
Overland, the next batter, was hit in the leg. With no outs, right fielder Steve Detwiler attempted to sacrifice the runners up but his bunt to the pitcher was thrown to third base to force Mendonca.
Ribera then walked to load the bases for Muno. The Tar Heels went to the bullpen for Alex White (13-3, 2.70 ERA), who earned his third victory of the 2008 in the CWS in Saturday's win over the Dogs. He was the fifth Tar Heel pitcher of the game. He got Muno to ground out into a double play to get out of a bases loaded pickle.
Allison's pitching gem ended after the sixth inning in which he set the Heels down in order. He finished allowed just one run on six hits and striking out six, one shy of his career-high. Holden Sprague, who in two appearances in the College World Series, has not allowed a run, replaced Allison.
Wetzel singled up the middle off White in the bottom of the sixth inning and Susdorf added his second double of the game. It was the 31st double of the season and 65th of Susdorf's career. Susdorf owns the Bulldog single-season career record and ranks second all-time behind Joe Xavier (1982-85), 69.
Ahmady then hit a chopper down the third base line, which the third baseman threw toward the plate but Wetzel hustled in ahead of the throw to score Fresno State's fifth run of the game. On the play, Susdorf moved to third.
It was the 90th RBI of the season for Ahmady, four shy of the Bulldog school record held by Lance Shebelt (1988), 94.
Mendonca pulled a hard single over the first baseman's head, scoring Susdorf and moving Ahmady to third. That gave the Bulldogs a 6-1 lead. It was the third hit of the game for Mendonca and fourth RBI, bringing his CWS total to seven.
Rob Catapano (4-0, 3.11) entered the game to pitch in the seventh inning for North Carolina. He hit Hedstrom with two outs in the inning. Hedstrom stole second base on the first pitch. He got out of the inning with a ground out.
Batesole then turned the game over to senior pitcher Brandon Burke (4-5, 3.50 ERA), the Fresno State single season (13) and career (24) saves leader.
He was helped in the eighth inning by some outstanding defensive plays, stops by Wetzel and Muno that robbed the Tar Heels of hits. He struck out Williams to end the eighth inning.
Burke got another double play, the last one to end the game and send the Dogs to the NCAA championship, the first in school history Fresno State has advanced this far.
"It was another must win situation," said Allison. "We came out with our backs against the wall and had to make some pitches. It was a lot easier to with the solid defense."
North Carolina is ranked No. 2, one of three teams in the College World Series with more than 50 wins and one of the three from the Atlantic Coast Conference. No. 1 Miami (Fla.) and No. 4 Florida State were the other two. The Hurricanes and Seminoles were eliminated earlier in the week. North Carolina leads the NCAA in team ERA 2.89.
North Carolina has reached the championship round of the College World Series each of the last two seasons, falling to Oregon State in 2006 and 2007.
Sunday was scheduled to be an off day at the College World Series, but a severe thunderstorm rocked Eastern Nebraska Thursday evening that postponed the LSU vs. North Carolina elimination game for 24 hours, thus pushing the entire tournament schedule back one day.
"Wow," said UNC Coach Mike Fox about Fresno State's performance. "They'd made every play defensively against us - all three games. We looked at the statistics and they've made some errors throughout the year. If you ask what is the one thing that stood out, they played terrific defensively."
Fresno State will play Georgia Monday at 4 p.m. PT. The game will be shown live on ESPN2.
The weather in Omaha was gorgeous with sunny skies, a slight breeze blowing out of the park and 82 degrees at game time.
Attendance of Sunday's game of 15,125 brought a total of 266,000 fans to 2008 College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium, home of the CWS since 1950.
2008 College World Series Results and Schedule
Sunday, June 15
Monday, June 16
Tuesday, June 17
Wednesday, June 18
Friday, June 20
Saturday, June 21
Sunday, June 22
Monday, June 23 (Championship Series-Game One)
Tuesday, June 24 (Championship Series-Game Two)
Wednesday, June 25 (Championship Series-Game Three if necessary)
Bulldog Shop Has CWS Gear
Join the State - Fresno State! The Bulldog baseball will compete for the 2008 NCAA baseball championship against Georgia in the College World Series championship series. The two schools will play a best of three series at Rosenblatt Stadium. All Fresno State games from the CWS can be heard in the Valley on KMJ Radio and seen nationally on ESPN2.