By TOM STAD
“Upset” was clearly the word heard most around Rosenblatt Stadium this past weekend, and the trend continued yesterday afternoon. Cinderella story Fresno State crashed the College World Series party and then crushed the ball with style in the Game No. 3 of this year’s event, demolishing No. 6-seeded Rice 17-5. If the Bulldogs find a way to win this tournament, you will hear a lot of “First team to do this …” and “First team to do that …” talk when we look back at the coming week in the future. No one but the players and coaches in the visiting locker room and their staunchest supporters believed that the Bulldogs - who have now won 12 of their last 14 games - would get through the Regionals as the lowest seed and then knock off Arizona State in the Super Regionals. And I can assure you that not too many experts thought they would be moving into the winners’ bracket in Omaha.
Fresno State was led by junior left-hander Justin Wilson, who limited Rice to only two runs over seven strong innings; shortstop Danny Muno, who knocked in three of his five runs on the day when he went deep in the fourth inning; and first baseman Alan Ahmady and DH Jordan Ribera, who drove in three runs apiece. After an uneventful first inning, the Bulldogs solved Rice ace Ryan Berry, touching up the junior for four runs in the second. Fresno State would never look back. Berry got through the third but then in the fourth, with an error fanning the flames, he was chased from the game being charged with nine runs as the Bulldogs took an 11-0 lead. A Diego Seastrunk three-run blast in the eighth made the score a little closer, but make no mistake about it: Fresno State is here to play and will not go quietly.
In the nightcap, No. 2 overall seed North Carolina (51-12) proved it’s actually possible for the higher seed to win a game in this tournament. Alex White, the headliner of the best pitching staff in college baseball, spun seven solid innings in the Tar Heels’ 8-4 win over LSU (48-18-1). LSU got off to a quick start when third baseman Michael Hollander led off the game by taking White deep to left to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead. That would be the last time the LSU would lead in the game as Carolina plated three runs on four hits in the bottom of the frame. LSU cut the lead in half when Matt Clark deposited a White offering into the left field bleachers to lead off the top of the second, but from there the sophomore hurler settled down to retire 12 of the next 15 Tigers hitters. White ran into a little trouble in the sixth. A pair of walks and a wild pitch, with a strikeout mixed in, put LSU runners on second and third with one out. The former Freshman All-American was able to wiggle out of it by inducing Clark to ground out and then got shortstop D.J. LeMahieu to pop up to end the inning. On the offensive side, UNC scored in five of the eight innings they came to the plate as four Tar Heels notched three hits to pace the 17 hit-attack. North Carolina moves into the winners’ bracket tomorrow to face surprising Fresno State, while LSU will battle Rice in an elimination game Tuesday afternoon.
FIRST WEEKEND WRAP UP
After watching two days’ worth of games and getting to see what all eight teams have to offer, one thing is apparent: The favorites clearly thought this was going to be an easier road than it has been. For Miami and Florida State to be playing in the first elimination game today is simply stunning. That means one of the top four teams in the country is going home first. Which teams impressed me most? Georgia stands out. They had the fire and the energy against Miami that you see in champions and will be a very tough out. You also can’t ignore Fresno State any longer. If they don’t have your attention yet, shame on you. WAC teams don’t traditionally fare well in Omaha but this team is hotter than (insert blonde bombshell of your choice here) right now and playing with all kinds of confidence. I’m still not sure they’ll be able to get by UNC, but if they play the way they did yesterday, I wouldn’t put it past them. The team that may sneak up on you? That has to be Florida State. They have been extremely successful with their backs against the wall and if the nation’s best offense starts to heat up, watch out. They are capable of making their way out of the losers’ bracket and if they get Miami out of the way today, they will have all the confidence in the world. Going into this championship, I thought that it would be an all-ACC final. That got a whole lot tougher with the losses by FSU and Miami, but it still could happen no matter who prevails in that elimination game. But the way this weekend has been going, I’m going with an FSU victory in a slugfest over the Hurricanes. In the other elimination game, watch out for LSU. The two SEC representatives look like they have the most energy and despite the loss last night, I think the Tigers will regroup and advance past Rice to face the loser of the UNC vs. Fresno State matchup.