By TOM STAD
Two things are now apparent after yesterday’s College World Series games: Fresno State is a legitimate contender for the national championship, and none of the remaining teams have any quit in them. The day-night sessions are officially over and not a moment too soon, because it may not be healthy for the hearts of college baseball fans at Rosenblatt Stadium to witness this much drama twice each day.
No. 7 LSU 6, No. 6 Rice 5
The afternoon elimination game saw Rice (47-14) take a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh before No. 7 national seed LSU’s bats awoke. By the time it was over, No. 6 seeded Rice was headed home to Houston as the Tigers (49-18-1) put up one in the seventh, another in the eighth and four in the ninth to advance with a 6-5 victory. After a quiet first inning, the Owls got on the board first courtesy of a two-run single by shortstop Rick Hague that found its way through the left side of the LSU infield. Rice would extend the lead with single runs in three straight frames beginning in the fifth. On the mound, senior right-hander Chris Kelley held LSU in check for 5 2/3 innings before giving way to Cole St. Clair with two outs in the sixth. The senior came on to get Tigers first baseman Matt Clark looking to end a threat, but that was the last time he would escape unscathed. LSU reserve Nicholas Pontiff came on to pinch hit in the seventh against St. Clair and started the Tigers comeback. He singled and came around to score the Tigers’ first run on a balk. An RBI double by cleanup hitter Micah Gibbs cut the deficit to 5-2 in the eighth, and then the fireworks started. Needing three runs to tie, LSU found itself in a familiar place, and apparently that experience paid off. A one-out single by right fielder Derek Helenihi started the rally, and one batter later he crossed the plate on a Michael Hollander single up the middle. With two on, the next batter, outfielder Jared Mitchell, reached on an error by Hague. That set the stage for the heroics. Playing the role of Superman was DH Blake Dean. The sophomore ripped a double to left off of St. Clair that scored all three runners and gave LSU the come-from-behind victory. LSU will now face North Carolina in another elimination game Thursday at 7 p.m.
Fresno State 5, No. 2 North Carolina 3
Another top seed went down last night as the Fresno State Bulldogs continued their improbable run through this tournament, knocking off their highest seed yet as they came from behind to slip past No. 2 national seed North Carolina 5-3. Alan Ahmady’s two-run single in the fifth proved to be the game-winner for the Bulldogs, who continue to shock everyone but themselves. Leading 1-0 in the fourth, UNC plated three runs off of Bulldogs starter Justin Miller. Lesser teams would have folded, but not head coach Mike Batesole‘s bunch. Senior Steve Susdorf, Fresno State’s heart and soul, led off the bottom of the inning with a solo shot to right as if to announce, “We are not going away.” An inning later, Ahmady proved it with his clutch hit to put the Bulldogs ahead for good. The bullpen did the rest, shutting down the Tar Heels for five innings while allowing only four hits. It’s not as if North Carolina never had their chances, as they left 10 men on base in the game, running into the same problem fellow ACC member Florida State encountered in their loss to Miami as they just couldn’t come up with the clutch hit. Now the Tar Heels must fight their way out of the losers’ bracket, while Fresno State has a few days off before they try to keep this improbable run going Friday night with a chance to get to the championship series.
Is the ACC overrated? When the CWS kicked off, the conference accounted for three of the four top teams in Omaha and an all-ACC seemed like a strong possibility. Now, that looks a lot more like a pipe dream. Both Miami and Florida State failed to close out their openers and immediately found themselves in the losers’ bracket. UNC won their opener but fell prey to what may be the toughest out in this tournament, Fresno State - a team that isn’t even supposed to be here. FSU is now gone and both the ‘Canes and Tar Heels need to win three in a row just to get to the championship series. The conference is now 2-3 overall in the CWS. On the other hand, the SEC may have been overlooked a bit. LSU is still alive and Georgia looks very strong. I wrote the other day that I thought Georgia looked like the team to beat, and so far they have not disappointed. I expect them to be in the final. The question is, which team will work their way out of the other bracket? UNC has the horses to race out of the losers’ bracket and into the championship, but will anyone be able to solve the Bulldogs of Fresno State? It could turn out to be an all-Bulldogs final, but LSU or Carolina both have a chance to spoil that. Miami and Stanford battle tonight in an elimination game that will cut the field down to five. The Hurricanes are the top seed, but both teams have beaten Florida State so there’s no telling who has the advantage here. In the end, I think the ‘Canes have too much talent and will advance to face Georgia once more, and for them, hopefully twice.