By TOM STAD
June 23, 2008
Fresno State 6, No. 2 North Carolina 1
Saturday night, North Carolina proved that Fresno State was beatable. The only problem was they had to do it twice. That proved to be too tall a task for the Tar Heels as the Bulldogs’ improbable run will continue thanks to a 6-1 victory in last night’s final elimination game. Fresno State starter Clayton Allison, throwing for the first time in two weeks, scattered six hits over six innings of work to pick up his fourth win of the year. Third baseman Tommy Mendonca (3-for-3, 4 RBI) provided head coach Mike Batesole’s squad all the offense they would need with a two-out, two-run single up the middle in the third to break a scoreless tie. North Carolina (45-14) would cut the deficit to 2-1 in the fourth when Kyle Shelton (1-for-3, RBI) drew a bases loaded walk, but that was all the offense the Tar Heels could muster. Fresno State (45-30) would get that run right back in the bottom half of the frame when WAC Freshman of the Year Danny Muno (1-for-4, RBI) laced a single to right off reliever Colin Bates. Mendonca then went back to work with an RBI double in the fifth and a run-scoring single in the sixth following an Alan Ahmady RBI ground out to push the lead to 6-1. When it was all said and done, the Bulldogs bullpen had shut the door on the Tar Heels, and Fresno State became the first team not among the top 48 selections for postseason play to reach the championship series. They will now try to complete their improbable run against Georgia in the best-of-three finals. Game One is slated to start tonight at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
Championship Series Preview
No. 8 Georgia vs. Fresno State
After ten days of what could go down as one the greatest College World Series in history, the stage is set for the final act: An all-Bulldog, best-of-three series between Georgia and Fresno State for the 2008 NCAA baseball championship. When the field was announced for postseason play some four weeks ago, Fresno State was an afterthought in the field of 64 - one of the lowest seeds, and coming out of a league not considered to be one of the power conferences in college baseball. Think of it as 15th-seeded Hampton making a run to the final game of the NCAA basketball tournament - that’s essentially what Fresno State has done thus far. Georgia, on the other hand, comes out of the powerful SEC. Six national title teams have emerged from that conference since 1990 - the last time Georgia held up the trophy at Rosenblatt Stadium. Those of you who believe in fate might be interested to know that Georgia head coach David Perno was a player on that 1990 National Championship team, and he has his alma mater back in the CWS for the third time in five years. While Georgia was the lowest national seed as the eighth ranked team in the tournament, this is still clearly a David vs. Goliath matchup. Georgia also has the advantage of being rested, as they went undefeated through their bracket. As a result, they will be able to throw their ace, Trevor Holder, in the first game tonight. Fresno State head coach Mike Batesole doesn’t have that luxury, and said after the game last night that he may use six or seven pitchers tonight and likely just as many tomorrow. With Batesole’s staff in such disarray, the rest of his club must continue to play solid defense and find a way to get to Georgia before the late innings. That’s because in the Georgia bullpen you’ll find Closer of the Year Joshua Fields, who was taken in the first round of this year’s amateur draft by the Seattle Mariners and could be in the major leagues as soon as next season (he may even have been a late season call-up had the M’s been in contention for the playoffs). Fields (2-2, 2.65 ERA, 16 saves) has big-league stuff and has shut down the best hitters in this tournament when called upon. He alone makes the opponent play like it’s an eight-inning game, and that’s a dangerous weapon Georgia has in its arsenal. If Fresno State is to complete their miraculous journey, they are going to have to play sound fundamental baseball and not get down on themselves or they risk getting swept and leaving Omaha with a very bitter taste in their mouths despite having the most successful year in school history.
I like underdogs. I like rooting for the little guy. But Georgia isn’t the powerhouse that Miami was. There were seven other teams who should have been here instead. Fresno State is a compelling story, but after the first round of games, Georgia caught my eye. They play with a passion that champions always seem to have. Fresno State has played over their heads to this point, and much of their confidence can be attributed to that same passion. When both teams are playing to win - and both of these squads certainly seem to be - it usually results in an exciting, hard-fought matchup. I think we’ll get that here, but there are two major factors that will determine the course of this series with the emotion on both sides being equal. Georgia has a pair of All-Americans in Fields and shortstop Gordon Beckham, while Fresno State does not have any. And more importantly, many of Georgia’s Bulldogs have been here before, while Fresno State’s players are new to this. That combination of talent and experience - not to mention a rested pitching staff - means Georgia will be crowned as national champions tomorrow night after a two-game sweep, ending Fresno State’s Cinderella run as the clock strikes midnight on the 2008 season.