By TOM STAD
Fresno State 19, No. 8 Georgia 10
Best-of-three series tied 1-1
It’s within sight now. They took the road less traveled, but the Cinderella Fresno State Bulldogs (46-31) are nine innings away from never waking up from the dream they have been living for the past six weeks. Last night, Fresno State outslugged Georgia (45-24), forcing a third and deciding game to determine the 2008 College World Series champion. With a win tonight, Fresno State can become the lowest seed ever to win an NCAA championship in any sport. That’s right - any sport. It won’t be easy, but Mike Batesole’s bunch proved last night that they can get up off the mat and go right back at anyone.
Fresno State starter Justin Miller (6-4, 5.46 ERA) got off to a rough start, giving up three runs in the first, capped by a two-run single off the bat of DH Joey Lewis (1-for-3, 2 RBI) as Georgia batted around. The SEC champion Bulldogs would extend the lead to 5-0 with single runs in the next two innings before the wheels suddenly came off the bus from Athens in the bottom of the third. That’s when Fresno State exploded for six runs, as Georgia’s Nick Montgomery (4-2, 4.86 ERA) suddenly couldn’t get anyone out. Head Coach David Perno decided Montgomery had had enough after three runs had scored and two more runners were on base. It turned out to be the wrong decision as Fresno third baseman Tommy Mendonca smashed a Stephen Dodson offering into the bleachers for his record tying fourth home run of the CWS, giving Fresno an improbable 6-5 lead. However, Georgia would tie it at six before making another out, as SEC Player of the Year Gordon Beckham (2-for-4, 2 RBI, run) singled up the middle to score Matt Olson. That’s when Fresno State decided to put the pedal to the floor. Fresno would score nine runs over the next two frames, highlighted by senior left fielder Steve Susdorf’s 13th home run of the year as his Bulldogs took the lead for good 15-6. Fresno State has belted 12 home runs as a team during this series - double the closest competitor, Miami, which had six.
Staying true to their form in Omaha, however, Georgia would not quit. They would close the gap to 15-10 on three hits and an error in the seventh, but could not get any closer. Fresno State upped the lead back to eight in the bottom half of the inning with three more runs, two of them scoring on Alan Ahmady’s single which gave the sophomore 92 RBI on the season, one fewer than NCAA leader Buster Posey of Florida State. Fresno State added another run for good measure in the eighth before shutting down Georgia to end the game. Fresno State’s wild ride continues for one final night. Tonight at 7 p.m., they have the opportunity to etch themselves in the history books as the most improbable champions ever. Georgia will be looking to make some history of their own and claim the school’s second baseball title ever. The showdown will air on ESPN - don’t miss it.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you didn’t heed my advice and failed to check out any of this year’s College World Series, then shame on you. This tournament has had more excitement and late-inning heroics than any I’ve ever witnessed. The good news for you is you have one more night to tune in and experience it. For Georgia, last night’s game represents a missed opportunity. I can’t say I don’t feel a little guilty about Georgia’s loss to Fresno State, though. I wasn’t going to write a wrap but I started writing it about the same time Georgia took a 3-0 lead. They were going to clinch the title, and I was getting a head start on my article, talking about how I picked them to win it all after watching every team play. I should have known better. In my defense, Georgia did extend the lead to five before they inexplicably collapsed. Then again, Fresno State started hitting the ball really hard, so they either got focused in a hurry or Georgia’s pitchers started finding a bit more of the plate. I’ll go with a little bit of both. Regardless, this series is downright gut-wrenching. If you have a rooting interest, or like me, latched your emotional wagon to one of the teams beforehand, then you have felt ups and downs that conjure up memories of Saturday afternoons past. There’s so much more emotion among the players at the college level and it’s never more apparent than at the College World Series. With every home run, with every diving stop and long throw, with every relay play at the plate, players and fans alike react as if they’ve just won the lottery or their puppy just died, depending on the outcome. That kind of emotion is something you see far less often in the majors, not only because it’s the professional level, but also because it’s a much slower game in the pros, which means the crowd can get distracted, as can the bench, and they often do. Everyone at a college game is into it from the first pitch to the last out. So tonight at 7 p.m., you have one last chance to tune in to ESPN to see what I’m talking about. Do yourself a favor: Decide if you’re going to root for an underdog for the ages in Fresno State or the favored Georgia Bulldogs. Use whatever reason you want - the conference, the location, anything. But invest yourself in it and check back tomorrow to let me know if I’m wrong. I promise you won’t be disappointed.