Thursday, June 19, 2008
Bulldogs Are No Underdogs
In Fresno State's first game vs. Rice, the announcers kept on referring to the Bulldogs as huge underdogs. "This is like a 14 seed in the NCAA basketball tournament upending a 3 seed," they said about a dozen times throughout the broadcast. Yeah, if that 14 seed was Rice and not Fresno State...which after watching Rice get fried, steamed and and tossed aside like some side dish at a buffet this week, a 14 seed reference would have been a little generous for the Owls...Or maybe...Rice is actually good, but Fresno State is better than the ludicrous 4 seed that was bestowed upon them in the first round of the regionals. Or maybe...Rice is dominant in one of the weakest baseball conferences on this planet and when they faced real competition, they just weren't ready.
Yet, despite the convincing win, all the media wanted to talk about was that Fresno State scored a huge upset...Then, the Bulldogs came out and handled the Tarheels as well...without their top two pitchers, and an injured starting catcher. Their third baseman's throwing hand had fingers that resembled ping pong balls a few days ago, but it didn't seem to matter...these guys are tough.
To us, it's really no surprise because their season prepared them for this moment. Fresno State and just about everyone else in the west gets hammered with one competitive series after another. The Bulldogs season started with NCAA tourney bound UC Davis, a very tough team that beat Stanford three times this year,(congrats Cardinal for eliminating #1 ranked Miami last night) and ended in the WAC tourney with a scrappy Nevada. In between they played three other teams that made this years NCAA tournament in Cal, Long Beach State and San Diego. Their league, other than Louisiana Tech, is tougher than most people give it credit for. There's a lot of talent at Nevada, San Jose State, Hawaii, New Mexico State and even newbie Sacramento State.
Again, we can't say enough, that most western and southern schools play baseball year round from an early age. Many players get anywhere from 85-100 games in per year. As we have stated in previous posts, the more quality competition players play with and against, the better overall those players will become. And, they do get better.
In California, the blue chips get drafted and the rest get divided up amongst the 23 division I schools in the state of California. The top tier college bound high school baseball players go to either the Pac 10 or Big West. But even then, many good prospects get away and there are some really great ballplayers that go to the West Coast Conference and WAC as well. Fresno State is the beneficiary of being in the Central Valley, an surprisingly populated area of nearly 8 million that a lot of college scouts don't travel to as frequently as they do in baseball rich Southern California and the increasingly fertile baseball talent that is in the Bay Area and Sacramento. The Central Valley's population base is as large or larger than a majority of entire states and Fresno State is the only Division I public school in this area. So, they get their pick of some pretty good talent, if the player decides to stay in the area.
So, you combine their top talent, a tough season schedule along with some pretty good coaching, conditioning and an avid fan base that draws nearly 3,000 per game and you get a team that knows how to win when they need to. And they are on a roll. They have won 13 out their last 15 and have impressive wins against Long Beach State (a re-match that no doubt helped the Bulldogs), San Diego (another re-match...took 2 of 3), Arizona State (won 2 of 3) and of course Rice and North Carolina.
And here they stand, in the drivers seat at 2-0. How far can they take it? Well, as long as the rest of the pack treats them like underdogs, they could just go all the way. If they treat them like the Bulldogs that they are, well, it will be tougher, but my bet is still on this scrappy, beat up and get dirty, Central Valley squad.