Friday, June 27, 2008
Fresno State title shows parity alive and well
The Associated Press
Published: June 27, 2008
OMAHA, Neb.: Brandon Burke knew exactly how to describe Fresno State's surprising run to its first national championship in baseball.
While others debated whether the Bulldogs overachieved in the NCAA tournament or underachieved in the regular season, the Fresno State closer paraphrased Harry Truman.
"It's amazing what a group of guys can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit," Burke said. "I thought that was an amazing quote, and it pretty much sums up our team, too."
Burke worked the ninth inning of Fresno State's 6-1 victory over Georgia on Wednesday night, wrapping up an improbable title that set the standard for NCAA underdogs in every sport.
The Bulldogs were 33-27 in the regular season, had to win the Western Athletic Conference tournament to gain a spot in the NCAA tournament and then became the first No. 4 regional seed to make it to Omaha since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1999.
They finished 47-31, becoming the first team to win a national title with more than 23 losses.
Fresno State's achievement, in theory, equates to a No. 13 seed or lower winning the NCAA basketball tournament.
"The parity in college baseball gives teams hope that they can get here, they can live the dream and make it special," Georgia coach David Perno said. "They did it, and they did it without their ace, and that sends a stronger message."
Fresno State lost second-round draft pick Tanner Scheppers and his 95 mph fastball to a rotator cuff tear in May, putting pressure on the rest of the staff in the postseason. Ten Fresno pitchers appeared in the College World Series.
Justin Wilson, the winner Wednesday night, posted a 2.21 ERA in a CWS-high 20 1-3 innings. He allowed one run and five hits over eight innings in the Game 3 title-clinching victory.
Right fielder Steve Detwiler, who went into the CWS finals batting .103 (4-for-39) in the NCAA tournament and playing with a torn ligament in his left thumb, backed Wilson with two homers and six RBIs in the last game. Third baseman Tommy Mendonca was voted the CWS' most outstanding player.
It took a while for Fresno State to get into championship form.
The Bulldogs were in the top 25 in most preseason polls, but were nowhere to be found after they started 8-12.
"We were talking about Omaha in March," coach Mike Batesole said. "We should have been talking about March in March. We got a little bit ahead of ourselves."
Fresno State beat only two nationally ranked teams in the regular season — San Diego State and Long Beach State. In the postseason, the Bulldogs knocked off No. 3 national seed Arizona State in the super regionals and No. 2 North Carolina, No. 6 Rice and No. 8 Georgia in the CWS.
The Bulldogs' turning point, Batesole said, came in the first round of the regionals against host Long Beach. Fresno State beat Big West pitcher of the year Andrew Liebel and the 49ers 7-3.
"I didn't know we were going to do what we were going to do, but for me, that was satisfaction enough," Batesole said. "I could have ended the season right there. When I knew that was the type of baseball team we had become, that was good enough."
But the players weren't satisfied.
"I got out of the way and these eight seniors took control of this ballclub and decided we were going to do things right on and off the field, and they did it, and it was beautiful to be a part of," Batesole said. "It was a pretty good ride."
At a minimum, Fresno State's run was the greatest surprise in college baseball since another California school, Pepperdine, won the title in 1992.
Batesole said his players "emptied their tank" every step of the way.
"We haven't left anywhere the last five weekends that we weren't empty and done," he said. "The only thing I'm not feeling great about is that we don't get to play again next weekend."