OMAHA–Here’s one prediction even I can’t screw up: the Bulldogs are going to win the national championship.
The Fresno State Bulldogs beat North Carolina 6-1 on Sunday night to earn a date with the Georgia Bulldogs in the CWS Finals. The heroes were Tommy Mendonca, who drove in four runs for Fresno, and Clayton Allison, who held UNC to one run on six hits over six strong innings.
We’ll have plenty more on this game shortly.
OMAHA–It was only a matter of time before Fresno State was going to start converting its scoring opportunities into runs, especially against a tired UNC bullpen. The Bulldogs have left 11 runners on base, but they have scored in each of the last four innings, including two against a fatigued Alex White in the sixth. Tommy Menonca is on a rampage; he has reached base safely in all four plate appearances and is 3-for-3 with two doubles and four RBIs.
Fresno State leads 6-1 and has gone to its steady bullpen. Clayton Allison turned in a terrific start for the Bulldogs, allowing just one run on six hits and three walks while striking out six over six innings. Give Fresno State coach Mike Batesole credit for waiting to use Allison until he was truly ready instead of rushing him back from his sore shoulder.
OMAHA–Alex White might just earn himself CWS Most Outstanding Player honors even if North Carolina loses tonight.
After Fresno State loaded the bases with one out against an erratic Rob Wooten in the fifth, White came in for the third straight night to face red-hot Fresno leadoff man Danny Muno. White threw five straight fastballs–three balls to run the count to 3-0, then a strike, and then another that Muno grounded softly to second base for an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play. Another missed opportunity for Fresno State to break this game open.
In last night’s postgame press conference, White sat at the podium with an ice pack tied to his shoulder and boldly said he’d be ready to pitch again Sunday. Coach Mike Fox laughed nervously and said they’d just have to wait and see. If White remains in the game–and there’s no action in the UNC pen–keep an eye on his command. Wooten struggled to find the strike zone in the fifth, a clear sign of fatigue. And Wooten is far more accustomed to throwing three days in a row than White.
OMAHA–We’ve got a new front-runner for Best Defensive Play of the 2008 CWS. Kyle Shelton’s sliding catch in foul territory to end Fresno State’s fourth-inning threat was spectacular. Shelton slid into the wall, made the catch and held onto the ball even after his face hit the wall hard. He stayed down for several minutes while coaches and teammates gathered around him, but he eventually got up and jogged back to the dugout. Shelton’s catch stranded runners on first and second and kept the score 3-1 Fresno.
North Carolina went quietly in the top of the fifth, and Shelton has returned to left field as we enter the bottom of the inning.
OMAHA–It’s a bracket championship game on a beautiful Sunday evening, so you’d think Rosenblatt would be rocking. Instead, it’s one more embarrassingly small crowd during this CWS. A few minutes ago, I counted 78 people in the entire four sections comprising the red seats down the right-field line. There are far more empty seats than occupied seats in the right-field bleachers, and just about every section in the ballpark seems to be speckled with swaths of empty seats. What is going on here? I’m tired of hearing the locals whine about the format change; pushing the start back one day and spacing things out a little really shouldn’t have this much impact. That doesn’t explain why the last two days of weekend baseball have been so poorly attended. It’s the College World Series, and it has featured a number of very compelling matchups and exciting finishes. It’s a pity there seems to be so little interest from the locals this year.
UPDATE: We just got word that tonight’s attendance is a disgraceful 15,125, bringing the overall CWS attendance to 265,940. That’s 34,762 behind last year’s pace.
One of my favorite readers just e-mailed to suggest that perhaps the sluggish economy is a reason so many fans have stayed home this year. I’m sure that has at least something to do with it.
OMAHA–Fresno State third baseman has continued his fine all-around play in the CWS through the first few innings this evening. Mendonca already has four assists, including a terrific play on a one-hop smash off the bat of Kyle Shelton in the second inning. And for the second straight night, he came up with a big hit for the Bulldogs. Last night, Mendonca’s two-run homer gave Fresno a 3-0 lead. Tonight, his two-run single to left field with two outs in the third gave the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead. It came after a tough nine-pitch at-bat against Brian Moran.
OMAHA–North Carolina could have used a solid outing from starter Adam Warren to protect its taxed bullpen, but Warren could not deliver. After issuing four walks in the first two innings–including three in the second to load the bases–Warren was yanked for lefthander Brian Moran, who got Danny Muno to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the threat. Ryan Graepel made a great diving stop and flip to second base to get the force and prevent any runs from scoring.
Warren’s absence means we should see plenty of Colin Bates, Tyler Trice and Rob Catapano today. Meanwhile, Clayton Allison looks good for Fresno State and has set down four in a row heading into the third.
OMAHA–For Fresno State and North Carolina, there is no tomorrow; it’s win tonight or go home. I’m in the same boat, but we’ll get to that shortly. The Tar Heels will start Adam Warren on four days’ rest today, and Fresno plans to go with Clayton Allison, assuming he can get loose before the game without any pain. It’s a matchup of two veteran righthanders who won’t overpower but will throw strikes and get a lot of ground balls when they’re on. The Bulldogs are in better shape in the bullpen, because they haven’t used closer Brandon Burke since Tuesday. UNC closer Rob Wooten has thrown 40 pitches over the last two days, and ace Alex White has thrown 63 pitches over the last two days. Wooten should be able to bounce back to throw at least an inning today, but using White three straight days might be pushing it. Let’s get to the picks, starting with John, who e-mailed along this breakdown this morning: [...] Continue Reading »
OMAHA–Mike Batesole overplayed his hand. I thought the Fresno State coach’s handling of his bullpen was masterful until the eighth inning, when I was very surprised he elected to leave Justin Miller in the game instead of starting the frame with closer Brandon Burke–who can pick up a two-inning save in his sleep.
Instead, Miller allowed a leadoff double to Kyle Seager, prompting a mound visit from Batesole while Burke quickly started throwing in the bullpen. But before he could get loose, Miller had to face Chad Flack, who showed bunt until the count went to 3-and-1, then fouled a pitch off. Miller left the payoff pitch up in the zone, and Flack obliterated it for a go-ahead two-run homer, sending UNC to a 4-3 win. It looked like the ball was going to hit the video board, but it landed just to the left of the board, and a mob of Tar Heels greeted Flack at home plate.
Alex White picked up the win in relief for the second straight day and has earned the win in all three of UNC’s wins in Omaha.
The Tar Heels will face Fresno State again Sunday night for the right to face Georgia for the national championship. Obviously, we’ll have plenty more on this remarkable win shortly.
OMAHA–What a fun chess game this has been between Mike Fox and Mike Batesole. After Fox smartly used Alex White to get out of that bases-loaded jam in the top of the seventh, Batesole employed his bullpen brilliantly in the bottom of the inning. After Dustin Ackley’s leadoff single and Kyle Shelton’s sacrifice bunt, Batesole summoned lefty Kris Tomlinson to face lefthanded-hitting Tim Fedroff, and Tomlinson did his job, freezing Fedroff on a 75 mph breaking ball over the inner half. That ignited the Fresno dugout, which greeted Tomlinson just a few steps from the first-base line after Batesole pulled him following the strikeout. I expected closer Brandon Burke to take over for Tomlinson, but Batesole called upon fellow righty Justin Miller, who got Tim Federowicz to chase a breaking ball off the plate for strike three, stranding Ackley at second base.
The two Fresno-UNC games have been perhaps the tightest, best-played games of the CWS. I have enjoyed both quite a bit.
It remains Fresno State 3, North Carolina 2 in the top of the eighth. Time is definitely running out for the Tar Heels, who will be up against Burke before too long.
OMAHA–I love how Alex White attacked Gavin Hedstrom and Erik Wetzel with the bases loaded. White just pumped nine straight fastballs and blew away Hedstrom and Wetzel swinging to get out of the jam. It was aggressive, and it was exactly the right approach in that situation: Here’s my best pitch, let’s see you catch up with it.
Now North Carolina needs to keep carry its momentum over to offense with the top of the order coming up.
OMAHA–With the bases loaded and one out in the seventh inning, North Carolina has summoned ace righty Alex White. It’s the second time in two days UNC has used White out of the bullpen in a crucial spot. If the Tar Heels are going to use White today, this is the right spot to do it. By using White at the end of Friday’s game and in a key spot today, UNC’s best arm is impacting more games than if he had just started. We’ll see if the move pays off.
OMAHA–The bottom of North Carolina’s lineup needed to come up big today against lefthander Justin Wilson. The last four hitters in the order are righthanded, and they came up big in the third. Chad Flack, Garrett Gore, Seth Williams and Ryan Graepel all reached safely after the lefthanded Kyle Seager grounded out to start the inning. Williams’ RBI single to left-center drove in Flack for UNC’s first run, and Gore later scored on Dustin Ackley’s RBI fielder’s choice.
It’s 3-2 Bulldogs heading into the fifth, and both starters are likely on short leashes now; there was considerable action in both bullpens last inning.
OMAHA–Alan Ahmady’s terrific play to end the UNC third gets my vote for best defensive play of the CWS so far. Ahmady covered a lot of ground and made a beautiful sliding catch on a Tim Federowicz pop-up in foul territory. He crashed into the rolled-up tarp near the stands, popped up and gunned a perfect throw across the diamond to third base. Dustin Ackley, one of the fastest players in Omaha, tagged up from second, but Ahmady’s throw nailed him by about five steps. Ackley collided with third baseman Tommy Mendonca a few steps away from the bag.
We’ve seen great defense from Fresno all week, and it’s a big reason the Bulldogs are in the driver’s seat on their half of the bracket.
Ahmady and Mendonca just teamed up again to extend Fresno State’s lead. With two outs and Matt Harvey cruising along (having set down nine straight), Ahmady poked a single through the right side of the infield. The next batter was Mendonca, who crushed a long home run to right field, giving the Bulldogs a 3-0 lead. They’ve been a pretty impressive corner infield tandem so far in Omaha.
OMAHA–After giving up a run in the first inning, North Carolina starter Matt Harvey has settled down nicely, retiring seven in a row. He seems to have command of all three of his pitches, and he’s done a good job pounding the strike zone and letting his defense do its job in the last two innings (though he did end the second with back-to-back strikeouts using his offspeed stuff).
Fresno State starter Justin Wilson, meanwhile, has yet to allow a hit through two innings, but he also has struggled against UNC’s righthanded hitters, walking four of the six righties he’s faced the first time through the batting order. Wilson lacks a changeup to use against those righties, and they’re doing a good job forcing him to throw strikes instead of chasing breaking balls out of the zone. Wilson is very tough on lefties, and he struck out Tim Fedroff and Kyle Seager in the first. But Dustin Ackley opened the third with an infield single on a high chopper up the middle. Leave it to Ackley to get the Tar Heels into the hit column.
OMAHA–I just got back to the press box after the postgame press conferences for the Georgia-Stanford game, and my spirits fell when I looked out on the field and saw my old nemesis: the big white tarp covering the infield. For the third straight afternoon, dark clouds have gathered to the north, and the Doppler radar does not look good. Get ready for another delay . . .
Whenever the late game does start, Fresno State will send lefthander Justin Wilson to the mound. There was speculation the Bulldogs would go with Clayton Allison, but I think Wilson is absolutely the right choice.
OMAHA–After the drama of last night’s North Carolina-Louisiana State battle, the first game Saturday was just a bit of a let-down–but not for Georgia. The Bulldogs showed zero ill effects from a four-day layoff, carrying a six-run lead into the ninth and holding off a late Stanford rally to win 10-8 and reach the CWS finals for the first time since 1990. Georgia jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the third inning, and the game was really never close from that point on, though Stanford got a pinch-hit, three-run homer from Ben Clowe with two outs in the ninth against Bulldogs closer Joshua Fields.
UGa. sophomore first baseman Rich Poythress tied a CWS record with three doubles in the game, joining seven other players in the record book. He finished the day 4-for-5 with four RBIs to pace Georgia’s 15-hit attack.
We’ll have more on this game shortly.
OMAHA–How bad has Matt Cerione’s day been? The Georgia center fielder had a golden sombrero (four strikeouts in a game) by the sixth inning. When Cerione struck out for a fifth time in the seventh, Omaha World-Herald Lee Barfknecht labeled his feat the "platinum sombrero." I’m not sure if that’s a real term that I’ve never heard of, or if Lee just made it up, but either way it’s a distinction to be avoided if at all possible.
OMAHA–If that headline sounds familiar, it’s because I used it in yesterday’s blog as well. As expected, North Carolina will start freshman righty Matt Harvey for the second straight game; he threw just 29 pitches in two innings yesterday before a lengthy weather delay ended his outing. Rumor has it Fresno State will start senior righthander Clayton Allison, but that is unconfirmed.
A day after Louisiana State was eliminated from the College World Series, Tigers hitting coach Cliff Godwin announced he was leaving to become Terry Rooney’s top assistant at Central Florida. Rooney, who has spent the last two years as LSU’s pitching coach, was hired as UCF’s head coach on June 12. LSU coach Paul Mainieri told the Baton Rouge Advocate that he was excited for both coaches. Mainieri shouldn’t have much trouble finding replacements; LSU is a traditional power with a great base of young talent, a beautiful new stadium opening next year and one of college baseball’s finest gentlemen at the helm.
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