OMAHA—Here’s a look at how Fresno State and Georgia stack up in various phases of the game:
Georgia’s in much better shape here thanks to its perfect 3-0 run through Bracket One. The Bulldogs will go with ace righthander Trevor Holder on eight days’ rest in the opener, and they have senior righty Nick Montgomery ready on six days’ rest for Tuesday. If the series gets extended to three games, expect righty Stephen Dodson to make the start, unless he works significant innings out of the bullpen Monday or Tuesday. The key for Georgia will be getter longer outings from its starters, as none has lasted longer than four innings so far in Omaha.
“That’s probably the biggest thing with it: We need to get more out of our starters, No. 1,” UGa. coach David Perno said. “I can’t be so quick to the trigger bringing in our bullpen in the third or fourth inning. We go back to what we did all season in the SEC.”
Fresno State used its two best starters—Justin Wilson and Clayton Allison—on Saturday and Sunday against North Carolina, and No. 3 Justin Miller threw 1 1/3 innings of relief Saturday. Miller’s the best bet to start Monday, but Fresno will have to mix and match with its entire staff for the first two days of the series and hope to force a third game, when they could bring back Wilson, and potentially Allison in relief.
Again, Georgia’s extra rest gives it a significant edge in the bullpen. Fresno State relies heavily upon two righthanders in the bullpen: senior closer Brandon Burke, who threw two innings Sunday, and junior Holden Sprague, who threw an inning each of the last two days. Both should be able to bounce back and throw at least another inning apiece Monday, but Fresno State will need relievers Sean Bonesteele (6.75 ERA), Jason Breckley (7.54) and Kris Tomlinson (6.75) to carry a significant load.
Georgia’s bullpen has been one of the deepest, most versatile units in the nation all season, and it’s also rested. Perno said he’s unlikely to use Joshua Fields unless the game is tied or it’s a save situation, when he’s most effective (17 saves in 17 chances, 0.50 ERA with 31 strikeouts, 12 walks and three hits in 18 innings). Perno has that luxury because the rest of his bullpen is so good. He’s got power arms at his disposal for the middle innings in lefthander Alex McRee and righty Dean Weaver, both of whom have come up big in Omaha. Dodson is a ground ball machine who can get a big double play ball in a tight spot.
After Georgia clinched a berth in the CWS Finals, Stanford coach Mark Marquess lamented, “We just could not stop them.” In the postseason, no team has been able to stop Georgia’s offense, which is hitting .374 with 17 homers in 11 NCAA tournament games. It will be imperative for Fresno to get off to a good start against a UGa. lineup that has outscored opponents 81-36 in the first inning this year. As usual, the top half of Georgia’s lineup has done plenty of damage in Omaha, led by leadoff man Ryan Peisel (7-for-14 with two homers and seven RBIs in the CWS). But Georgia has also gotten significant contributions from the bottom of its order—especially Matt Cerione and Joey Lewis.
“Cerione and Lewis are two good players. The funny thing about is they just never play well together,” Perno said. “But we don’t need them to play well together. Cerione picked us up Monday night, Lewis picked us up Saturday. But they’ve made huge strides. I also like what our platoon situation at second base has done. Not only have they taken care of the baseball better than I thought they would, but they’re giving us quality at-bats, and (freshman outfielder) Lyle Allen has too. So we’re getting quality at-bats from 6-to-9.
“We went through a stretch for a couple weeks there where we could not score once we got past (No. 5 hitter Bryce) Massanari. I remember playing Mississippi State thinking we cannot score. Fortunately we did push past that. Since that point, we’ve created some better situations for them. They’ve benefited from some slashes, benefited from some two-strikes bunts. It’s helped their confidence. Everybody at the top has rallied with them and picked them up, telling them they’re doing a great job. Right now they’re confident, they think they can hit. I hope they keep thinking that for a few more days.”
Fresno State has also gotten contributions from up and down its lineup, and ithas hit for considerably more power than Georgia. Mike Batesole’s club has out-homered Perno’s 7-2 in Omaha, led by sophomore third baseman Tommy Mendonca’s two. Mendonca’s bat came alive in the final two games against UNC, producing a two-run homer on Saturday and four RBIs on Sunday. Cleanup hitter Steve Susdorf also enters the Finals on an upswing. After going 2-for-12 in Fresno’s first three CWS games, Susdorf doubled twice Sunday. Leadoff man Danny Muno and No. 3 hitter Erik Wetzel have been in the middle of many Fresno rallies in Omaha, as Muno has reached base via a hit or walk 10 times in four games, and Wetzel has gone 9-for-19.
Fresno also stands out for its mature approach. After Mendonca’s two-run single in the third inning Sunday, it had driven in 18 runs in two-strike counts in Omaha.
“We always have a good two-strike plan, and we just executed,” Mendona said.
Georgia has been sound defensively in the postseason, posting a .971 fielding percentage. Beckham, in particular, has been a steadying force in the middle of the infield, and Allen has made a few dazzling plays in left field.
But Fresno’s defense is at another level right now. Mendonca and Muno have made too many terrific plays on the left side of the infield to count, and Wetzel and Alan Ahmady have been very slick on the right side. Both Allison and Burke made a point to commend catcher Ryan Overland for his work blocking balls in the dirt Sunday, and all three outfielders have impressed as well.
“They made every play defensively against us, really, all three games,” UNC coach Mike Fox said Sunday night. “Their shortstop and third baseman were sensational. We looked back at the stats and they made some errors during the year, but boy, they played just terrific. If there’s one thing that stood out, it was that.”
Edge: Fresno State
Both sets of Bulldogs can lay claim to the “team of destiny” mantle. Georgia started its Omaha run with a ninth-inning comeback against Miami and first-round pick Carlos Gutierrez, after UGa. entered the game just 1-20-1 when trailing after eight innings. Georgia lost its regional opener and ran through the loser’s bracket, proving it doesn’t wilt with its back against the wall. Fresno bounced back after a 15-1 loss to San Diego in a potential regional clincher, beating the Toreros soundly the next day. Then Fresno dropped its first super-regional game against Arizona State but still rallied to win the next two. FS dropped a heartbreaker against North Carolina on Saturday when Chad Flack gave the Tar Heels a comeback win with an eighth-inning home run, but Fresno responded with a dominating win the next day. Both teams are battle-tested, mentally tough, loose and confident.