See also: CWS Game 15 Box Score
OMAHA—It seemed inevitable there would eventually be a game like this in the 2008 College World Series. This was supposed to be an offensive field, after all, featuring few power arms and limited pitching depth that was further depleted by the compacted schedule. Scoring was up all season long and spiked in super-regionals, when 15.9 runs per game were scored, the most in the 10-year history of the round. So it was peculiar that, entering Tuesday, scoring was actually down in the 2008 CWS from a year ago.
It’s not down anymore.
In the highest-scoring CWS game since 2001, Fresno State erased an early five-run deficit and rolled to a 19-10 win against Georgia, forcing a decisive third game of the CWS finals. The outburst caused the scoring average in the 2008 CWS to jump from 12.14 runs per game to 13.27 runs per game (last year’s average was 12.33, which was an increase of more than three runs per game from the year before).
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Point: Georgia carried a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the third, but Fresno began to chip away with three singles and two walks. But the momentum really swung Fresno’s way on Tommy Mendonca’s three-run homer to right, capping the six-run third inning and giving Fresno its first lead.
Not to get bogged down in matters of trivia, but the 19 runs were the most allowed by Georgia in any game since that same 2001 College World Series.
“We had a tough time defending the post pattern across the middle,” Georgia coach David Perno joked. “It was killing us. They missed a late extra point, and we tried to hang in there.”
Georgia (45-24-1) actually built a 5-0 lead heading into the bottom of the third, chasing Fresno State starter Justin Miller after 2 2/3 innings. But in its 77th game of the season, Fresno (46-31) wasn’t about to panic with 21 outs to go. In fact, when asked about the mood in the dugout after falling five runs behind, Fresno third baseman Tommy Mendonca reacted as if it were a ludicrous question.
“The mood?” Mendonca said. “Ah, let’s see, just go out and hit the ball, I guess. We weren’t down, we weren’t up. What was it, the third or fourth inning? There was plenty of ballgame left, we just stayed loose and calm, and we started taking great at-bats. Good things happen when you put the ball in play.”
Steve Detwiler did just that to lead off the bottom of the third against Georgia starter Nick Montgomery, lining a single to left field. After two walks, a single and a wild pitch gave Fresno its first run and loaded the bases with one out, Steve Susdorf grounded a two-run single to right field that narrowed the gap to two runs. Two batters later, Mendonca jumped on the first pitch from reliever Stephen Dodson and crushed a three-run homer to right field, giving Fresno State a 6-5 lead.
“Got lucky,” Mendonca said of his homer.
“I wouldn’t call it luck,” Susdorf interjected. “It’s happened 18 or 19 times this year.”
It’s also happened four times in Omaha for Mendonca, tying a CWS record held by eight other players. And he’s not the only Fresno player enjoying a power surge; FS has now out-homered Georgia 12-3 in Omaha. The 12th homer came off the bat of Susdorf in the fifth, helping Fresno break the game open. Fresno State is the first team ever to score 17 runs or more twice in the same CWS, after putting up 17 in its opener against Rice.
Georgia, of course, did not roll over at any point. The Dawgs responded to Fresno’s six-run third with a run of their own in the fourth to tie the score at 6-6. It could have been an even bigger inning, but a controversial strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double play thwarted the momentum. UGa. had runners at first and second with no outs and a full count to Matt Cerione. The runners took off, and Cerione took what appeared to be ball four low and inside. Instead, home-plate umpire Mike Conlin rung him up, and Gordon Beckham was thrown out at third base by about five steps.
“(Cerione) was supposed to protect if it was close, but he didn’t think it was a good pitch, so he took it,” Perno said. “We thought it was ball four, so everybody would move up.”
Fresno kept its momentum going in the bottom of the frame, exploding for five more runs, highlighted by Danny Muno’s tie-breaking, two-run triple to right-center field. Things snowballed from there for Georgia, as Fresno tacked on five more in the fifth, three in the seventh and one in the eighth.
“Well, it’s pretty tough. Fresno State had the merry-go-round, or circus, whatever you want to call it—they were going around the bases all night,” Beckham said. “They’re a good team. I told you last night, anyone who thought they were out of it is crazy, because they’re a great team. It was not fun tonight.”
Despite his team’s 19-hit barrage, Fresno State coach Mike Batesole made a point to laud his pitchers. Miller and reliever Holden Sprague combined to give up 10 runs, but they suppressed fatigue to throw a combined 135 pitches and eat up a combined six innings. Then senior righty Jake Hower took over, working three scoreless innings in his first CWS appearance.
“That’s not the first time this club’s answered the bell when they had to,” Batesole said. “I’m pretty proud of the way they played today—especially with what we did on the mound, not so much the 19 runs. What Justin Miller gave us with what he has left in the tank, what Spraguey gave us with what he has left in the tank, was pretty special. Hower followed it up with good stuff—he’s fresh. The other two guys were out there pitching on guts and heart.”
Guts and heart. That’s what Fresno State’s run to the finals has been all about. Now it’s up to ace lefthander Justin Wilson to dig deep in Wednesday’s decisive game, on three days’ rest. Batesole said he expects Wilson to be fueled by adrenaline, and he hopes his ace can last four or five innings. The best part about Tuesday’s nine-run victory for Fresno might have been that closer Brandon Burke got a much-needed day off. He’ll be a key Wednesday.
Perno will start another lefthander on three days’ rest: Nathan Moreau. But he threw just 46 pitches Saturday against Stanford, while Wilson threw 112.
“We’re going to start Nathan Moreau,” Perno said. “You’re going to see Dean Weaver, you’re going to see Alex McRee, you’re going to see Josh Fields. And everybody else is going to be cheerleading. That’s what we’re going to do. Those are our guys. It’s game three or game seven, whatever you want to call it—it’s for all the marbles. Those are the guys who got us here, and we’re going to go with them.”
Both teams are 5-0 in elimination games during the NCAA tournament. Something has got to give Wednesday.
“It’s a battle of the undefeateds in elimination games,” Beckham said. “It’s going to be a dog fight.”