OMAHA—So far, it’s a Bulldog party in the 2008 College World Series.
Fresno State joined Georgia, which shares the Bulldog as its mascot, as the only two undefeated teams in the Series, beating No. 2 national seed North Carolina 5-3 behind gritty offense and another outstanding performance by its bullpen.
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There were several, but the most obvious one was Alan Ahmady’s two-run single in the fifth, making it 4-3 Fresno. The Bulldogs bullpen made it stick.
The loss sent North Carolina into a rematch with Louisiana State in an elimination game Thursday. The victory continued a remarkable story for Fresno State (44-29), though, the Western Athletic Conference champion that entered the NCAA tournament with 27 losses.
A No. 4 seed entering regional play, Fresno won the regional at Long Beach State, a field considered the strongest of the four-team regionals, then went to Arizona State and won a super-regional against the national No. 3 seed.
Now Fresno State, which entered the CWS with more losses than any team ever had, is one of two undefeated teams, having beaten heavyweights Rice and North Carolina.
“These guys aren’t playing the team in the other dugout or playing the uniforms, they’re just playing baseball,” Fresno State coach Mike Batesole said. “If you can not be concerned about the outside stuff and just play baseball, it can be very, very fun.”
The game turned in the fifth inning, when Fresno State capitalized on its opportunities, scoring two runs to take the lead for good, while the Tar Heels (52-13) did not. North Carolina took a 3-1 lead in the fourth inning off Fresno State starter Justin Miller, and seemed ready to put the game away in the fifth when it got the first two runners on. Batesole went to his bullpen, tabbing lefthander Kris Tomlinson to face North Carolina’s three-hole hitter, Tim Fedroff.
Tomlinson got Fedroff on a groundout to first that moved both runners, then had an adventure intentionally walking righthanded-hitting Tim Federowicz, nearly throwing two pitches away before settling down to bring lefty bat Kyle Seager to the plate. Tomlinson made him look like a .161 hitter instead of the .361 hitter he was coming into the game, striking him out on a breaking ball way out of the strike zone for the second out. Batesole then called on righty Jason Breckley to face Tar Heel senior Chad Flack, and Breckley retired Flack on a flyout to right field to end the threat.
“I’m proud of our eight seniors, and all eight of them have done things the right way . . . and today was a great display of that,” Batesole said. “Tomlinson and Breckley and (Brandon) Burke are seniors, and you saw them all do their piece unselfishly out of the bullpen.
“(Each one) came out of the pen and executed and did their piece, and they all have accepted their role. It was outstanding.”
North Carolina didn’t score again as junior righthander Holden Sprague provided 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to follow Breckley, getting into the eighth inning before the Tar Heels put two on with two outs. Senior closer Burke came on and calmly got pinch-hitter Garrett Gore on a groundout to third, then retired the side in the ninth for his 13th save, extending his school record.
“Their lefthander came in and made pitches,” North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. “They were good out of the bullpen. I thought that was the story of the game.”
The other story was Fresno’s offense, which got to North Carolina starter Adam Warren in dealing him just his second career loss in 24 decisions. The Bulldogs got single runs in the second and fourth on solo homers by catcher Ryan Overland (just his fourth of the year) and senior left fielder Steve Susdorf (his 12th).
Then in the bottom half, the Bulldogs loaded the bases with none out against Warren on singles by Danny Muno, who reached base in all five trips, and Gavin Hedstrom. A perfect bunt single by Erik Wetzel chased Warren, and North Carolina went to its own lefty out of the bullpen, Brian Moran. He got Susdorf to hit into a fielder’s choice that forced Muno at home, but Fox decided not to follow Batesole’s lead. He let Moran pitch to righthanded-hitting Alan Ahmady, saying later he considered it but trusted his offense to get more runs rather than matching up batter for batter in the fifth inning.
Ahmady made the move backfire as he drove in his 88th and 89th runs of the season on a single to center. “Brian has faced righthanded hitters before, but give (Ahmady) credit,” Fox said. “He’s a good hitter.”
Ahmady trails only Florida State’s Buster Posey in total RBIs this season, by three. Posey’s already gone home with the Seminoles, while Fresno State—which would rather be known as FS instead of FSU, for what it’s worth—is not only still playing in Omaha, it’s thriving.
“At the beginning of the year, we were playing so tight,” Sprague said. “Once we loosened up, it seemed like the game slowed down for us. Now we’re not worried about playing North Carolina, playing Rice, playing Arizona State. We’re playing Bulldog baseball.”
This year in Omaha, that seems to be the way to play.