See also: Game Three Box Score
See also: Scheppers’ Loss Inspired Fresno State
OMAHA—One advantage to being the lowest-seeded team ever to reach the College World Series is you can play the “nobody-believes-in-us” card without sounding ridiculous. When nobody gives you a chance to win your regional, or your super-regional, or your CWS opener, that’s a pretty powerful uniting force in the clubhouse.
Fresno State just keeps on proving its doubters wrong. The Bulldogs, playing their first CWS game since 1991, dismantled heavily favored Rice (playing its ninth CWS game in the last three years) on Sunday afternoon. Fresno did most of its damage in three big innings and pounded a trio of three-run homers en route to a 17-5 win.
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Point: The Bulldogs had already gotten on the board on Danny Muno’s two-run single in the second, but it was the next at-bat that shifted the momentum for good. Gavin Hedstrom doubled down the left-field line, scoring Steve Detwiler easily, and third-base coach Matt Curtis did not hesitate to send Muno home from first base once the throw in from left field went to second base. Second baseman Jimmy Comerota double-clutched before making a relay to the plate, and Muno made a great sweeping head-first slide to knock the ball out of catcher Adam Zornes’ glove, giving Fresno a 4-0 lead. More importantly, it established Fresno as the aggressor.
“As far as being the underdog, I think that’s almost an advantage,” Fresno center fielder Gavin Hedstrom said. “We love proving that we’re better than everybody says we are. And that’s really helped us come this far.”
The Bulldogs, who won the Long Beach regional as a No. 4 seed and then toppled No. 3 national seed Arizona State in super-regionals, dispatched another national seed Sunday. But Fresno State coach Mike Batesole said he didn’t know what anybody else is seeded. All he knows is that his team is unseeded.
“Does that help these guys fly under the radar a little bit? I don’t know—you’ll have to ask the teams in the other dugouts,” Batesole said. “About six weeks ago, we stopped worrying about who was in the other dugout . . . These guys have been through an awful lot. Each game and each week they feel a lot better about themselves.”
The Bulldogs are playing like a team with nothing to lose, a team that believes in itself to the fullest. They set the tone early Sunday, getting to Rice starter Ryan Berry for four runs in the second on two walks, an error and two big hits. Freshman shortstop Danny Muno’s two-run single up the middle gave the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead, and he scored from first base on Hedstrom’s two-run double down the left-field line one batter later. The throw from Rice left fielder Aaron Luna went to second base, so Fresno third-base coach Matt Curtis didn’t hesitate to send Muno home. Jimmy Comerota double-clutched before making the relay throw to the plate, and Muno knocked the ball away from catcher Adam Zornes with a great hook slide.
“We played aggressive today,” Batesole said. “We knew coming in here, the last thing we were going to do was come back and let the game come to us, or let them come to us. We attacked well, especially early in the game. We were aggressive on defense, and we had some great two-strike at-bats against a great pitcher. . . We didn’t give any at-bats away, and that’s what it’s going to take if we keep this going.”
Fresno buried Berry in the fourth, as three-run homers by Muno and Alan Ahmady highlighted a seven-run inning. Berry allowed nine runs (five earned) on seven hits and three walks in 3 1/3 innings to continue his CWS struggles over the last two years. In 9 2/3 career innings over three starts in Omaha, Berry has allowed 17 runs (11 earned) on 17 hits.
“I might be trying to pitch different in the playoffs,” Berry said. “Obviously these teams are talented and I’m not pitching to my strengths. Today I thought I made good pitches and I made one or two mistakes and they capitalized . . . It might be I’m walking too many people—I walked three today. I really don’t know.”
Fresno State, meanwhile, got a strong start from junior lefthander Justin Wilson, who allowed just two runs on eight hits over seven innings of work. Once the Bulldogs took a big lead, Wilson was able to pound the strike zone with impunity. They gave him even more support with five runs in the sixth, capped by No. 9 hitter Jordan Ribera’s three-run homer.
“I thought Fresno State did an incredible job of hitting today,” Rice coach Wayne Graham said. “It’s hard to hit the ball that well even in batting practice. Every time we made a bad pitch they drove it, and every time we made a good pitch they fought it off . . . It’s just a great day for Fresno and not a very good day for the Owls.”