CWS Game 16: Fresno State 6, Georgia 1

See also: CWS
Game 16 Box Score

See also: The Secret To Fresno State’s Success

OMAHA—Robert Detwiler, a construction worker from Forest Knolls, Calif., raised his son to be tough.

When Fresno State sophomore outfielder Steve Detwiler tore a ligament in his thumb on a head-first slide April 1 against Long Beach State, doctors told him he had a choice. If Detwiler had sustained just a partial tear, he would have required season-ending surgery, but since he suffered a complete tear, he could opt to play through it and have surgery after the season. He couldn’t do any more damage than had already been done.

“As soon as the doctor told me I had an option, there was no doubt in my mind what I was going to do,” Detwiler said. “I know if Coach (Mike) Batesole thinks I was good enough to go, I was good enough to go.”

He was much more than good enough Wednesday night, making Fresno awfully glad he waited to go under the knife. Detwiler went 4-for-4 with two home runs and a double and drove in all six of Fresno State’s runs, powering the Bulldogs to a 6-1 win over Georgia and their first national championship.

After Fresno got on the board with two runs in the top of the second, Georgia put its first two runners on base in the bottom of the frame thanks to an error and a single. Fresno Starter Justin Wilson stopped the rally in its tracks, striking out Joey Lewis and Lyle Allen and inducing what looked like an inning-ending force out to shortstop. But another Muno error loaded the bases for Ryan Peisel, who hit a ball on the nose that landed in center fielder Gavin Hedstrom’s glove on the warning track. Georgia never mounted another serious threat against Wilson.

Steve Detwiler went 4-for-4 with two homers and a double and drove in all six of Fresno State’s runs. Not bad for a guy playing with a completely torn ligament in his thumb. He finished 8-for-13 with three homers and nine RBIs in the finals.

Not Have Noticed:
Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham’s solo homer in the eighth tied him for the national lead with 28. He finished the season with 113 hits, breaking UGa.’s single-season record, and he became the first Dawg to finish the year batting above .400 since 1981. He came up huge in Omaha, batting .522 with two homers and five RBIs. “Look at Beckham—you throw that guy any pitch and he can hit it anywhere,” Wilson said. “He’s unbelievable.”

Early in the College World Series, Detwiler struck out swinging three times, causing his thumb to pop out of place and giving him the worst pain he’s gone through since sustaining the injury.

Robert Detwiler had no sympathy. Instead, in their nightly conversations, he made fun of his sun for wincing every time he swung and missed.

“One swing of the bat makes a hero. That’s what my pops told me every time I talk to him every night—just keep with it, stick with it, suck it up,” Steve Detwiler said.

He entered the CWS finals batting just 4-for-39 in the NCAA tournament, but he stuck with it and sucked it up. He didn’t swing and miss much in the championship series, which spared him some extra pain. He finished with championship series records for hits (eight) homers (three) and RBIs (nine).

Detwiler got the scoring started in the decisive third game with a two-run home run to right field in the second. He followed with an RBI double to left-center field in the fourth, then tacked on a mammoth three-run homer to left in the sixth, giving Fresno a 6-0 lead. Georgia got on the board on Gordon Beckham’s 28th homer of the year in the eighth, but never got within sniffing distance of Fresno State.

When a reporter asked Detwiler later about being a one-man wrecking crew in the decisive third game, he started to argue the point and spread the credit to his teammates, as is the Fresno way.

“He’s giving too much credit away,” lefthander Justin Wilson interjected.

“Yeah, dude, we only scored six, and you knocked in all of them,” closer Brandon Burke added.

Wilson should talk. He only wanted to discuss the defense, and the hitting, and the coaching, and the bullpen—forget about his own splendid evening. The junior ace was masterful on three days’ rest,
allowing just one run on five hits and a walk while striking out nine
over eight innings. He finished with 129 pitches, after throwing 112 against North Carolina on Saturday.

“It was over when I saw the look in his eye in the first inning,” Batesole said. “There was no doubt in my mind it was over. I knew when I saw that look in his eye that he was going to give everything he had to bring it home. And that’s exactly what happened.”

Wilson went 2-0, 2.21 in three CWS starts, leading all pitchers in strikeouts (20) and innings (20). But Most Outstanding Player honors went to sophomore Tommy Mendonca, who tied the single-CWS record with four home runs in Omaha and played spectacular defense at third base.

Mendonca led a Fresno State power surge that was unprecedented in the post-Gorilla Ball era. Fresno scored 62 runs in Omaha to tie a CWS record set by Southern California in 1998—year of the infamous 21-14 national championship game. Fresno’s 14 homers is the third-most ever by one team in Omaha, and the most since both USC and Louisiana State smacked 18 homers in that same 1998 Series. Seven different players homered for Fresno in Omaha; no other team at the CWS even hit seven homers collectively.

“That impressed me most, the home runs,” Georgia coach David Perno added. “They hit them every game.”

The Dawgs, meanwhile, swung out of their shoes facing that early deficit against a dominant Wilson, and they were never able to sustain any rallies.

“I think we just pushed as a group a little too hard,” senior third baseman Ryan Peisel said. “Everybody tried too hard to push for the six-run home run, which we couldn’t get. I don’t think anybody gave up, we tried to grind it out like we have all year. We just couldn’t get it done.”

Georgia managed to put its first two runners on base against Clayton Allison in a last-ditch rally in the ninth, causing Fresno State to summon Burke from the bullpen. He quickly got David Thoms to ground into a 4-6-3 double play, then issued a walk to Peisel to bring up Matt Olson. Olson lined Burke’s first pitch to right field, where it was snared by—who else?—Detwiler for the final out. Second baseman Erik Wetzel and first baseman Alan Ahmady mobbed Detwiler in right field, while the rest of the team buried Burke in a raucous dog-pile behind the pitcher’s mound.

“I think I was directly next to Burke at the bottom of the pile, and we both after four seconds decided it’s time to get up now, or we both might never pitch again,” Wilson said.

Detwiler was late to arrive at the main dog-pile after his mini-celebration in right field, but he finally joined his teammates, jumping on the top of the heap.

“He’s the reason me and Wilson are hurt,” Burke said.

Robert Detwiler would tell Burke to suck it up. That’s what Steve did; now he gets to have surgery to remove a piece of ligament from his wrist and insert it into his thumb, followed by 12 weeks of rehab.

That’s nothing for Detwiler—he’s a tough kid. And besides, his thumb was the farthest thing from his mind on the field after Fresno State won the national championship, his face glistening with sweat from the jubilant celebration, his eyes aglow with amazement and incredulity.

“It’s the best feeling in the world, there’s no words to describe it,” Detwiler said. “This is what everybody wishes for, and I’ve got it.”