Thursday, June 26, 2008

Congratulations Fresno State!


While watching Sunday Night Baseball last weekend, I noticed a blurb scrolling at the bottom of my TV screen: Fresno State had reached the national championship in the NCAA's College World Series.

I graduated from Fresno State in 1992.

As any alumnus knows, Fresno takes enormous pride in the university's athletic programs, so I'm proud to report that the Bulldogs not only won the national championship (the first for Fresno State's men's athletics in any sport), but came back from a 1-0 deficit in the series, and that's after being the lowest seeded entry into the tournament.

From "underdogs to wonderdogs" is the banner headline in the papers this morning. Here's this, from
the Fresno Bee:

It happened, just as it does in the fairy tales. A happy ending to complete this Cinderella season. A movie based on real-life memories that won't go away anytime soon. Maybe not ever.

Fresno State captured the NCAA championship Wednesday night in front of an announced crowd of 18,932 at Rosenblatt Stadium.

It took a 6-1 victory against Georgia before a national television audience to complete the improbable run, which safely goes down as college baseball's most historic underdog run.

Unseeded Fresno State -- a team that needed to win the Western Athletic Conference tournament simply to make the NCAA Tournament and then was given a No. 4 regional seed survived its sixth elimination game of the postseason.

Fresno State lost the first game of this best-of-three series then came back to win the next two against a team that was seeded No. 8 nationally.

"Isn't this amazing?" said Fresno State outfielder Steve Susdorf as he clutched the NCAA trophy wearing a national champion T-shirt. "I'm shaking."

Wednesday's game, actually, wasn't too nerve-rattling for Fresno State.

There was no need for late-inning heroics to save the day.

Those types of performances were used earlier in Fresno State's run to get to Wednesday.

It really didn't go down to the final inning, though Fresno State coach Mike Batesole took no chances and marched out closer Brandon Burke in the end.

For the most part, all Fresno State needed was pitcher Justin Wilson and outfielder Steve Detwiler.

Despite pitching on three days of rest, Wilson lived up to his big-game reputation with seven shutout innings before finally allowing a run in the eighth.

With his fastball in the low 90-mph range and his offspeed pitches biting, the left-hander from Buchanan High struck out nine and allowed just five hits against a Georgia team that came in with a .311 average and had feasted off fastballs throughout the College World Series.

Often, Wilson would put batters away with an inside fastball that seemed untouchable -- too fast for hitters to catch up to and with too much natural movement to lock on to.

"What he did off three days of rest was unbelievable," Fresno State catcher Danny Grubb said. "They weren't going to touch him. Not when Justin's throwing like that. He found energy somewhere. Man, he was amazing."

Detwiler supplied the offense with a perfect performance at the plate -- going 4 for 4 with two home runs and driving in all six runs.

Moved up two spots in the lineup because Georgia started a left-handed pitcher, the right-handed Detwiler smashed a two-run homer to right field in the second inning then connected for a three-run shot to left field in the sixth.

In between, Detwiler supplied an RBI double in the fourth to pick up a Fresno State offense that seemed spent, having used all of its bullets a night earlier in amassing 19 hits in a 19-10 victory against Georgia on Tuesday.

Take away Detwiler on Wednesday and Fresno State hit 4 for 31 as a team.

And Detwiler did it with a torn tendon in his left thumb, suffered two months ago. He also was hitting just .231 (6 for 26) coming into the CWS finale.

"For him to have the game that he had today, it was perfect for the ballclub," Fresno State coach Mike Batesole said. "He's made of heart. To see him doing what he's doing, it inspires everybody."

The title run completed, Fresno State surely will inspire future underdog teams for years to come, when coaches might recount this 2008 season and tell their team, "If Fresno State could do it, so can we."

Congratulations Fresno State!

Photo Credit: "Fresno State’s Philosophy: One Game at a Time," New York Times.