Fresno State wins national title

Thursday, June 26, 2008
NATI HARNIK ~ Associated Press Fresno State players celebrated their 6-1 win over Georgia in Game 3 of the best-of-three NCAA College World Series championship baseball series Wednesday in Omaha, Neb.

OMAHA, Neb. — Fresno State went from underdogs to "wonderdogs" on its way to a most unlikely national championship.

With Steve Detwiler providing all the offense Justin Wilson needed, the Bulldogs captured their first national championship in a men's sport with a 6-1 victory over Georgia in the decisive Game 3 of the College World Series finals.

Detwiler homered twice and drove in all six runs, and Wilson allowed five hits in eight innings to cap Fresno State's wild ride to a title.

CWS most outstanding player Tommy Mendonca said it's time to put the underdog talk to rest.

"From here on out, underdog does not mean anything," he said. "Write it down. Underdog does not mean anything. We showed anything can happen."

Fresno State was forecast to be a Top 25 team coming into the season, but the Bulldogs lost 12 of their first 20 games. They needed to win the Western Athletic Conference tournament just to make the NCAA field of 64, fought off elimination in regionals and super regionals, and became the first No. 4 regional seed to reach the CWS since the tournament expanded in 1999.

The Bulldogs (47-31) from California not only showed they belonged, they showed they were the best, even though no previous national champion had more losses. The national title was the second in school history. Fresno State won the 1998 women's softball title.

"They're a true champion, and they did it the hard way," Georgia coach David Perno said.

Fresno State knocked off No. 3 national seed Arizona State in the super regionals and beat No. 6 Rice and No. 2 North Carolina twice to get to the CWS finals. By the time the Bulldogs met up with Georgia, the No. 8 seed, in the best-of-three final round, the slogan "Underdogs to Wonderdogs" was being spotted on T-shirts and signs all over Rosenblatt Stadium.

"These guys beat the best," Fresno State coach Mike Batesole said, "and I guess that's what you have to do to win a national championship."

Miami, the No. 1 national seed, brought three first-round draft picks to Omaha and left after three games. Fresno State's highest draft pick was second-rounder Tanner Scheppers, and he missed the postseason with a shoulder injury.

"It goes to show you don't need that first-round draft pick on your team to win that national championship," left fielder Steve Susdorf said. "You need 25 guys. We were all committed to the team. No one was about himself."

Mendonca had all but wrapped up the most outstanding award before he stepped on the field Wednesday. He tied a CWS record with four homers, drove in 11 runs and made a number of spectacular plays in the field.

But in the finale, Detwiler was the star.

"Everybody was having amazing at-bats and seeing the ball," he said. "I got lucky and capitalized on a few of them."

Playing with a torn ligament in his left thumb, he hit a two-run homer on Nathan Moreau's 3-2 pitch in the second inning barely cleared the right-field fence.

There was no doubt about Detwiler's second blast, a high drive that landed three-quarters of the way up the stands in left field. That three-run shot off Dean Weaver was Detwiler's third homer of the CWS and 12th of the season.

It also marked the fourth time a player went deep twice in a championship game.

Detwiler, who added an RBI double in the fourth, said he didn't let his thumb injury hinder him.

"It's mind over matter," he said. "It's just a little pain. The pain is temporary. Pride is forever."

Detwiler caught a fly in right for the final of the game — just as his teammates predicted in the dugout before they went out for the ninth. He tucked the ball into his back pocket and sprinted to join his teammates in a wild celebration.

Someone suggested he auction the ball. Detwiler just laughed.

This ball, he said, was a keeper.

Wilson (5-5) turned in the best performance of any starter in this year's CWS. The junior left-hander struck out nine, walked one and held Georgia to three singles and a triple in seven shutout innings.

"When you've got a wonderful defense behind you and your offense is outstanding, it can't get better than that," Wilson said.

Fresno State came into the finals short of arms and pitched by committee the first two games. Fresno forced the final game after coming back from a 5-0 deficit in the third inning to win 19-10 on Tuesday.

"I didn't think they would be able to come in and piece together a pitching staff," Georgia's Ryan Peisel said. "What scared me is that you could tell they had used the underdog to their advantage the whole time. It brought them closer together."

Gordon Beckham ended Wilson's shutout bid when he homered leading off the eighth. His 28th homer tied him with LSU's Matt Clark for the national lead.

Wilson, after throwing 127 pitches, gave way to Clayton Allison to start the ninth. Joey Lewis singled leading off and Lyle Allen walked for Georgia (45-25-1).

Batesole called on closer Brandon Burke, who got Miles Starr to hit into a double play.

Burke walked Peisel to put runners at the corner, and then Olson lined out to Detwiler in right to end the game.

A year after Oregon State won its second consecutive CWS title with a surprising late-season run, Fresno State pulled off an even bigger surprise and became the seventh straight champion from west of the Mississippi River.

"It was pretty awesome," Wilson said as the party was still raging on the field. "I can't believe it out here."

Moreau (4-4) took the loss, giving up five hits and three runs, two earned, in five innings.

"We had some opportunities," Perno said. "We hit some balls hard and nothing fell for us. You couldn't keep them in the yard. It always seemed to be a different guy. Someone stepped up for them when they needed it most."

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