A Team for the Ages
The year began just as it had the past few seasons in Fresno. The Bulldogs would be ranked in the top twenty five only to falter out of the gates. Diamond Dog fans in Fresno were once again left to question whether this team had the talent to win their third consecutive WAC title. As the season moved along Fresno State sat near the .500 mark for much longer than many of us were comfortable with.
The Dogs were not playing good baseball and everyone including the players themselves knew it. Towards the tail end of the WAC season Fresno State held on to first place by the skin of their teeth and entered the WAC tournament as the one seed. What happened next is something that every Bulldog fan will remember for the rest of their lives.
Fresno State went on to win their third straight WAC tournament in 2008. To this date the Bulldogs have not lost once during the course of the WAC tournament in their history. But Fresno State had been in this position before. Much like the Lady Dogs softball team the Bulldogs commonly qualify for a regional yearly. The only difference between the 2008 Bulldog baseball squad when compared to year’s past was the fact that had the Dogs lost the WAC tournament this year they would not have qualified for a regional. However, Fresno State won the WAC and was placed in one of the toughest regionals in the nation where the seeding would look as follows:
1) Long Beach State
2) San Diego
4) Fresno State
Each team was ranked nationally in the regional aside Fresno State. In other words the Bulldogs had their work cut out for them. It was the Bulldogs against the rest of the world and unlike many times in the past this 2008 Bulldog team was up for the challenge.
After an opening win against Long Beach State the Dogs took on and shut out San Diego in the second round of the regional 6-0. Fresno State sat in the winners’ bracket awaiting the winner of the Long Beach State-San Diego matchup. Once San Diego had defeated the Dirtbags the Bulldogs knew they had to win one game to advance to their first super regional in over a decade. Fresno State went out and were promptly torn apart by the Toreros in game one 15-1. Many Bulldog fans worried that the Dogs would follow suit to many teams in the past and lose again to San Diego in the deciding game of the regional. Instead the 2008 Bulldogs would make history with a 5-1 defeat of the Toreros. With their regional win Fresno State would then be sent off to Tempe, AZ to face the third ranked Sun Devils of Arizona State. Arizona State sported a 48-11 record with only three losses during the entire season at home. Fresno State had their work cut out for them as it would require a monumental upset to knock off the Sun Devils in their own house.
In game one the Bulldogs played tough but untimely errors did them in as they trailed 8-4 heading into the eighth inning. ASU’s hitters were too much for the Dogs in game one and the Dogs would face an early hole in the series with a 12-4 defeat. Fresno State would now have to win the final two games of the series in order to return to the College World Series for the first time since 1991. Game two of the series would come down to one key at bat in the fourth inning and timely pitching at the tail end of the game. Gavin Hedstrom stepped up to the plate in the fourth inning with two outs and the bases loaded. The Dogs had put together four hits with two outs but had only one run to show for it. With two strikes Hedstrom swung at a curveball that jumped off of his bat to left center field. The ball carried over the fence giving Fresno State a 7-5 lead that they would not relinquish. Fresno State would finish off the victory with strong pitching from Brandon Burke. But the Dogs still had to win one more game and were depleted in the pitching department. Could the Dogs pull off one of the biggest upsets in college baseball during the 2008 season by knocking off the Sun Devils?
Game three would be tough for both teams as the pitching staffs were equally depleted. For the first six innings both teams battled back and forth as the score sat at 5-5. Then the top of the seventh arrived. With two outs and the bases loaded Hedstrom was hit by a pitch to give the Dogs a 6-5 lead. Eric Wetzel followed with a double that cleared the bases given the Dogs a 9-5 lead. While a four run lead in most games is suitable the Dogs were playing the Sun Devils and no lead is ever safe against them. Following Wetzel the WAC player of the year Steve Susdorf stepped to the plate and crushed the ball deep to right center field to increase the lead to 11-5. The Dogs would need every last one of those runs as an eventful ninth inning was in sight. The Dogs would head to the bottom of the ninth with a 12-5 lead only to watch Sean Bonesteele and Brandon Burke allow four runs to score. With two outs and the bases loaded the Bulldogs would finally capture their dream they had played so hard to reach. With a fly ball to left field the Bulldogs had won the Tempe regional and reached the college world series.
Fresno State will open up against Rice, the #6 national seed. Rice used to be a part of the WAC until they jumped ship to conference USA a few ago. Fresno State will have to hope their pitching and hitting can come through as it will take an amazing effort to win the college world series. But do remember that this is a team that was not supposed to win their regional as the four seed. The Dogs were not supposed to knock off the Sun Devils in the Tempe regional but they did. Now Fresno State is not supposed to win the college world series. To this writer it sounds like the Dogs are right where they want to be.