Getting to the Postseason
Entering 2008, Fresno State was ranked No. 21 in the preseason polls. They were coming off back-to-back WAC championships in both the regular season and the conference tournament. This season would yield similar results as the Bulldogs went 21-11 in conference play to secure a third straight regular season title.
At 33-27 though, Fresno State would need to win the WAC Tournament to even get into the NCAA Tournament. In the opener, they narrowly defeated Sacramento State 3-2 to advance to the quarterfinals. There they met San Jose State and had some breathing room as they won 7-3.
In the semifinals, they crushed Hawaii 11-4 to set up a date with Nevada in the championship. The Wolfpack had finished three games behind Fresno State in the regular season standings, so this would be a matchup of the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the WAC. In their fifth meeting of the year, Fresno State prevailed by a score of 6-4 to secure their spot in the NCAA Tournament!
The Bulldogs had made it as far as the regional final in their past two tournament appearances, but got no further as Cal State Fullerton sent them home both years. This time around, Fresno State again was in the regional of a Big West team, but it would be the Long Beach State Dirtbags.
As a No. 4 seed (the lowest possible seed) in their region, Fresno State upset Long Beach State 7-3 to move on to the regional semifinals. Their opponent would be No. 2 seeded San Diego, who defeated them 5-2 in late February. In the rematch, the Bulldogs would blank the Toreros 6-0 to advance to their third straight regional final.
San Diego would survive their elimination game and crush Fresno State 15-1 to force a winner-take-all game in the regional final. The Bulldogs would regain their offense and win 5-1 to advance to their first ever super regional!
In super regionals, Fresno State headed out to Tempe to take on the No. 3 national seeded Arizona State Sun Devils. ASU was coming off two dominating wins over Oklahoma (15-3 and 12-0) and unleashed their offensive fury on the Bulldogs with a 12-4 rout.
It looked like Cinderella's season was over. Fresno State would need a miracle just to keep the Sun Devils out of double digits. With their season on the line for the second time this postseason, the Bulldogs forced a Game 3 with an 8-6 victory.
Taking ASU the distance, Fresno State capped off the upset with a 12-9 win. For the fourth time in program history (and first time since 1991), Fresno State was going to the College World Series!
College World Series
With the No. 3 national seed dispatched, Fresno State would face the No. 6 national seeded Rice Owls in the opening round of the CWS. The Bulldogs' offensive outburst carried over as they crushed the Owls 17-5.
In the second round, Fresno State downed their third consecutive national seed as they defeated No. 2 North Carolina 5-3. Meeting again in the semifinals, the Tarheels stormed back and beat Fresno State 4-3 to bring up the third elimination game of the postseason for the Bulldogs.
With a spot in the finals on the line, Fresno State beat North Carolina 6-1 to advance to their first ever National Championship. Their opponent would fittingly be another national seed in the No. 8 Georgia Bulldogs.
Fresno State dropped the first game 7-6, putting them in a position they had gotten comfortable with over the course of the postseason. In Game 2, the Bulldogs made the other Bulldogs keep their champagne on ice as Fresno State won a slugfest 19-10.
It was only fitting that Fresno State's season and shot at a national championship would come down to a winner-take-all finale. In that final game, Fresno State won 6-1 to bring home their first ever baseball national championship in school history.
|Fresno State celebrating as they complete their miracle title run.
Here is the complete Fresno State roster that attained immortality in the 2008 postseason:
- Clayton Allison (Senior) (Drafted 817th overall in the 28th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers)
- Sean Bonesteele (Sophomore)
- Jason Breckley (Senior)
- Brandon Burke (Senior)
- Gene Escat (Freshman)
- Jake Floethe (Freshman)
- Jacob Hower (Freshman)
- Justin Miller (Junior) (Drafted 483rd overall in the 16th round by the Texas Rangers)
- Tanner Scheppers (Junior)
- Holden Sprague (Junior)
- Kris Tomlinson (Junior)
- Justin Wilson (Junior) (Drafted 144th overall in the fifth round by the Pittsburgh Pirates) (CWS All-Tournament Team)
- David Hedstrom (Junior)
- Nick Hom (Freshman)
- Tommy Mendonca (Sophomore) (CWS Most Outstanding Player/All-Tournament Team)
- Danny Muno (Freshman)
- Jordan Ribera (Freshman)
- Todd Sandell (Senior)
- Erik Wetzel (Junior) (Drafted 407th overall in the 14th round by the Colorado Rockies) (CWS All-Tournament Team)
Also, here is the coaching staff who helped engineer such an improbable run:
- Head Coach
- Mike Batesole - Fifth season at Fresno State (2008 NCBWA National Coach of the Year)
- Assistant Coaches
As of 2017, Mike Batesole remains the only one from his coaching staff who is still at Fresno State.
What Fresno State's baseball team accomplished in the 2008 postseason is nothing short of remarkable. Here are some interesting notes regarding the Bulldogs' national championship run:
- As the No. 4 seed in their region, Fresno State became the lowest seeded team to EVER win a national championship in baseball.
- Fresno State had to win six elimination games en route to their national championship.
- The Bulldogs had to defeat four national seeds in row once they got out of regional play.
- Fresno State made a total of seven errors in the final two CWS Finals games, but still won both by convincing margins.
- Fresno State finished the season with an overall record of 47-31 and finished 10-4 in the NCAA Tournament. Their 31 losses are the most by any team to win a national championship.
- In the title game, Fresno State's Steve Detwiler single-handedly provided the offense. He went a perfect 4-4 with two home runs and six RBI's!
After winning it all, Fresno State would appear in three more NCAA Tournaments in 2009, 2011, and 2012. They would go two-and-out in in 2009 and 2011 while winning just one elimination game before going 1-2 in 2012. Since then, the Bulldogs have never been back to the postseason.
I was just a young middle schooler when Fresno State won their first and only baseball title, and little did I know then just how significant it will be. Unlike March Madness, it does not matter how lowly a team is ranked when it comes to baseball. That is personally why I love the sport so much.
A team like Fresno State -who really had no significant shot of winning against the juggernauts of the college baseball world- won a national championship. With a roster of 26 players all hailing from California, head coach Mike Batesole found a way to win.
Baseball can never be predicted 100% accurately, but it can be said that Fresno State was on the upswing after making it to two straight regional finals before their title run. They had no easy route in the postseason whatsoever as they went through half of the national seeds with their backs against the wall.
Fresno State's postseason draught of late only makes me happier that they capitalized on their opportunity in 2008. The Bulldogs showed underdogs everywhere that there is always a chance. Of course, it did not hurt Fresno State to have a few MLB draftees in addition to eight juniors and eight seniors in the mix.
I hope you enjoyed this article! Stay tuned for my upcoming recap on the Florida/TCU baseball game on Sunday night! Afterwards, I'll be putting another appreciation article out on another college baseball Cinderella: 2016 Coastal Carolina.
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