The stakes could have been neither clearer nor higher on Monday night as Georgia and Fresno State squared off in a battle of the Bulldogs in the first game of the College World Series finals. In a contest that proved that F.S.U. deserved to be there, the West Coast squad took a late lead but the Diamond Dogs fought back to gut out a huge win in game one.
Because the rotation aligned as intended, Trevor Holder was on the mound in the top of the first frame to face Danny Muno, who fouled off a pair of pitches to stay alive long enough to draw a walk on a 3-2 count. Gavin Hedstrom then went down swinging and, after the Fresno State shortstop advanced to second on a wild pitch, Erik Wetzel grounded out to move the runner over to third. Holder then extracted a strikeout from Steve Susdorf to squelch the threat.
The home half of the inning saw Sean Bonesteele on the hill for F.S.U., but, despite his admittedly cool name, his first pitch was sent to left field by Ryan Peisel, who managed to leg out a double on the play. The Golden State hurler thereafter coaxed a lineout from Matt Olson and a pop-up from Gordon Beckham before surrendering a run-scoring hit to Rich Poythress.
After Bryce Massanari grounded out to strand the Georgia first baseman at second, Holder gave up a leadoff single to Alan Ahmady to start the visitors’ half of the second stanza. The Red and Black starter’s next pitch was sent to center field for a flyout by Tommy Mendonca and, although Ryan Overland’s ensuing groundout moved the Fresno State first baseman into scoring position, Steve Detwiler popped up to strand him there.
Fresno State starting pitcher Sean Bonesteele lasted three innings, allowed two hits, gave up one earned run, and was slain by Deathstalker before he could deliver the mystic amulet to the evil magician Munkar and run off to his evil lair with a scantily-clad Barbi Benton.
The Classic City Canines were retired in sequence in the bottom of the canto, but Matt Cerione’s flyout and Joey Lewis’s groundout came on hard-hit balls before Lyle Allen grounded out to short. Jordan Ribera sent the first pitch of the third inning out to left center field for the home run that evened the runs at one apiece and the hits at two per side. To add injury to insult, Muno’s subsequent groundout glanced off of Holder’s leg, causing a few anxious moments before he secured a first-pitch groundout from Hedstrom and struck out Wetzel.
David Thoms fired the first pitch in the bottom of the frame into the Fresno State third baseman’s glove for a lineout and hard-hit balls by Peisel and Olson were caught in the outfield. Susdorf barely missed becoming the fourth straight Fresno State batter to lead off an inning by reaching base safely when he sent the first pitch of the top of the canto to the wall for a flyout that narrowly missed being a home run. Ahmady then popped up and Mendonca grounded out to first base.
The home half of the stanza began with a pitching change and Beckham took new F.S.U. hurler Jake Floethe deep, but not quite deep enough, as the Georgia shortstop flied out to center field. The Classic City Canines continued to hit the ball hard, as Poythress grounded out and Massanari singled through the left side.
A patient Cerione drew the walk that put two men aboard for Lewis and the Red and Black designated hitter punched a single through the right side to give Georgia a 2-1 lead in runs and a 4-2 edge in hits before Kris Tomlinson arrived on the hill and persuaded Allen to hit into a fielder’s choice. A bad trend re-emerged when Overland reached base by drawing a walk in the initial at-bat of the fifth frame and matters were made much worse when Detwiler homered to left field to give Fresno State the lead.
F.S.U. left fielder Steve Susdorf went two for four, batted in a run, and provided some helpful golf tips between innings.
Holder proceeded to retire the next three opposing batters and the Red and Black came back up to bat in the bottom of the canto. Tomlinson retired the side on a trio of groundouts. Following the Wetzel flyout with which the Golden State squad began the visitors’ half of the sixth stanza, Susdorf sent the first pitch he saw into right center field for the triple that evened the hits at four per side. Holder then walked Ahmady on four straight pitches.
Holder thereafter pitched his way out of trouble by striking out Mendonca and eliciting a flyout from Overland. Jason Breckley was sent in from the bullpen to pitch the bottom of the inning and he began by allowing a base hit to Beckham. After Poythress reached on a fielder’s choice that narrowly missed being a double play, Massanari advanced the baserunner on a groundout. Cerione then singled up the middle to bring home the tying run.
After Lewis ended the inning by grounding out, Holder retired the first two batters in the top of the seventh frame before allowing Muno to reach base on an error while covering first. The Georgia starter erased that miscue by convincing Hedstrom to hit into a fielder’s choice, however.
The Red and Black went in order in the home half of the canto and Alex McRee came on to pitch the top of the eighth stanza. This went poorly, as the Georgia reliever walked Wetzel and surrendered a first-pitch run-scoring double to Susdorf. After Beckham made an unassisted double play by snatching an Ahmady lineout from the air and beating Susdorf back to second base, Mendonca sent a solo shot to left center field to even the hits at six per side and extend Fresno State’s lead to 5-3.
Fresno State right fielder Steve Detwiler went two for four with a home run and three R.B.I., but even that achievement will not erase the memory of his drunk driving arrest during his mayoral campaign against Fletcher Daniels.
McRee plunked Overland on a 3-2 pitch, at which point he was given the hook in favor of Justin Earls. The latest Red and Black pitcher surrendered an R.B.I. double to Detwiler and Will Harvil was brought on to pitch to Justin Wilson. The requisite groundout was obtained and the Diamond Dogs returned to the plate trailing 6-3 in runs and 7-6 in hits.
Olson led off the home half of the inning with the single that squared up the hitting anew (7-7) and drove Breckley from the game. Brandon Burke took up station on the mound and gave up the home run to Beckham that cut the deficit to a lone run. Poythress then drew a base on balls on a payoff pitch.
After Massanari flied out to center field, Cerione sent the first pitch he saw down the left field line for a double, scoring Poythress and taking third base on the throw from the corner of the outfield. Lewis doubled up the middle on a payoff pitch to bring him around and give Georgia the lead. A flyout and a pop-up in the next two at-bats closed the books on the eighth frame with the Diamond Dogs up 7-6.
Joshua Fields was sent in from the bullpen to pitch the top of the ninth stanza with a one-run lead. It is almost insulting to the Georgia closer for me to tell you that Muno lined out, Hedstrom struck out, and Wetzel popped up to give the Bulldogs---the real Bulldogs, thank you very much---the victory.
Although he pitched only one inning, F.S.U. reliever Brandon Burke faced seven batters, issued one walk, surrendered three hits, and gave up three earned runs. On the other hand, he was a heck of a political philosopher.
Aside from the excitement-inducing meltdown of the middle relievers and the meaningless and dubious error, the opening round of the College World Series finals was a fantastic outing. Trevor Holder lasted seven innings, fanned four, walked three, and gave up four hits and three earned runs. Aside from the fact that three of those four hits were a triple and a pair of homers, you can’t complain about that kind of stat line from your starter.
Alex McRee made matters more interesting than necessary in his two-thirds of an inning, but Joshua Fields’s box score in a tight ballgame might as well be etched in stone: one inning pitched, three batters faced, one strikeout, no walks, no hits, no earned runs. With no margin for error, Fields is the safest bet in sports.
Fresno State got their home runs, just as they have throughout their stellar run in Omaha, but the Classic City Canines did what they had to do, getting clutch hits from the heart of the order on strong performances by Gordon Beckham (2 for 4, 2 R.B.I.), Rich Poythress (1 for 3, 1 R.B.I.), an obviously determined Matt Cerione (2 for 3, 2 R.B.I.), and Joey Lewis (2 for 4, 2 R.B.I.). The Diamond Dogs hit the ball hard all night and it paid off in the end.
Fresno State gets all the attention as the "Cinderella" team in this tournament, but it’s time to give David Perno and his squad some credit. After a disastrous 2007 campaign, the Diamond Dogs came back strong to clinch the regular-season S.E.C. title, but the Red and Black faded down the stretch, going 0-2 in Hoover and dropping their opening regional game against Lipscomb to cause some to question the Classic City Canines’ worthiness for a national seed. No one is raising those questions now that the Georgia Bulldogs are one win away from the national championship.