CWS, Day 9: Fresno wins. Let the bad Dog cliches begin!
Fresno State howls into the championship round with a convincing win.
(Alan Ahmady is pumped after sliding into home)
You can see the bad puns coming from a mile away. After Fresno's win over UNC tonight, you can just imagine all the horrible headlines with their awful puns that papers and websites will be running tomorrow.
So in that spirit, here is my top five worst Dog vs. Dog championship headline cliches you'll probably see on Monday:
1- It's Dogs vs. Dawgs.
2- It's a dog eat dog world.
3- Best in show: Dogs vs. Dogs.
4- CWS going to the Dogs.
5- It's one Dog-gone good finale.
Welcome to the Michael Vick Invitational.
Let me just say that it's amazing that Fresno is sitting where it is now. After spending the entire final month of the season (five weekends) on the road, they've built up quite a callus for tough games and tough situations. Look closely people, we may be looking at one of the toughest-minded teams that's ever been in Omaha. And here's how they got there tonight.
Weather conditions at game time:
83 degrees, clear skies (finally), 5mph winds out of the East and 33% humidity
No. Carolina - 000 100 000 - 1 10 1
Fresno State - 002 112 00x - 6 10 0
WP: Clayton Allison (4-5)
LP: Brian Moran (1-2)
Dustin Ackley: 3-for-5
Tim Fedroff: 3-for-4
Tommy Mendonca: 3-for-4, 4RBI
Steve Susdorf: 2-for-4, HBP, on base three times.
Jordan Ribera: 1-for-1, 2BBs. on base three times. (And then they pulled him?)
The Fresno State Bulldogs have been on the road 37 straight days. Thirty-seven. And here I was thinking being here in Omaha for eight days has been a strain. Pfffft! Wimp.
Today, the road-weary... er, make that road-warrior Bulldogs put on a clinic of pitching, defense and, yes, mental toughness.
"That was a gutsy performance when we needed one the most. That was a mental win." Mike Batesole opened his press conference by saying. "What Clayton Allison did on the mound was really special. It didn't have much to do with what he had physically. It was all about a mental battle that he won."
He is of course referring to starter Clayton Allison, who had missed the last two weeks with a shoulder injury he suffered in the Super Regionals. But tonight, he was nails, going six innings and holding a big-play team like North Carolina to a single run on a bases loaded walk.
When closer Brandon Burke was asked about when it started to set in that this game was won, he pointed to Allison as well.
"It was all about Allison's entire composure and how he went about his business. We really didn't know what to expect or what we were going to get. For him to come out and give us six innings, that was when it really set in that we have a chance to win this game."
Burke wasn't done glossing on his wounded mate. "For him to come out and throw strikes, keep it down in the zone and keep those guys from putting runs up on the board, it's just an awesome performance. It's one of the most gutsiest things I've ever seen."
And in case you're wondering, coach Batesole was nodding along to that statement. And rightfully so. Along with the guts to step on the rubber tonight, he also struck out six along the way in throwing 90 pitches on the night. His availability for the title series may be in question, but his major league cajones can't be.
And the few times that Allison or relievers Holden Sprague or Burke DID get in a bind, it was all about the defense for the Dogs. Committing no errors, FSU went about it's business in spectacular fashion. Around the horn, 3B Tommy Mendonca, SS Danny Muno and 2B Erik Wetzel all had a jaw-dropping moment or two in the infield.
Burke was the spokesman again. "Our entire infield was incredible. They were flying around and making plays. It's a real comfort to go on the mound and know these guys are going to make a play behind you. It gives you a lot of confidence."
Allison was relieved by Sprague in the 7th, who got hit pretty hard, but still held UNC without a run in the 7th. Then Brandon Burke stepped up to the rubber.
And that's when Fresno turned things over to their underrated defense, as 2B Erik Wetzel and Frosh SS Danny Muno both showed great range in making a pair of big league plays to subdue the Heels in the 8th inning. As you probably saw on the telecast, it brought huge smiles to the faces of Witzel and Burke when they turned an unorthodox 4-to-1 play at the beginning of the eighth. That's when you knew this Fresno team was playing loose.
The game ended, appropriately enough, on a double play.
Oh wait... I've written 700-some odd words and have yet to even mention the offense. Look no further than Mendonca, who went 3-for-4 on the night, going walk, 2RBI single, RBI double, RBI single and finally, finally succumbing to a pop-up. His two-run single in the third inning came on a 10-pitch at-bat and it also put FSU up for good at 2-0.
From there, the Bulldogs picked apart the North Carolina pitching, bit-by-bit. No big blasts, but they didn't need one either. Even when normal No. 1 UNC starter Alex White came in, they bumped him for a pair of runs on three hits. It was pretty obvious Alex White wasn't quite Alex White.
"We probably asked a little too much of these guys." Coach Fox said about his pitchers. "You wanna run the guys out there that got you to this point. But I struggle a lot with those type of decisions. All the kids want the ball. I tip my hat to them for going out and being competitive, but as you saw, Alex just wasn't himself tonight."
As a result, Fresno equaled UNC's hit total of 10, but they also benefitted from eight walks on the night. Eight!... wow. That's a lot of free passes. Alan Ahmady, one of the Dogs biggest power sources, was the main beneficiary, getting four base-on-balls to go with his RBI fielder's choice in the 6th inning that put Fresno up 5-1.
A four-run lead, with the way Fresno pitchers were winging it, meant the game was all but over. Same goes for UNC's prolific stretch of championship round appearances, which is still an impressive feat in this day and age.
Just goes to show how tough it is to get back to the promised land. But now Fresno, a 4-seed, gets to show what it can do. And with their mental toughness, my guess is that it'll be a lot.
At least they're doggedly determined.
Pause to groan, I know.
- Trying to strike early.
Both teams got a runner to third base in their initial at-bats, but neither scored. UNC even had a leadoff double from Dustin Ackley that went awry after he made it to third. Fresno got a leadoff walk from SuperFrosh Danny Muno. He was sac'd over to second and made it to third on a wild pitch. But both Erik Wetzel and Steve Susdorf K'd behind him.
- Full counts.
Adam Warren had his struggles from the get-go. He ended up pitching to all nine batters in the FSU lineup once and went to a full count on four of them. To his credit two of those went for strikeouts looking. But two of them also went for part of his four walks.
- Squandering their chances early, then making amends.
Despite stranding two men in scoring position in the 1st and 2nd inning, Fresno's first hit didn't come until Erik Wetzel's clean single in the 3rd inning. But then the Dogs broke through when Tommy Mendonca hit his first non-home run hit of the CWS, a two-run single to left.
- Cleared to play
Coming into tonight's game, FSU starting pitcher Clayton Allison and UNC's *new* ace reliever Alex White were both question marks for tonight's game. Allison because his lingering injury he suffered in the Supers at Arizona State and he also missed his last scheduled start in the Dogs' earlier game against UNC. But the "game time" decision was apparently a go. White, on the other hand, has been used back-to-back-to-back in the Heels' last three games and his availability was going to be evaluated after "soaking" it following last night's game.
Allison looked like the dominant arm I saw at the Long Beach Regional. White only went 1.2 innings, giving up three hits and two runs in his 18 pitches. And just generally looking like he's been used a lot lately.
- A new record
There have been 22 wild pitches in this year's CWS. C'mon pitchers! Get your act together.
- Game of inches, personified.
Just think how close Carolina came to a big inning in the 7th. FSU reliever Holden Sprague came in for relief of Allison at that time and immediately UNC started hittig the ball on the nose. The first batter was Dustin Ackley and he sliced a hard shot to center field that was caught. Then, Garrett Gore hit a screamer right at 3Bman Tommy Mendonca. Finally, the last out of the inning was a deep fly out to the 408 sign in center field. Such went the night for Carolina.
- Even Fresno has a sense of wonderment.
Brandon Burke on the Bulldogs' wild finish: "If you look at where we're at now compared to how we started the season, it's almost inconceivable. It's just been an amazing season."
More pictures and comments later.