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June 24, 2008

Fresno State blows past Georgia

OMAHA, Neb. If the roles were reversed, Georgia football coach Mark Richt would've been proud.

Richt made the flight to Omaha hoping to see the Georgia baseball team win the national title. Instead, he saw a football game. Well, at least in the score sense.

Tommy Mendonca added a home run and four RBIs Tuesday to his stellar defensive play in the CWS.
When Georgia raced out to a 5-0 lead after 2 1/2 innings, it truly looked like it might be a long day for Fresno State. However, as we should've expected, Fresno fought back with six runs in the bottom of the third inning. Gavin Hedstrom had an RBI single in the inning, while Steve Susdorf recorded a two-run single. Sophomore third baseman Tommy Mendonca capped off the inning with a three-run home run.
With hopes of a national title on the line Tuesday night and Georgia racing out to an early lead, Fresno State needed a senior to step up. Left fielder Steve Susdorf did that against Georgia, going 2-for-5 with a home run, a walk, three runs and four RBIs to lead the offensive charge. Fresno State got production from Susdorf when it needed it the most.
While Fresno State's Tommy Mendonca has wowed observers with his exceptional defense throughout the College World Series, he has also gotten it done at the plate. With the Bulldogs trailing Georgia 5-3 in the bottom of the third inning, Mendonca hit a three-run home run that gave Fresno the lead and jump-started the offense for the duration of the game.
Fresno State senior right-handed pitcher Jake Hower entered Tuesday's game with just 22 innings of work, but the veteran rose to the occasion in an important relief role. Hower struck out three batters and allowed just one hit in three innings. Interestingly, it was just his first save of the season. It certainly couldn't have come at a better time for the Bulldogs.
After using clutch hitting and closer Josh Fields to overwhelm Fresno State in the series opener, Fresno took round two 19-10 using a barrage of offense.

Georgia coach Dave Perno felt like he was on the gridiron.

"We had a tough time defending the post pattern across the middle. It was killing us," he jokingly said about the football nature of the game.

"It's easier to forget about a game on this stage. Wednesday's game is like a Game 7, everything we worked for comes down to tomorrow."

Even that attitude by Perno doesn't diminish the fact that Fresno State dominated the game from the bottom of the third inning until the final pitch was thrown.

Georgia raced out to a 5-0 lead after 2 1/2 innings, but that just seemed to energize Fresno, who rallied to score six runs in the third, five runs in the fourth and four runs in the fifth inning. They also added three runs in the seventh and one more in the eighth.

Before Georgia could even attempt to rally, it was too late.

"Yeah, it was too early to consider that (the national title when up 5-0)," Georgia shortstop Gordon Beckham said. "We weren't caught off guard and we didn't let down, they just beat us straight up and took us over."

Beckham was more impressed with Fresno State's 19 runs, which were the most scored since the CWS went to a three-game championship series in 2003. The previous high was set when Rice scored 14 on Stanford in 2003.

"Well, it's certainly pretty tough," Beckham said with sarcasm. "How Fresno State had the circus and merry-go-round going around the bases all night, anyone that thought they were out of it after last night is crazy."

That is indeed true.

Fresno State has made a habit of wining elimination games and proving doubters wrong throughout the NCAA tournament. Fresno played San Diego in the Long Beach Regional championship and won. It also took care of Arizona State after dropping the series opener in dismal fashion.

With their backs against the wall again Tuesday night, Fresno stayed true to tradition.

"This isn't the first time this club has answered the bell when it has to," Fresno State coach Mike Batesole said. "It was an important win, but I wouldn't put too much stock into the score, these guys have been on the mat before and they scratched it out from the beginning of the game."

While Fresno State starting pitcher Justin Miller and reliever Holden Sprague threw on guts and glory, a fresh Jake Hower had a great outing, striking out three and allowing just one hit in three innings of work.

The Fresno State offense did the rest.

Fresno left fielder Steve Susdorf went 2-for-5 with a home run, three runs and four RBIs, while third baseman Tommy Mendonca hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the third inning to give his team a 6-5 advantage. He finished the night 2-for-5 with a home run, walk, run and three RBIs.

Despite being down early, Fresno's attitude never wavered.

"We just thought, go out there and hit the ball, there's plenty of game left," Mendonca said. "Now we go out tomorrow, it doesn't matter. Win or lose, we made it this far. It's just another game."

Fresno State's hard-nosed, yet calm attitude has gotten them this far.

Now comes the ultimate elimination game.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.