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June 25, 2008

Detwiler, Wilson lift Fresno State to CWS title

OMAHA, Neb. Long before the final pitch of Fresno State's amazing win over Georgia was thrown, Mike Batesole knew it was coming.

No, it wasn't Gordon Beckham heroics or some crazy late-inning rally by Georgia. It was one look into the eyes of starting pitcher Justin Wilson before the game that convinced him Fresno State was about to win its first baseball national title.

And they did.

"I knew the game was over when I looked into Justin Wilson's eyes before the game," Batesole said. "At that point I knew he was going to do what he had to do to bring the title home."

And Wilson did that, too.

Yes, the same Wilson that entered Wednesday's game on just three days rest after already making two starts in the College World Series.

In a large sense, the junior left-hander typified what this Fresno State team has been all about since the start of the NCAA tournament. It was only fitting that he was the one who struck out nine batters and allowed just one run on five hits in eight innings of work.

With his sister Jil in tears and hugging him after the game, Wilson almost couldn't put his performance and the national title into words.

"This was just awesome It doesn't get any better than this. Just unreal," Wilson said. "It was go time tonight, and it was the last game of our season, win or lose."

Fresno State's magical run was truly unreal to everyone from the national media to casual fans.

Fresno State began the 2008 season as a team expected to make a splash. But halfway through the regular season, they appeared to be anything but a national title contender.

Good thing the Bulldogs won the WAC Tournament in Ruston, La., because life has been amazing since that point.

The magical run started at the Long Beach Regional as the four seed.

In the Regional opener against host Long Beach State and Rivals.com All-American pitcher Andrew Liebel, few gave the Bulldogs a chance. The players, however, believed. In that game, Wilson out dueled Liebel and allowed just two runs on three hits in seven innings. The offense, meanwhile, touched up Liebel for seven runs in 7 2/3 innings.

The win over Long Beach State turned everything around. The seniors were no longer worried about where they were going to get drafted, while the young players bought in to the concept of team unity and hard work.

For the first time in 2008, Fresno State was thinking about Omaha when warranted.

"We were talking about Omaha in March when we should've been talking about March in March," Batesole said. "But I knew this was a good baseball team when we beat Long Beach State in the Long Beach Regional."

With how the season transpired to that point, Batesole would've been perfectly pleased with ending the season with the win over the Dirtbags.

"We could have ended the season there, that was good enough for me," he said. "As a coaching staff, we got out of the way, and the eight seniors took charge. They decided to do things right both on and off the field."

Because of the eight seniors, Batesole is now satisfied with becoming the first coach to win the national title in his first College World Series appearance since Andy Lopez accomplished the feat in 1992 at Pepperdine.

"It's a long time coming for this program," he said. "I just love to see our players dogpile. This is what college baseball is all about."

More than anything else, Fresno State has shown the college baseball world anything is possible.

Ironically enough, the Bulldogs join company with 2007 champion Oregon State. The Beavers essentially were the last team in the field of 64 last season. Yet they hoisted the trophy over their heads just like Fresno State did Wednesday night.

Oregon State initiated the thought that anybody can do it, but Fresno State cemented the thought into everyone's mind with a magical run.

It's a new era in college baseball.

"I certainly hope what we did does a lot of good for college baseball," Batesole said. "It shows the country that anyone can win the national title doing it the right way. Maybe not only going to school for three years and only thinking about yourself."

Fittingly, senior left fielder Steve Susdorf echoed Batesole's sentiments.

"This is a great thing for college baseball," he said without hesitation. "It shows you don't need a No. 1 draft pick to win the national title. You just need everyone working together."

As the curtain closes on Fresno State's magical run and another amazing college baseball season, one must only look at Fresno closer Brandon Burke for future guidance.

Besides his team's trip to Omaha, Burke will always remember a sign he saw outside Arizona State's locker room during the Tempe Super Regional.

"Amazing what a group of guys can accomplish when you work together," the sign said.

The rest of the country should take note.

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