The Fresno State baseball program is no stranger to the postseason. With 34 NCAA tournament berths and four appearances in the College World Series, the Bulldogs have plenty of history in Omaha. But none of those appearances top the 2008 championship run.
Fresno State entered the NCAA tournament a mere 33-27 and one of the lowest seeds in the field. A few weeks later, Fresno State went from “underdogs to wonderdogs” in arguably the biggest Cinderella story in CWS history, defeating Georgia for the College World Series title.
So, what’s the story behind the 2008 champs?
The best in the west?
It wasn’t as if Fresno State was off the radar to start the 2008 season. The Bulldogs were in both the Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America top 25 and were projected to win the Western Athletic Conference. A 2-4 February was merely a precursor to the regular season. After a rough May in which the Bulldogs finished 7-6, their only ticket to the NCAA tournament was to win the WAC tournament.
That’s when the magic started.
Fresno State swept through the WAC tournament and won its way into the tournament field. A four-seed with an RPI of 89, the Bulldogs began their historic run on May 30 with a win over Long Beach State 7-3. Fresno State ended the season 47-31, still the only 30-loss team to ever win a national championship.
That record really doesn’t matter. Win No. 47 was all that did.
The beginning of a WAC dynasty
Head coach Mike Batesole took over in Fresno in 2003. While Fresno State has yet to capture its second CWS title in that time, it was right in the middle of a dominating run atop the WAC.Batesole transformed a program that was just two games above .500 in his first three years to the winners of seven straight WAC regular season or tournament titles. The first came in 2006 and the run lasted until 2012 when the Bulldogs left for the Mountain West Conference.
One of the players Batesole coached on that 2008 team was Ryan Overland. Overland was a catcher for Batesole then and has been his assistant the past six seasons. Aside from being the third base coach, Overland has helped produce four MLB draft-worthy catchers during his tenure. There are other connections still in the dugout from that Diamond Dogs championship squad. Assistant Pat Waer returns to the bench after stepping away in 2012, and while he was a little too young for Fresno State’s Cinderella run, Kody Batesole, Mike's son, was surely in the stands watching. Kody is now one of his dad's assistant coaches.
Six is the magic number
Fresno State outlasted Long Beach State 7-3 in the tournament opener on May 30. The Dirtbags were ranked No. 18 in the NCBWA top 25 right before the tournament.
The six teams Fresno State defeated along the way to the title were all in the top 25. It started with No. 18 Long Beach State and then No. 7 San Diego in the regional. The Bulldogs then dropped the first game of the Super Regional before taking two from No. 4 Arizona State. Then, victories against No. 8 Rice, No. 3 North Carolina and finally No. 17 Georgia in Omaha sealed the Cinderella season.
Fresno State also had to survive six elimination games. The Bulldogs lost once to San Diego in the Long Beach regional final and then to Arizona State in the Super Regional opener. The Bulldogs stunned Rice behind a 17-5 victory in the CWS opener but lost to North Carolina in the semifinals to set up a rubber match. Fresno State then had to come from behind to take the championship, losing a 7-6 heartbreaker to Georgia in Game 1 before outscoring UGA 25-11 in the final two games.
This wasn’t a team driven by star power. While there was talent aplenty on the Bulldogs roster, it had just two All-American selections, neither on the first team. Outfielder Steve Susdorf, who was the 2008 WAC Player of the Year, was one of the All-Americans and pitcher Tanner Scheppers was the other.
None of that mattered once Fresno State was in Omaha. This offense exploded in historic proportions. The 14 home runs the Bulldogs hit are second-most in CWS history while their 62 runs scored are tied for the best mark in CWS lore. The 2008 CWS Most Outstanding Player Tommy Mendonca led the charge with four home runs and 11 RBIs, but Steve Detwiler’s performance in the final game may be the most memorable.
Detwiler went 4-for-4 with two home runs, a double and all six RBIs that Fresno State needed to defeat Georgia 6-1. He also caught the final out in right field. Perhaps most impressively, he did it all with a torn tendon in his thumb that required surgery just three days later.
All-Americans or not, this team had plenty of Fresno immortals. The entire team was enshrined in the Bulldogs Hall of Fame in 2014.
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No. 4 to No. 1
With an RPI of 89 and a record just six games above .500, Fresno State entered the tournament the No. 4 seed in the Long Beach Regional. It ended the season the top-ranked team in the country, the first No. 4 seed to ever do so.
Fresno State was also part of more history in that championship series. In the all-Bulldogs season finale, Georgia won the first game. That made Fresno State the second team (at the time) ever to drop Game 1 in the best-of-three series and come back to win the championship, joining Oregon State (2006). Virginia (2015) and Coastal Carolina (2016) later joined this exclusive group.