Fresno State, just like it has for the past nearly two months, on Sunday sure looked like a baseball team with a big future.
Then the eighth inning came around at Santa Ana Star Field in Albuquerque, N.M.
Holding a one-run lead and needing just six outs to secure their first berth in the NCAA Baseball Tournament since 2012, the Bulldogs lost in the Mountain West Tournament championship game as San Diego State rallied for three runs in the eighth to pull out a 5-3 victory.
The Aztecs (41-19) earned the conference’s automatic NCAA bid and will return to a regional for the fourth time in five years.
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The Bulldogs (35-25) – who had won 17 of their past 21 games, including a 12-1 pasting of San Diego State in an elimination game Saturday night, took a 3-2 lead in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Zach Ashford and a two-run double by Carter Bins. On the mound, Dominic Topoozian allowed a single run in each of the first two frames but then held the Aztecs in check for 5 2/3 innings.
San Diego State got down to business against Fred Schlichtholz (3-5) in the eighth. With runners on second and third and one out, Tyler Adkison blooped a single to right field that the Bulldogs lost in the sun to make it 3-3. After Adkison stole second base, David Hensley was walked intentionally to lead the bases for Andrew Martinez, who brought in two more runs with a bouncing single through the left side.
Fresno State brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth after Austin Guibor connected for a two-out single to bring up Jake Stone, but the senior outfielder grounded out to second to end the game.
The NCAA will release its 64-team field starting at 9 a.m. Monday on ESPN2. Thirty-one teams have received automatic qualification with the remaining 33 selected on an at-large basis by the selection committee. Sixteen teams will be seeded and each of the seeded teams will be placed at one of the regional sites. Baseball America last week projected the MW as a one-bid conference.
The Bulldogs had five players named to the Mountain West All-Tournament Team: junior outfielder Jared Akins, junior infielder Korby Batesole, junior right-hander Rickey Ramirez, senior infielder Scott Silva and Stone. The Aztecs’ Martinez was named MVP.