They scored at least 10 runs for the fourth straight game, beat the top seed and topped the all-time record for homers. And still the Fresno State Bulldogs had not done enough at the Mountain West Tournament.
In fact, it took two wins just to moved beyond Saturday. First came an 11-5 victory to eliminate host New Mexico, then a 12-1 pasting of previously tournament unbeaten San Diego State.
So what do the Bulldogs get for not only surviving and thriving three elimination games in two days? How about another in the double-elimination format, as Fresno State forced a Sunday showdown for the championship and the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Fresno State – chasing its first NCAA berth since 2012 – and San Diego State will play that winner-take-all game at noon Sunday. And who’s going to bet against the Bulldogs, who arrived in Albuquerque on fire, only to get the flames swamped by an 18-10 loss in the tournament opener Thursday.
But they bounced back with a 15-5 victory to knock out Nevada on Friday, eliminated the top-seeded Lobos in the afternoon Saturday, then within hours avenged the loss to the Aztecs.
“This group has really bought in and we will look to keep this going,” Bulldogs assistant Steve Rousey – filling in for the final game of coach Mike Batesole’s two-game suspension for questioning a call Thursday – said after the New Mexico win. “It is an exciting time but it’s about good baseball. This is good momentum. The key now is to capitalize and take advantage of this win.”
Among the highlights Saturday:
▪ Ricky Tyler Thomas (8-4), the ace hammered for 10 runs without getting an out in Thursday’s opener versus San Diego State, gutted out eight innings against New Mexico. The Bulldogs, desperately needed to preserve the bullpen knowing it still would need two more wins, wrung 119 pitches out of an arm that will be highly prized in next month’s Major League Baseball Draft.
▪ Two more homers against the Lobos for Jared Akins, the junior outfielder, after he hit a pair Friday against Nevada. Akins, who had seven homers on the season until Friday, went 5 for 5 and posted eight straight hits before grounding out in the first inning Saturday against San Diego State.
▪ Beating a New Mexico program that has been their biggest nemesis in the Mountain West, at least in Albuquerque. With the win Saturday, the Bulldogs are 3-16 all-time on the road versus the Lobos.
▪ Smashing five more homers Sunday, with Korby Batesole, Austin Guibor and Jake Stone backing the pair by Akins. Stone’s blast in the sixth versus the Aztecs did the honors as Fresno State broke the conference record with their 14th of the tournament.
▪ Junior right-hander Rickey Ramirez (3-6) pitching a six-hitter in the seven-inning mercy-rule win over San Diego State in his first appearance in seven days. He lugged a 5.64 EARA into the game.
▪ And the return of their coach, sidelined by the misunderstanding with the umps but back in the dugout for Saturday night’s win and in position to win his first Mountain West Tournament title but seventh overall after capturing WAC championships in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012.
“We swung the bats aggressively,” Batesole said. “What Ricky did and what our defense did was fantastic. And if we are going to get it done (Sunday), then it’s going to be all about pitching and defense.”
No. 3 Fresno State 11, No. 1 New Mexico 5 (Lobos eliminated)
Fresno State 12, No. 2 San Diego State 1
Fresno State vs. San Diego State, noon at Santa Ana Star Field (KFIG-AM 940/webcast via themwc.com)