The Fresno State baseball team won its first ever Mountain West Tournament championship and secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
The top-seeded Bulldogs eliminated No. 3 UNLV with a 12-6 victory Saturday night in Reno.
Nate Thimjon drove in three runs, and McCarthy Tatum, Nolan Dempsey and Emilio Nogales each had two RBIs as the Bulldogs feasted all night on the Rebels’ inaccurate pitching. UNLV allowed 13 hits and nine walks.
With the win, Fresno State (38-14-1) locked up an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament – the Bulldogs’ first trip to the big stage since Yankees star Aaron Judge last starred for Fresno State in 2012.
And it’s been 11 years since the Wonderdogs season when the Bulldogs won the College World Series.
Fresno State constantly struggled performing in or simply reaching the Mountain West Tournament since joining the conference in baseball in 2013.
In particular, the Bulldogs failed to make the tournament as recently as last season. And they went 0-2 when the Bulldogs were the top seed 2016.
But with Fresno State playing more road games than home games this season and going 23-6 away from Beiden Field, the Bulldogs got plenty of practice playing amid adversity this season.
The Bulldog have won 13 straight road games.
During Saturday night’s postgame interview, coach Mike Batesole credited the fan support the Bulldogs get for a big help: “We usually have more people than the other team” in the stands when they’re on the road, he said.
Batesole said this season was fueled by recent frustrations: “They took it on the chin the last two years. It thickened our skin a little, and I think that’s going to help us” going into the NCAA Tournament.
The 64-team NCAA field will be announced at 9 a.m. Monday on ESPNU.
Despite entering the tournament as the Mountain West regular-season champs and ranked in the Top 25 nationally, Fresno State understood an at-large bid simply was no guarantee if the Bulldogs somehow failed to win the Mountain West tournament title.
Fresno State responded by never losing during the double-elimination tournament, picking up an 11-1 win against UNLV on Friday and a 4-3 win against No. 4 Nevada on Thursday to start postseason play.
Because the Bulldogs hadn’t lost in the tournament, they even had the luxury of losing Saturday night but still with the opportunity to win the championship on Sunday.
Except, Fresno State showed it had every intention of closing things out Saturday and built a 4-0 lead after two innings.
UNLV tied the game at 4-4 after the top of the fifth.
But Nogales quickly placed the Bulldogs back on top with the go-ahead RBI in the bottom of the fifth. Then the Bulldogs blew the game open with six runs in the seventh, highlighted by Thimjon’s two-run single.
Fresno State used six pitchers to navigate through Saturday’s game, including a scoreless seventh and eighth inning from Oscar Carvajal.
That continued superior pitching by the Bulldogs, who got an eight-inninng, 10-strikeout performance from Ryan Jensen on Thursday (he was rewarded with the tournament MVP trophy) and a seven-inning shutout by Davis Moore on Friday.