Fresno State

Bulldogs can’t hold leads, lose to Stanford in NCAA Tournament regional title game

Batesole after Bulldogs bounced from Regional

The Fresno State Bulldogs college baseball team won its first two games at the Stanford Regional, but couldn't get one more needed to advance to a Super Regional. The 'Dogs are done after a 9-7 loss at Stanford Monday, June 3, 2019.
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The Fresno State Bulldogs college baseball team won its first two games at the Stanford Regional, but couldn't get one more needed to advance to a Super Regional. The 'Dogs are done after a 9-7 loss at Stanford Monday, June 3, 2019.

It was going to be a bullpen game for Fresno State and that was not a bad place for the Bulldogs baseball team in the championship game of the NCAA Tournament Stanford Regional.

They had a well-rested closer in Jaime Arias and coach Mike Batesole would call on the sophomore left-hander to take the ball first – he had started once already this season. They had Kevin Larson and Oscar Carvajal at the ready. All solid in the pertinent statistical categories – ERAs in the twos, opponent batting averages no higher than .238. All accustomed to getting big outs in tight spots, getting strike one and getting out of innings. All with experience protecting leads.

Arias had 12 saves during the season, just one off the school record.

But some of the Bulldogs’ best bullpen arms faltered on Monday night, unable to hold leads in a 9-7 loss to Stanford with a date at Mississippi State in the Starkville Super Regional on the line. It went back and forth early, but the Cardinal had more answers.

“Good fight,” Batesole said. “Good run. I’m proud of these kids. They know we were here.”

Stanford’s winning fifth

The Bulldogs and Arias got to the fifth inning with a two-run lead, but the left-hander walked Stanford leadoff hitter Kyle Stowers to start the inning.

Arias had thrown no more than 30 pitches in any of his past 10 appearances and was at 63 and starting a third spin around the Cardinal lineup with that walk. That was enough, and Batesole went to Larson.

The 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman had trouble finding the plate and the Cardinal, the top seed in the regional, made him pay for it.

By the time Batesole went to get him out, Stanford (45-12) had erased that deficit and built a 9-5 lead.

Larson got behind catcher Maverick Handley, the first batter he faced, 3-0. He got to 3-1, but Handley hit the next pitch over the wall in left and there went the Bulldogs lead.

After the home run, Brandon Wulff walked on five pitches and Will Matthiessen poked a tough 1-2 pitch into right field for a single. Larson walked the next two batters, the second forcing a run across the plate.

“He has been one of our best three relievers and at times our best reliever,” Batesole said. “We have a lot of trust in him. We were hoping he was going to find it there and he was close. He made a couple of big pitches, just not enough.”

That was followed by a sacrifice fly and two batters later a two-run double off the bat of Christian Robinson, a left-handed hitter who had won a matchup against Arias in the third inning to get Stanford a lead.

Early Bulldogs leads

Arias during the season had allowed left-handed hitters to bat only .209., but Robinson laced a sharp two-run single to right.

The Bulldogs got that back in the bottom of the inning on a two-run single by Jeff Jamison and they took a 3-2 lead on an RBI single by Carter Bins, who was 2 for 5 with three RBI including a two-run homer in the fourth that put Fresno State up 5-3.

“I think we needed something to spark a rally and it ended up not doing what we thought it would do,” Bins said. “We had a lot of big at-bats, and just didn’t come through when we needed to.”

Arias went to the mound in the top of the third and Handley drilled the first pitch he saw over the wall in left for a home run to tie the score. Then came the fifth.

Shutdown innings

Fresno State, which finished its season 40-16-1 and with Mountain West Conference regular-season and tournament championships, got within 9-7 when Nate Thimjon drilled a two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth.

“That is a quality team and we knew that,” Stanford coach David Esquer said. “I think halfway through the game I kind of characterized it like a MMA fight, just back and forth and two really tough opponents that you’re going to have to keep punching until the end of the match.”

But Esquer went to Brendan Beck, his Friday night starter, who had opened the regional with seven shutout innings in an 11-0 victory over Sacramento State.

Beck threw 101 pitches in that victory over the Hornets, but showed little wear. The fight pretty much ended there. The right-hander got the Cardinal out of that fifth inning, striking out Zach Presno. He then retired the Bulldogs in order in the sixth, seventh and eighth and did it very economically.

In recording his 10 outs Beck needed just 36 pitches, 25 strikes.

Batesole didn’t get a late lead or a chance to consider doing the same with Ryan Jensen, the Bulldogs’ ace who was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the first-round of the Major League Baseball draft just as the game was about to start.

Beck gave the Cardinal 3 1/3 perfect innings and Stanford went to closer Jack Little for the final three outs, all strikeouts.

“That if-necessary game, sometimes it requires that you have a number of heroes and performances that you can’t anticipate and we got those tonight,” Esquer said.

“Christian Robinson had an absolutely great ball game for us offensively and defensively. Maverick Handley, two home runs. Then, obviously, our pitching staff. We pieced it together until we got it to Brendan Beck, who was willing to come back and pitch for us after starting on Friday, and Jack Little has never been better at the end of the game and we needed every pitch and every inning and every ounce of energy.”

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