Five Years Ago, The Wonderdogs Shocked the World

June 25, 2013



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By Stephen Trembley

OMAHA, Neb. --- Sometimes you just don't want to wake up from your favorite dream.

Five years ago today, a historic "Bulldog" pile in Omaha, Neb., capped one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of collegiate athletics as Fresno State won the 2008 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship with a 6-1 victory over the University of Georgia at Rosenblatt Stadium.

The dream season started with high expectations of reaching the program's first College World Series since 1991. The team quickly refocused after a difficult start that saw the Bulldogs drop 12 of their first 20 games. In becoming one of the best teams in college baseball history, Fresno State won eight of nine games from March 22 to April 1 and overcame injuries for the rest of their miraculous run.

"As a coaching staff we got out of the way, and the eight seniors took charge," head baseball coach Mike Batesole said. "They decided to do things right both on and off the field."

With wins against Sacramento State, San Jose State, Hawai'i, and Nevada, the Bulldogs swept through the conference tournament while securing one of 64 invitations to the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs were then sent to the Long Beach State Regional where they received a number four seed.

This is when the season kicked into another gear.

Triumphs over a pair of nationally ranked teams, Long Beach State and San Diego, in the NCAA Regional led the 'Dogs to the Tempe Super Regional where they faced No. 3 Arizona State University.

The defining moment in Tempe came when senior outfielder Steve Susdorf, who had turned down a $50,000 signing bonus from the Detroit Tigers to play out his final year and finish his engineering degree at Fresno State, made a sliding catch to eclipse the Sun Devils for the second time in as many days and lock up a 12-9 victory for the widely coveted ticket to the College World Series.

Some would just be thrilled to play at college baseball's Holy Grail --- Rosenblatt Stadium. Some would just be thrilled to be one of the last eight teams still playing college baseball in the middle of June. But all embraced the thrill and excitement of making history.

The Fresno State Bulldogs now had one mission: leave Omaha with a National Championship Trophy.

The first round game had a familiar foe: the Rice Owls, a former fellow conference member who won the national title in 2003. The Bulldogs' sticks and pitching came out for a show as they blasted the Owls 17-6 before beating the No. 2 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels 5-3 two days later.

The country was now falling in love with Fresno State. These "Underdogs" were becoming "Wonderogs" for the world to enjoy.

Following a heart-wrenching one-run loss in their next game to the Tar Heels, the Bulldogs rebounded for a 6-1 victory to win the three-game set against the University of North Carolina. In uncharted territory, the 'Dogs were already guaranteed the best finish in the program's history and the respect of a nation. But they weren't done yet.

So here it was: The Fresno State `Dogs versus the Georgia `Dawgs with everything on the line. The challenge: win two games and you win a national championship.

In game one, Fresno State played solid ball and built a three-run lead in the eighth inning. Yet, Georgia scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth to edge Fresno State, 7-6.

The close-knit Bulldogs were having way too much fun playing baseball to stop now and game two featured an offensive explosion. Fresno State scattered 19 runs after trailing 5-0. The big 19-10 win over Georgia again redefined the season.

Junior pitcher Justin Wilson, on short rest, started and delivered eight strong innings of work to hold the Georgia Bulldogs to only one run.

"I knew it was over when I saw the look in his eye in the first inning," Batesole said. "I knew he was going to do everything he could to get it done tonight."

Sophomore right fielder Steve Detwiler refused to let a completely torn ligament in his thumb stop him from slugging two home runs and driving in all six runs on the biggest stage.

So, all the hours of practice came down to needing one out in the bottom of the ninth. With Fresno State senior pitcher Brandon Burke on the mound, Georgia's Matt Olsen laced a line drive toward Detwiler in right field. The sprinting Detwiler looked up, reached out for the ball, and made the life-changing catch.

A "Bulldog" pile to top all dog piles surfaced in the center of the diamond with National Championship hats and t-shirts quickly put on by the newly crowned champions. The team then shared the honor of hoisting the NCAA Championship Trophy in the air.

"It's a great thing for college baseball," Susdorf said. "It shows you don't need a No. 1 draft pick to win. You just need everyone working together."

But after the cameras stopped rolling and you look back on one of the best stories in college sports, there is something to be said of this team. They were a team that took more time praising each other than themselves. They took pride in being humble and gracious. They enjoyed the experience and loved playing a game.

The roller coaster dream season that captured the hearts of the nation ended in the clouds of historic proportions.

NOTE: 940 ESPN AM will celebrate today's anniversary with special show from 3 to 6 p.m. PT today honoring the national championship. At least two members of the team - Steve Susdorf and Erik Wetzel - will share their memories with ESPN Radio's Ryan Williams.