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Defending champ Fresno State takes another elimination game


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POSTED: Saturday, May 23, 2009

Seven teams have tried. Seven have failed.

Pushed into a corner, Fresno State has proven to be tenacious as ... well ... a bulldog, winning seven straight elimination games dating back to last summer's run to the College World Series title.

The latest came yesterday, with the Bulldogs beating San Jose State 6-3 at Les Murakami Stadium to stick around in the Western Athletic Conference tournament bracket another day.

“;It's just another game,”; said Fresno State third baseman Tom Mendonca, a leading figure in last year's title march. “;If you think of it as an elimination game, then you're going to get eliminated. ... It's another game, win or lose we're going to play it as hard as we can. That's our mentality.”;

Fresno State's win set up another high-stakes matchup with host Hawaii today at 3 p.m., while shortening the Rainbows' path to the final round.

Had San Jose State — which faces an elimination game today at 11 a.m. — knocked out Fresno State yesterday, Hawaii would have had to win two games today to reach the tournament's final day.

With Fresno State surviving, the winner of today's showdown advances to tomorrow's play.

“;It'll be exciting,”; Mendonca said. “;It's going to be a great game tomorrow, both teams are going to come out hungry and we'll see what happens.”;

Fresno State, the three-time defending WAC tournament champion, has seemingly been in survival mode for a while now.

The Bulldogs found themselves in danger of missing the WAC tournament after a 4-9 start to the conference season. They finished with an 8-2 run to close the regular season, both losses coming against Hawaii, to claim the third seed in the tournament.

The Bulldogs lost their opener to New Mexico State on a ninth-inning homer on Thursday. They responded by rallying from one-run deficits three times against San Jose State before taking control yesterday.

“;This group's done that several times before and you could feel it today,”; Fresno State coach Mike Batesole said. “;They came out and they just played baseball. There was no sense of urgency, there was no panic.”;

The decisive swing came in the bottom of the sixth when freshman Dusty Robinson led off with a home run to left that stayed just inside the foul pole to tie the game 3-3.

Mendonca — Fresno State's career home run leader — then hammered a David Berner offering out to left-center, easily clearing both fences and bouncing onto the hill beyond and giving the Bulldogs their first lead.

Fresno State added two more runs in the seventh in support of freshman right-hander Derek Benny, who kept the bullpen fresh by earning a complete-game win.

“;Just throw strikes and let the defense make the plays,”; Benny said of his mentality entering the game, “;because when we're under pressure we always swing the bats and get runs.”;

New Mexico State 6, Louisiana Tech 5

The Aggies enter today's play as the only undefeated team left in the tournament after holding off the Bulldogs.

The Aggies jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning and led 5-1 after Kyle Decater's two-run homer in the fourth. LaTech closed to 6-4 on Devon Dageford's three-run homer to center in the seventh.