After riding high on an infinite amount of momentum following a victory against No. 4 ranked Stanford on Saturday, the 2019 baseball season came to an end for the Diamond Dogs on Monday after a crucial winner-take-all match against the Cardinal (45-12), 9-7.
The Fresno State (40-16-1) offense was reminiscent of a powder keg during the regional, as they were ready to explode every time they came up to bat, due in large part to the bats of catcher Carter Bins, third baseman McCarthy Tatum and the rising Emilio Nogales, all of whom were chosen for the Stanford Regional All-Tournament team.
Much of the Bulldogs’ downfall came at the hands of the pitching, which for the ‘Dogs during their time at Sunken Diamond was the team’s Achilles’ heel, despite coming into the regionals with a pitching staff that only allowed 10 runs, nine earned, and 17 hits over 25 innings in the Mountain West Tournament.
The Bulldogs once again found themselves in a back-and-forth dog fight, similar to the previous game on Sunday, after pulling ahead 5-3 in the bottom of the fourth inning following an Ashford two-out walk and Bins two-run shot to left-center.
Following the Bulldogs taking the lead, the top half of the fifth inning will be ingrained in the minds of Fresno State fans, as redshirt freshman Kevin Larson was brought in to replace starter Jaime Arias, who had given up four runs in 4.0 innings.
Larson, who came into the game sporting a 2-0 record with a 2.67 ERA on the season, proceeded to serve up five runs on three hits while walking three batters in 0.2 innings of work.
Despite a two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth by right fielder Nate Thimjon in response to the Stanford onslaught, the well ran dry. Stanford got into a rhythm, keeping the Bulldogs hitless for the four subsequent innings.
Monday’s game proved to be the one time the Bulldogs could not overcome the hole they put themselves into. Runs became scarce as the game wore on, and the luck ran out for the ‘Dogs during the most important game of their season.
The top of the fifth would turn out to be the most important half inning of the 2019 season, and head coach Mike Batesole’s indecision to pull Larson after the fourth run he gave up will be synonymous with this team.
Keep in mind, the 40 wins the team accumulated will not be what they are remembered for. Neither will it be the MW Championship win or the national rankings and for sure not the back-to-back dominating wins against both UC Santa Barbara and Stanford to start off the regional.
But one would have to question, is that even a fair takeaway?
Should Larson have been in that situation? Or better yet, should the Bulldogs have been in that situation?
Many of the people who took to their keyboard following the Bulldogs’ loss, blaming Batesole for keeping Larson on the mound for too long, are also the same people who are calling for his termination each year.
“He (Larson) has been one of our three best relievers, and at the time, our best reliever,” said Batesole in defense of Larson. “He had our lowest ERA on the team, so we all had trust in him. We were hoping he would find it there and he was close.”
Many believe that the decisive moment did not come in the top of the fifth inning with a redshirt freshman in trouble on the mound as Cardinal after Cardinal came across home plate, continuously tacking on run after run. That moment came before the 7 p.m. first pitch when Batesole failed to go with the hot hand and start Ryan Jensen in an elimination game.
Jensen, who was drafted in the first round of the MLB draft by the Chicago Cubs with the 27th pick on Monday, was on a nine-game winning streak following a dominant 9-2 victory, where he threw 7.2 innings, allowing only two runs and striking out eight batters.
Why not start the ace of your rotation who is the reigning MW Pitcher of the Year, and whose 12-1 record, 107 strikeouts and 2.88 ERA earned him Second-Team All American Honors?
The decision could be attributed to the fact that Arias was the pitcher who was well rested due to both team’s pitching staffs spread thin, although he had not pitched since May 25 against UNLV, or that Jensen on three days rest would not be as effective.
But many of Arias’ innings have come in long relief as the Bulldogs closer. He had only started one game — against Air Force earlier in the season — before his start on Monday, although he has managed to hold hitters to only 12 hits and six earned runs over his last 18.1 innings (2.95 ERA).
“The plan is never what it is to be, but we hoped to go, four, one, two and two,” said Batesole when asked about the pitching game plan. “He (Arias) left with the lead, that’s what we needed him to do.”
Batesole seemed to have faith in whomever he was going to put out on the mound on Monday, which he has had throughout the season and during the trial-by-fire games to start off the season.
And as of late, everyone watching would believe that whatever deficit this team fell into, the arsenal of consistent, persistent and white-hot bats would help them prevail.
The Bulldogs still have a lot of success to look forward to, despite all but certainly losing Jensen to the Cubs, and losing Zach Ashford and McCarthy, who were both seniors and drafted by the Mets in the sixth round and the Phillies in the 10th, respectively.
This past season is the best season the program has had in years, and the team was poised to make a deep run into the postseason. But despite the loss, this team is undeserving of having its season quantified down to a half inning, but it has and it will be for the time being.
The countdown to the 2020 season is now upon us.