Bulldogs walk-off on opening night behind Joseph Mendez single

(Fresno State Athletics)

The Fresno State Bulldogs’ baseball team opened the 2018 season with a 5-4 walk-off win against the Michigan State Spartans at Pete Beiden Field in Bob Bennett Stadium on Friday.

The Bulldogs’ opening day victory is their 10th in a row.

Behind a stellar performance from pitcher Ryan Jensen who tossed 100 pitches in a two-hit shutout and Mendez, who hit a game-winning single on his first career plate appearance, the Bulldogs started their new campaign off on the right foot.  

Jensen got the nod for Fresno State and after three straight balls, the visiting Spartans looked to have the upper-hand.

That wouldn’t be the case however, after Jensen buckled down and recorded back-to-back strikeouts. He would give up a walk and hit a batter but leaned on his 95-plus fastball to get the last out of the inning. He collected four strikeouts in the first three innings and five total in the game.

The top of the third inning rolled around and with the inning change, came the Bulldogs first score of the game. Junior Jeremiah Burks got the Diamond Dogs started after he was hit by a pitch.

With speed and athleticism on his side, Burks challenged the Spartans and successfully swiped second base. With Burks in scoring position, leadoff hitter Zach Ashford knocked a double down the left-field line to not only give the Bulldogs their first score of the game, but their first hit.

As the game began to wind down, the action started to pick up.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Bulldogs capitalized on poor defense by the Spartans. Burks and Ashford hit back-to-back grounders up the middle and on both occasions the ball was misplayed, allowing the Bulldogs to reach safely. Michigan State’s Bailey Peterson and Royce Ando committed the costly mistakes.

That wouldn’t be all after Korby Batesole reached first base on a hit-by-pitch. The Bulldogs had the bases loaded with two outs, setting the stage for Carter Bins. Bins stepped up and smacked a two-run double to left-center field, bringing the Red Wave to their feet.

His two-run hit forced Ashford and Burks home, giving the Bulldogs a 3-0 lead.

That lead would be short lived however. Memories of the 2017 season came crashing like a wave after Jensen was pulled in the top of the 8th. JJ Santa Cruz and Jamison Hill came into the game and combined to give up four earned runs, including a two-run bomb by Michigan State’s Chad Roskelly. Fortunately for Fresno State, Hill was able to rescue the inning after surrendering the lead, 4-3.

The Bulldogs would respond with a short rally in the bottom of the eighth.

Fresno State found themselves with the bases loaded with only a single out, down one run. All the Bulldogs needed was a base hit to tie the game at four, and luckily for the Bulldogs, Ashford was up to bat.

Ashford patiently waited for his pitch before swinging and smacking a low ball back into the Spartan pitcher. The ball ricocheted off the pitcher and into the infield, allowing Ashford to take first and Nikoh Mitchell to take home plate, making it 4-4.

With the momentum now on the Bulldog’s side, it was up to the bullpen to get the job done.

After giving up a game-changing homer to Michigan State, Hill responded with a dominant top of the half in the ninth. He mixed his pitches well as he struck out the side, to give Fresno State the opportunity to get the win and that’s exactly what they did.

A walk and a bunt single by McCarthy Tatum put runners on first and second and that’s all the Bulldogs needed. Mendez took the field for his first appearance as a Bulldog and the freshman came through in the clutch. The pitch came in and Mendez smacked the ball into shallow left field, far enough for Fresno State to make it home from second base, giving the Bulldogs their first win of 2018.

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