Fresno State's dream is over; Mendonca to leave?

IRVINE -- Under his baseball cap and just above the eyeblack, Holden Sprague's eyes welled up.

Tears never seeped through. And soon after, the Fresno State senior had put on a smile, hugged his teammates, and turned his thoughts to memories generated during his four-year Bulldogs career, particularly in the past two seasons.

It finally had ended -- Sprague's college career.

Probably Turlock slugger Tom Mendonca's, too. But more so, the Bulldogs' magical run.

Fresno State (32-30), the defending national champion, had been dethroned, eliminated in the regional round of the NCAA Tournament with a 4-1 loss to San Diego State (41-22) on Saturday at Anteater Ballpark.

"There's too much to be proud of for there to be tears," Sprague said. "It's disappointing that we don't get to practice or play tomorrow. But you know, we put together a pretty good season. We put together a pretty good campaign toward the end.

"There's nothing we should be ashamed about."

Yet it was still surprising to players and coaches as they came to the realization that it was over.

"It seems like the story of our life: Everybody has played their best game against us," said Mendonca, a junior third baseman projected to be selected early in the Major League draft on June 9.

"It's tough to lose the ballgame like that. You wish it would go our way, but it didn't."

Before Saturday, Fresno State had won 10 straight elimination games dating to last year, including four straight last weekend in winning the Western Athletic Conference tournament.

Even as the innings passed and Fresno State's season came down to a few final outs, the Bulldogs kept waiting for that magic to reappear and conjure up a heroic performance -- from someone, anyone. It always had before. But not Saturday.

"We were just waiting for that one big hit because that's how we always do it," said outfielder Steve Detwiler. "Somebody always steps up when they need to. We were waiting for it. Just one of those days.

"That's probably the first time in three years it (didn't) happened for us (in an elimination game)."

Aztecs starting pitcher Tyler Lavigne was the reason for most of the Bulldogs' woes, striking out eight in 7º innings.

Fresno State was held to five hits, three by leadoff hitter Danny Muno, and drew just one walk.

Fresno State's pitching, which had been a season-long concern, wasn't so much of an issue in the regional. But it was enough to hand Fresno State its second loss in as many games.

Junior right-hander Matt Morse, who began the year in the bullpen only to emerge as the No. 1 starter and second-most consistent pitcher behind Sprague, gave up two home runs.

Both were hit by Aztecs No. 2 hitter Brandon Meredith, who entered the day hitting .309 with five home runs.

Meredith launched a two-run homer in the bottom of the first, then a solo shot to left-center field in the fifth.

Sprague relieved Morse with two outs and runners on first and second in the fifth inning.

Sprague walked his first batter faced to load the bases.

Then after getting ahead in the count 0-2 to Aztecs designated hitter Chris Wilson, Sprague fired a fastball too low and the resulting wild pitch produced San Diego State's final run.

But whether it was a one-run deficit or three-run hole the Bulldogs faced, Fresno State simply could not do much at the plate.

Kenny Wise supplied the Bulldogs' lone run with an RBI triple to left-center that scored Brennan Gowens in the fourth.

Mendonca, Fresno State's career leader with 56 home runs, went 1 for 4 in what likely was his last game.

Mendonca certainly spoke afterward like this could be his last go-round at Fresno State.

"Baseball is baseball," Mendonca said. "You're going to come to a point in your life where your job is your job then you got to quit. I'm still very proud that I chose to come to Fresno State to become a Bulldog.

"I was telling Batesole that I didn't expect what happened these past three years (to happen). I came because it was close to home and they had a great program.

"It's tough," Mendonca added. "Everything's tough. Last year when we won it, it was tough to not go out the next day and run 10 wall-backs. Everything comes to an end at one point or another."

Before the Bulldogs exited the field, they gathered together in a close huddle for Batesole's final words.

"You're not going to win them all," Batesole said. "That's a heck of a run we had. They did great. I'm just very proud of them."

San Diego State will play UC Irvine today at 4 p.m. after the Anteaters lost to Virgina 5-0 on Saturday. The winner of that game plays Virgina in the nightcap.

In the Fullerton Regional, Utah defeated Georgia Southern 11-10, scoring six runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to overcome a 9-4 deficit.

Fullerton senior catcher Dustin Garneau went 5 for 5 with three runs, including the go-ahead run on a Joe Scott single in the sixth as the Titans defeated Gonzaga 7-4.