Forever National Champions
2018 marks milestone anniversaries for both the softball and baseball programs
Those Fresno State bat-and-ball sports sure must like years that end in the number 8 — because they’ve made a habit out of finishing No. 1.
This year marks the 10th anniversary since Fresno State baseball won the 2008 College World Series, becoming the lowest seed to ever win an NCAA championship. The “underdogs to wonderdogs” story was capped with longtime ESPN broadcaster Mike Patrick proclaiming “Cinderella wins a national championship” on national TV as Steve Detwiler caught a pop fly in right field for the final out. It was the program’s fourth College World Series appearance and first under current coach Mike Batesole.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary since Fresno State’s first NCAA Division I team national championship, when the Fresno State softball team won the Women’s College World Series in 1998 after three previous runner-up finishes. The Bulldogs softball team earned 10 Women’s College World Series berths in former coach Margie Wright’s 27-year career, when she amassed an NCAA-best 1,294-450-1 record.
To take the lucky 8 streak even further, in 1988, the softball program advanced to the national championship game, and the baseball program advanced to the College World Series after winning an NCAA record 32 straight games and spending much of the season ranked No. 1.
So how will 2018 play out? Both storied programs welcomed alumni and coaches back for celebrations this season and certainly hope some more magic is in store.
Fresno State Magazine caught up with former Fresno State softball All-American Becky (Witt) Labandeira, who was a freshman on that 1998 team, and with former Bulldogs baseball catcher Danny Grubb, for their first-hand accounts of those historical championships.
By the Numbers:
Championship game: Fresno State 1, Arizona 0
1998 overall record: 52-11 (28-2 WAC)
Coach: Margie Wright
How it happened: The Bulldogs broke Arizona’s 29-game win streak as senior second baseman Nina Lindenberg’s sixth-inning home run snapped a string of 52-consecutive scoreless innings by Arizona pitchers. Sophomore pitcher Amanda Scott shut down the Wildcats on three hits and struck out six for her 14th shutout and 25th win. Scott tied Women’s College World Series records for lowest ERA (0.00), fewest earned runs allowed (0) and fewest walks (0).
Women’s College World Series Most Outstanding Player: Amanda Scott
Fresno State All-Americans: Laura Berg, Nina Lindenberg, Amanda Scott, Becky Witt (second team)
Have you ever had that feeling of complete euphoria after completing a goal that you have worked so hard to achieve? I have. My name is Becky (Witt) Labandeira, left fielder for the 1998 national championship team. As a freshman, you don’t fully grasp at first the sense of teamwork and chemistry that is needed to accomplish this goal. Eighteen women ranging in age from 18-22 years old were able to put differences aside for one common goal.
Looking back on that championship run, the goal was always that you have to play the best to be the best. We were seeded seventh out of eight teams. We had very convincing wins over those higher seeds, which kept building our confidence. I believe having to play Arizona again was the best thing that could have happened for us. That year, we had played Arizona several times, one game a 6-0 loss. They had All-Americans up and down their lineup. Speed and power. So when the championship game came around, and we were facing Arizona again, there was a collective sense of “we got this.”
Championship day felt like any other day, actually. The only time I could say I was nervous was going into the bottom of the seventh inning. Arizona had the top of their lineup due up. We had to keep the leadoff hitter off the base path, as she was the fastest player in the NCAA. Amanda Scott had been throwing a great game for us, limiting Arizona to only three hits. We could tell they were deflated, evident by their body language after Nina Lindenberg hit the home run for our only run. They were in shock. When Angela Cervantez fielded the ball and stepped on first base for the last out, it was complete EUPHORIA! To see Coach Margie Wright finally accomplish this last goal, to see her hug her dad on the field was one of the greatest and most vivid memories that I will forever cherish from that day.
We were representing all the Bulldogs who had come before us with the same goals, who had made Bulldog softball what it was. This win was for all our Bulldog Diamond Club members and fans for their countless hours of support, and for making sure the team had what it needed to be successful.
It was apparent what this championship meant to our Diamond Club members and our fans. The parade we had was unbelievable! Shaw Avenue was lined with supporters from Fashion Fair Mall and then again on Cedar Avenue to Margie Wright Diamond. As our fire truck we were aboard came into view of the capacity crowd at the stadium, they erupted into a huge roar. So many fans had given blood sweat and tears over the years for Bulldog softball. And now we were the ones giving back — with the trophy and memories for a lifetime.
Becky (Witt) Labandeira, outfielder
By the Numbers:
Championship game: Fresno State 6, Georgia 1
2008 overall record: 47-31
Coach: Mike Batesole
How it happened: Steve Detwiler homered twice and drove in all six runs, and Justin Wilson allowed five hits in eight innings to cap Fresno State’s wild ride to a title. Fresno State was forecast to be a top 25 team coming into the season, but the Bulldogs lost 12 of their first 20 games and needed to win the conference tournament just to make the NCAA field of 64.
College World Series Most Outstanding Player: Tommy Mendonca
Fresno State All-Americans: Steve Susdorf, Tanner Scheppers
Looking back on the 2008 College World Series victory, there were a lot of things that we took for granted in the moment, and we did not realize how monumental the accomplishment was for the University, the city of Fresno and the Central Valley.
During the days in Omaha, the guys and I knew what an uphill battle we had ahead of us with teams like North Carolina, Rice, Georgia, Miami and Florida State in the mix. We were competing with some of the best players in college baseball. Looking back, this was a blessing. There was no expectation for us to be there, or to win at all for that matter, which took all the pressure off us. We were 18- to 21-year-old boys living out a dream, and we didn’t realize the impact it had on so many.
The year was full of ups and downs, successes and failures, but with all that being said, by the time we got to Omaha it all seemed very easy. Each player knew his role on the team and how to contribute, we supported each other throughout each grueling game.
Skipping forward to the championship Game 3 winner take all, it was another day at the office. Our routine stayed the same, we watched film and did everything by the book as if it was opening day. We were confident without a worry in the world because we had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Justin Wilson is a guy who I have caught and played with since travel ball at 14 years of age. He is, mentally, one of the strongest pitchers I ever had the opportunity to catch. His poise was always at ease and he knew how to win. He was the guy we knew we could climb aboard, and he would carry us through that game.
Fast forward to the eighth inning, which is when it started to sink in that this really could happen. Nerves started to kick in, but with the offensive help from Steve Detwiler and Brandon Burke in the bullpen, we were ready for this. Long story short, Burke closed it out for us, and we became national champions, something that will go down in the history books for the sport of baseball and for our city.
However, we were not thinking that at the time, nor did we have any idea how big of a deal this really was until we arrived home to thousands of people waiting for us at the parade. It was a sight we had never seen, and the boys and I finally realized what we had accomplished. I was proud to be a part of it. It is something I will cherish and be able to tell my son, Harvey, as he gets older. I will always be a Bulldog and the 24 other guys who stood side by side with me that year will always be a part of a chapter in history, but, more important, family.
Danny Grubb, catcher