A Fresno State team that struggled to make it to the College World Series rewarded itself with an easy win in its first game here. Danny Muno, Alan Ahmady and Jordan Ribera launched three-run homers and the Bulldogs' amazing postseason run continued Sunday with a stunning 17-5 victory over Rice.
The Bulldogs _ the ultimate underdogs as the first No. 4 regional seed to reach Omaha _ broke open the game against their one-time Western Athletic Conference nemesis with a seven-run fourth inning.
They didn't stop there, rolling up the highest number of runs allowed by Rice this season on their way to their 12th win in 14 games.
If folks in college baseball still don't believe in the Bulldogs, that's fine with them.
"That has been a big part of what has gotten us this far," center fielder Gavin Hedstrom said. "We like proving we're better than people say we are."
Fresno overcame an 8-12 start and a long road through the NCAA tournament to win a CWS bid for the first time since 1991. The Bulldogs won a tough regional at Long Beach State and a three-game super regional at No. 3 national seed Arizona State.
They've done it without top pitcher Tanner Scheppers, the Pittsburgh Pirates' second-round draft pick who has been out since May with a shoulder injury.
None of that matters now that the Bulldogs are here. They showed Sunday that they belong among the final eight teams after scoring the most runs in a CWS game since Tennessee beat Georgia 19-12 in 2001.
Fresno (43-29) will play Tuesday night against North Carolina, an 8-4 winner over LSU on Sunday night. Rice (47-14) will play LSU on Thursday afternoon.
"These guys have been through an awful lot, and each week and each game they've felt better about themselves," Fresno coach Mike Batesole said. "Coming out and doing what they did today against a really good team and a really good pitcher should help us Tuesday."
Fresno's big offensive day came against a Rice pitching staff that ranked fifth nationally with a 3.63 ERA and had given up just 38 homers in 60 games.
Rice starter Ryan Berry (8-5) struggled in the Owls' CWS opener for the second straight year, lasting just 3 1-3 innings. The six guys who followed him didn't fare much better.
"Not exactly what we hoped for," Rice coach Wayne Graham said. "I thought Fresno State did an incredible job of hitting today. It's hard to hit the ball that well in batting practice. Every time we made a bad pitch, they drove it. When we made a good pitch, they fought it off. They were able to capitalize on everything we did."
The Bulldogs surely savored the afternoon. Rice won nine straight WAC championships before leaving for Conference USA in 2006, and the Owls had won 15 of the last 23 meetings with the Bulldogs. With Rice gone, Fresno has won three WAC titles in a row, and Batesole lamented before the game that he had figured his days of battling against the Owls were over.
Batesole had no worries. On college baseball's biggest stage, the day belonged to Fresno.
Muno's two-run single and Hedstrom's two-run double keyed a four-run second inning.
Muno and Ahmedy connected for their three-run homers in the seven-run fourth. For Muno, who finished with five RBIs, it was his first homer in 32 games and third of the year. For Ahmedy, it was his 13th.
Ribera's homer came in the five-run sixth, and the lead grew to 16-1.
Tommy Mendonca hit the Bulldogs' fourth homer of the game in the eighth inning, his team-leading 16th.
"We played aggressive today," Batesole said. "We knew coming in here the last thing we were going to do is sit back and let the game come to us or let them come to us."
Fresno starter Justin Wilson (8-5) was solid, allowing eight hits and two runs over seven innings.
Rice's Berry left with one out in the fourth after Ahmedy's homer gave the Bulldogs a 9-0 lead. He allowed seven hits and walked three. Only five of the nine runs were earned.
"Right now they're the best-hitting team I've faced," Berry said. "Hitting comes in cycles, and one through nine it's very difficult to pitch to a team this hot."
Berry went just 2 2-3 innings in Rice's first CWS game last year, but the outcome was different. The Owls overcame a six-run deficit in the late innings to beat Louisville 15-10.
There would be no comeback this time.
But the Bulldogs never got comfortable. Batesole said his club remembers Arizona State cutting a seven-run deficit to 12-9 in the ninth inning of the super regional final and having the bases loaded with the potential winning run at the plate. Matt Newman flew out to end that game.
"We were going to finish it," Batesole said. "This club learned quite a while ago to not take any outs off."