San Diego State's 5-3 victory over USD on Sunday afternoon at Fowler Park completed a three-game, season-opening sweep for the Aztecs.
SDSU freshman closer Bubba Derby got out of a bases loaded, no outs jam in the ninth inning by striking out the side — USD's second, third and fourth hitters in the batting order, no less — to save the game and put an exclamation point on the weekend.
"The guys worked so hard this weekend and to let something like this happen was not on my things to do.
Derby started each batter he faced with two strikes.
"That's the name of the game," said Derby. "Just throw strikes."
SDSU junior second baseman Tim Zier, who collected six hits and seven RBI in the series, said this team, while still young, may be coming of age this season.
"This opening series showed a lot of character for our team," said Zier. "Hopefully, we can keep it going as we go forward. ... This builds a lot of confidence as a team and shows that we all pick each other up."
SDSU coach Tony Gwynn didn't know how realistic it was to expect three wins this weekend against the No. 12-ranked team in the nation, but he knew the Aztecs were prepared for success.
"We're going to improve. We're going to pitch better. We're going to play better defense. We're going to swing the bats better. I just really came away from this weekend impressed with the way these guys hung together.
"That ninth inning was a great example, bases loaded, nobody out. We bring a freshman in to get us out of a jam and he comes in and throws strikes. We preached to these guys that execution is the key thing and that's what we did this weekend. We were able to execute, they weren't and we come away with three Ws."
For the first time in the series, the Aztecs didn't get their offense going at the start of the game. USD left-hander Max McNabb pitched to the minimum over the first two innings.
The bottom of the SDSU batting order got things started in the third, however, when catcher Jake Romanski and right fielder Avondre Bollar opened the inning with back-to-back singles. Center fielder Greg Allen walked one out later to load the bases for second baseman Tim Zier.
Zier brought home two runs with a single to left field. The throw from the outfield was off target, Allen moved up to third base and then came home on another throw when Toreros catcher Dillon Haupt tried to get Zier moving up to second base.
SDSU made it 4-0 in the fourth when Ty France reached on an error to open the inning, then came around to score on Bollar's two-out triple to the gap in right-center.
Senior right-hander Ryan Doran (1-0) kept USD in check through four innings before the Toreros pushed two runs across in the fifth inning. Doran went six innings before being relieved, allowing two runs, six hits with two walks and four strikeouts.
The Aztecs added an insurance run in the sixth when third France doubled in DH Brad Haynal to make it 5-2. USD got the run back in the seventh off reliever Travis Pitcher. Justin Hepner retired the Toreros in order in the eighth inning. Hepner, who got a four-inning save in Friday's 8-1 win, ran into trouble when he returned in the ninth, however.
Hepner allowed a leadoff single, hit a batter, then walked one, loading the bases with no outs. The Aztecs went to the bullpen at that point and summoned Derby. The right-hander got himself out of a similar jam — runners at second and third with no outs — in Saturday's 4-2 victory over the Toreros.
Derby went right to work, getting two quick strikes on USD's Louie Lechich. An inside fastball followed for a ball before Derby struck out Lechich on an offspeed pitch. Next up was USD All-American third baseman Kris Bryant. Again Derby got ahead 0-2 before striking out Bryant as well. First baseman Connor Joe represented the Toreros' last chance. Derby started him with two strikes.
At this point, USD coach Rich Hill called time and called Joe and the players on the bases over for a brief meeting. Joe then got back in the box. And Derby promptly struck him out to end the game.
The Aztecs return to action Thursday night at 6 p.m. when they open a four-game series against Oregon State at Tony Gwynn Stadium.