Saturday, February 16, 2013

Thrilling finish highlights Aztecs' 4-2 win over USD

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — A San Diego State fan walking along the concourse during Saturday night's SDSU-USD game at the Toreros' Fowler Park said: "We don't lose night games here."

And he was right.

SDSU defeated the Toreros for the second straight night — the wins coming in the only two night games ever played at USD.

This was a 4-2 victory that didn't go into the books until a little ninth-inning drama played out, however.

Bubba Derby
After nearly five innings of outstanding relief, senior Ethan Miller handed over a two-run lead in the ninth to freshman closer Bubba Derby, who was making his collegiate debut. It would have been memorable occasion for Derby regardless, but this wasn't exactly how he had it scripted when the right-hander took the mound to finish the game.

Here's how it unfolded:

USD's Dillon Haupt opened the inning with a single and teammate Louie Lechich followed with a double. Just like that the Toreros had the tying runs sitting at second and third base, respectively.

But Derby kept his composure. He struck out Chris Woolley for the first out.

Then came the play of the game. Austin Bailey hit a grounder toward first that hugged the line and somehow stayed fair. SDSU first baseman Ryan Muno fielded the ball and stepped on the bag for the second out. It seemed USD would pick up a run on the play, but pinch runner Grant Melker stayed at third. Lechich broke from second, however, creating a crowd at third base. So Melker had to come home. Muno's throw to catcher Jake Romanski was on target, Romanski's tag was on Melker and just like that the game was over.

"That's the game of baseball, right?" Derby said after being mobbed on the mound by his teammates following his first save. "I tried to stay as calm as possible. In situations like that, when the game is on the line, you've got runners at second and third, no outs, you've got to do what you can. ..."

"My heart just leapt. It was probably one of the most nerve-wracking moments I've ever had to pitch in. When that last out was made, I felt like I won some kind of championship."

Ethan Miller
SDSU coach Tony Gwynn said with Miller pitching so well it was not an easy decision making a pitching change in the ninth.

"He was really rolling and I really struggled there with whether to take him out or leave him in," said Gwynn. "But we decided to make Derby the closer, so we put him in there to see how he does. Right away you were ready to start pulling your hair out. But you know what, he really settled down and made some really good pitches at the end."

The teams conclude the three-game series Sunday at 1 p.m. at Fowler Park. SDSU plans to send senior right-hander Ryan Doran to the mound against USD left-hander Louie Lechich.

Saturday's game began much the same as Friday night's 8-1 victory over the No. 12-ranked Toreros, with the Aztecs getting something started from the first batter.

In fact, SDSU opened the game with four straight hits off USD right-hander Michael Wagner, scoring two runs in the first inning for the second straight night. Center fielder Greg Allen led off with a sharp double to right field and second baseman Tim Zier followed with an RBI single. After first baseman Ryan Muno singled, DH Brad Haynal singled to left field to score Zier.

SDSU added another run in the fifth when Allen hit a one-out single to left, stole second base and then scored on Zier's single to left-center. Muno followed with the inning's third straight single, but the Aztecs were not able to expand further on their 3-1 lead.

Junior right-hander Philip Walby started for the Aztecs and did not allow a hit in his  3.1 innings of work. That USD pushed a run across in the third inning was due more to the four walks Walby issued in the inning than anything the Toreros did with the bats.

USD didn't get its first hit of the game until third baseman Kris Bryant's two-out double that one-hopped the wall in the fifth inning. Senior right-hander Ethan Miller, who relieved Walby with one out in the fourth, allowed the hit and then an RBI single to first baseman Connor Joe that made it 3-2. But Miller didn't budge after that.

An insurance run in the seventh for the Aztecs provided a little more room for Miller, who allowed three hits with six strikeouts and no walks over 4 2/3 innings.

"I felt good," said Miller. "I had been preparing. (Reliever) Bryan Crabb and I had worked real hard together. We've been here for four years and have experience on our side, so it helped a lot. Bryan was in the dugout talking me through it. ... Hopefully, we can get on a roll here and start winning some games. It feels really good.

"They're a really good team, they're ranked pretty high, so it's a good test for us to see where we're at. And it's nice because of all the hard work we've put into it."

The efforts of Miller and Derby, along with four shutout innings by Justin Hepner in the opener, meant the bullpen had allowed but one run over 9 2/3 innings of work in two games.

Allen again led the hitting, collecting three hits (making him 7-for-10 in the series) while scoring three runs. Muno also had three hits. Zier had two hits and two RBI.

"Things are going good right now," said Gwynn. "Guys are making good decisions, stepping up and getting it done. Hopefully, we can continue that."

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