Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Aztecs head into Mountain West Tournament

Third-seeded San Diego State (26-28) opens the Mountain West Conference Tournament against sixth-seeded Air Force (13-37) this afternoon in Fresno.

The winner of the double-elimination tournament receives the conference's automatic berth to the 64-team NCAA Tournament.

Regular season champion New Mexico (35-18) comes in as the top-seeded tournament favorite. The No. 2 seed went to UNLV (36-18). Third-seeded Fresno State (21-31) is the tournament host. Fourth-seeded Nevada (24-30) rounds out the field.

Here's a glance at how this sets up for the Aztecs:

Junior right-hander Philip Walby (3-3, 3.60 ERA) out of this past weekend’s series against New Mexico in order to save him for the Falcons. Walby and sophomore right-hander Michael Cederoth (3-7, 3.87 ERA) are both power pitchers who can dominate any team, especially when they keep walks to a minimum. Cederoth is expected to start the team’s second game, which, barring an upset, will be against No. 2 seed UNLV. It is an opportunity for college baseball fans to see a pitcher who touches 100 mph and is expected to be a first-round draft pick in 2014. Senior right-hander Ryan Doran (7-2, 2.78 ERA) was the team’s most effective pitcher and would get the start against No. 1 New Mexico if things play out as planned. Doran does not have the velocity of Walby and Cederoth, but he knows how to pitch and the results speak for themselves. Sophomore left-hander Mike RoBards (3-1, 3.47 ERA) emerged as a midweek starter and adds depth to the tournament rotation. Right-handers Ethan Miller (4-3, 3.76 ERA) and Justin Hepner (1-1, 3.82 ERA) are the key middle relievers who will be called upon to build the bridge between the starters and freshman closer Bubba Derby (3-3, 3.82 ERA, 10 SV). Derby emerged during the season-opening sweep of cross-town rival USD, saving two of the three games in the series. He is mature beyond his years, goes right after hitters and is among the nation’s top young closers.

The offense has been the biggest reason for the team’s .500 season. The players batted a collective .264 and produced five runs a game. Most critical was the lack of timely hits, especially in some early-season pitching duels where one hit may have made the difference between winning and losing. The team scored three runs or fewer its first 11 losses and 22 of 28 losses overall. The offense did have its moments and, if it gets hot this week, could take the team to the tournament title. There is not a lot of power (just 13 home runs), but good speed (79 stolen bases). Key hitters in the lineup are second baseman Tim Zier (.333, 37 RBI, 14 SB), first baseman Ryan Muno (.321, 4 HR, 39 RBI), catcher Jake Romanski (.316, 27 RBI), center fielder Greg Allen (.283, ), third baseman Ty France (.263, 3 HR, 27 RBI) and DH/catcher Brad Haynal (.236, 3 HR, 24 RBI).

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