Sunday, May 26, 2013

Aztecs win! Aztecs win! Aztecs win! Aztecs win!

SDSU captures the 2013 Mountain West Conference Baseball Championship

In an age where information must be conveyed in 140 characters or less, what the San Diego State baseball team accomplished this week at the Mountain West Conference Championship can be communicated in eight:


SDSU defeated No. 16-ranked New Mexico 9-4 this afternoon in the winner-take-all finals, setting off a celebration as jubilant Aztecs players piled on top of one another on the mound at Fresno State’s Beiden Field.

Showing off the hardware after the hard work.
The Aztecs claimed the MWC Championship and the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA Regionals. It is SDSU’s first regionals berth since 2009 and the 10th postseason appearance in school history.

SDSU will find out where it’s headed and who the opponents are in its four-team regional when the entire 64-team field is announced Monday morning at 9 on the “Selection Show” televised by ESPNU. The 16 regional hosts were announced this afternoon. UCLA and Cal State Fullerton are the closest West Coast sites and one of the two is a likely destination for the Aztecs.

After losing their second game in the tournament Thursday to UNLV, the Aztecs had to win four straight games — against Fresno State, UNLV and twice against New Mexico — to claim the championship. And they did.

“The last four games, we can’t swing the bats any better,” said SDSU coach Tony Gwynn as the Aztecs were being presented with the championship trophy. “Pitching and defense had been our strength all season long, but we had trouble putting runs on the board. The last four games, it just doesn’t get any better.

“These guys earned it. We had to come from the loser’s bracket, but they put it together, and here we are.”

The task facing SDSU (31-29) when it arrived in Fresno six days ago was improbable — perhaps highly so — because it meant getting past a New Mexico team that led the country in offense and all but owned the Aztecs.

New Mexico (37-20) came into the tournament leading the nation in batting average (.338) and runs per game (8.56). They finished 10 games ahead of SDSU in the regular season, winning five of the six contests between the teams. Three of the losses came from being swept at home by the Lobos last weekend.

None of that mattered this weekend.

SDSU hung on for an 8-7 victory Saturday night, forcing Sunday’s decisive game. Players who had stepped up all weekend to bring the team through the loser’s bracket would be asked to do it one more game. And they did.

The final score hid what happened in the eighth, an inning-ending play at the plate that preserved a 5-4 Aztecs lead and prevented momentum from leaving them for the Lobos.

Remember this: Sheehan to Zier to Romanski.

It is now a part of Aztecs lore.

SDSU led 5-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, but New Mexico rallied for a run to make it 5-3 and still had two runners on base with two outs. New Mexico’s Jared Meek then doubled down the right-field line. One run scored to make it 5-4 and Alex Allbritton was being waved home.

SDSU right fielder Danny Sheehan chased down the ball and hit second baseman Tim Zier with his throw. Zier’s relay throw was a strike to catcher Jake Romanski, who blocked Allbritton off the plate as he made the tag.

Ty France
Most Outstanding Player
16-for-21, 8 RBI, 9 RS
How buoyed were the Aztecs by the play? They came out and scored four runs in the ninth inning — starting with freshman third baseman Ty France’s home run to left field.

The home run punctuated an amazing tournament for France, who was 16-for-21 over six games with eight RBIs and nine runs scored. He was named Most Outstanding Player for his efforts.

The ninth also included a two-run homer by Romanski and a run-scoring double by DH Brad Haynal, removing any doubt about a New Mexico comeback.

The five-run bulge may it easy to close out the game for reliever Ethan Miller, who set down the Lobos in order. He struck out New Mexico All-American D.J. Peterson to end the game.

That rewarded the efforts of starter Philip Walby, who was pitching on short rest after starting and winning the tournament opener Wednesday against Air Force. Walby went the first five innings, allowing two runs on five hits with two walks and a strikeout.

Ryan Doran, who went the distance in Friday’s win over Fresno State, relieved Walby and pitched the sixth, seventh and eighth, allowing two runs on four hits with four strikeouts.

The Aztecs trailed 2-1 through four innings before a three-run fifth — highlighted by France’s two-run double and a run-scoring single by Matt Munoz — gave them a 4-2 lead. SDSU added another run in the sixth to make it 5-2 when Danny Sheehan singled home teammate Greg Allen.

“Pitching and defense has been what we’ve live by all year, and now our offense is coming around,” said Doran. “We’re going to be a scary team to face in a regional. We’ve got to stay true to our pitching and defense. Like I’ve said all year, that’s what’s going to win championships.

“But our offense, I can’t be any more appreciative of those guys. They’ve stuck with us and we’ve stuck with them. That’s what we do. A team wins this game. Not one guy.”

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