A youth movement is afoot for San Diego State

Freshman Colby Turner erupts after sliding in safe for a triple in his second career at-bat. (P.J. Panebianco/EVT)

Spread the love
Jake Jackson connects on a pitch on Friday. (P.J. Panebianco/EVT)

Nineteen freshmen make up a significant portion of SDSU’s 2024 baseball roster.

If the Aztecs are to have success this season, they will need these young athletes to contribute.

The youth movement began immediately on Friday night. LF Jake Jackson, 3B Colby Turner, DH Josh Quezada, and 2B Finley Bates started and made their collegiate debuts.

Over the rest of the weekend, OF’s Drew Rutter and Jacob McCombs earned starts. INF Kelly Zane, OF Sammy Kahler, and P’s Evan Miranda, Gary Rumary, Chris Canavan, and Michael Caruso also saw action for the first time.

“(The freshmen) played really well in the fall and early spring,” head coach Shaun Cole said after Friday’s game. “They earned the opportunity to start tonight. Sometimes, you have to look at today and long term. So, we get them in there, even though there were some ups and downs today, there’s some positives for them long term.”

SDSU lost two of three to Portland, but given the age of the teams, the results were encouraging for the Aztecs. The Pilots were picked second in the preseason WCC baseball poll and are among the nation’s favorites to earn an at-large bid for the postseason. They are highly thought of primarily because of their returning experience.

Xavier Gonzalez celebrates one of his two doubles on Friday. (P.J. Panebianco/EVT)

Portland only has four freshmen on its roster. None played against the Aztecs.

SDSU’s youngsters were thrown immediately into the fire. A double play between Turner and Bates accounted for the first two outs of the 2024 season.

LF Jake Jackson, who hit second in the order, had the first opportunity of SDSU’s season to knock in a run in the bottom of the first after RF Shaun Montoya led off the game with a single and advanced to third on an errant pick-off attempt. Jackson struck out looking but came back from 0-2 in the at-bat to force a full count.

Montoya was eventually stranded at third. Cole pointed to his squad’s inability to get an early run as a reason for Friday’s loss.

Deja Vu occurred in games two and three. On Saturday, Montoya started the game with a double. Jackson started a string of three consecutive strikeouts for the Red and Black to end the inning. Showing potential growth in his game, Jackson capitalized on his third, first-inning chance.

Montoya led off Sunday’s contest with another base hit and advanced to third on a stolen base and passed ball. Jackson started the at-bat down 0-2, worked it back to full, and grounded out to the shortstop. Montoya scored, giving SDSU its first lead of the series and igniting a 7-1 victory.

“Tomorrow, I just have to slow things down,” Jackson said after Friday’s game. “Today, my first college game, I sped up a little bit. Tomorrow, I’m going to breathe in, try to be present, and slow down. I think that will help me.”

The Madison High School alum flashed all weekend. Jackson recorded the first hit, double, home run, stolen base, RBI, run, multi-hit game, multi-run game, put out, and outfield assist of his career. More impressive for the Hometown Hero was how clutch a few of his plays were.

Shaun Montoya was a menace on the base paths. (P.J. Panebianco/EVT)

On Saturday, SDSU trailed 6-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth. The Aztecs plated three runs to tie the game and send the contest to extra innings. Jackson was in the center of all of them. He hit a two-out, two-RBI double and came around to score the tying run two batters later.

In the two games that SDSU lost, the fourth inning was the team’s downfall. Starting pitchers Chris Canada and Omar Serrano both pitched three scoreless innings to begin their games but had trouble with command the second time through the lineup.

That dynamic nearly repeated on Sunday. Xavier Cardenas breezed through three but walked a pair in the fourth. C Evan Sipe’s arm erased the first baserunner. Jackson took care of the second.

Pilot’s catcher Riley McCarthy forgot what position he plays and tried to score from second on a two-out base hit to left. Passing the arm-strength test, Jackson threw McCarthy out at the plate. The play ended the inning, taking the fourth-inning monkey off the Aztecs’ back.

Cole placing Jackson at the top of the order between his two best-returning hitters signals what the SDSU’s head coach thinks of the young star. If the first taste of his college career is indicative of what is to come, the skies the limit for his potential. For his efforts, the Mountain West named Jackson its Freshman of the Week on Monday.

“Personally, it’s about me staying level-headed,” Jackson explained. “I’m not going to get too high or too low. When the inning’s over, there’s always a new game. There’s always tomorrow, and I know my teammates got my back. So, just focus on the next game.”

Jackson was hardly alone in the positives that came from the freshman in the series. Turner showed right away why Cole placed him in the heart of the order. In his first at-bat on Friday, he took a 1-0 fastball and blasted a shot 400+ feet to the warning track in center. It was caught, but flashed his power. Two innings later, he snuck a ground ball inside the third base line that rolled around in the corner. Turner stretched it for a triple.

He only had one other hit the rest of the weekend but showed potential. McCombs also flashed extra-base hit potential with a double in five at-bats.

Bates, Kahler, and Rutter have yet to record a hit but collectively reached base seven times in 12 plate appearances. Hitting at the bottom of the order, they skillfully turned the lineup over. If they continue to do that this season, SDSU’s offense could prove more potent than prognosticators suggest.

On the pitching side, four freshmen saw time in relief on Saturday. Canavan inherited a first and third and one-out game from Serrano in the fourth. He allowed both inherited runners and one of his own to score. He stayed in the game and hung a zero in the fifth. Caruso took over for Canavan in the sixth but did not record an out in three batters before Cole replaced him with Rumary.

Irvin Weems slides home safe to score a run. (P.J. Panebianco/EVT)

Entering one’s first college game with the bases loaded is not ideal, and Rumary allowed all of them to score but shut the door after that and pitched a scoreless seventh. Miranda put up two scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth. Their cumulative line of 5.2 innings and three earned was not bad considering the circumstances. Their efforts allowed SDSU to come back in the contest.

SDSU’s most likely path to the postseason involves winning the conference tournament that it hosts from May 23-26. With each game the freshmen play early, the better they will be prepared for the end of the year. The youth movement is afoot at SDSU.

“We’re a family,” Jackson said when asked about the freshmen class. “I know people they say that, but I feel like (it’s true of) our freshmen class. We came here the first week of summer and we were out here at practice, so we’ve gotten real close. The conversations (about the freshmen class producing in 2024) have only been positive. All the guys love each other. Everyone supports one another.”

Shaun Cole’s first series as head coach

Former manager Mark Martinez sat in the stands three rows from the top of Tony Gwynn Stadium, directly above the Aztecs’ dugout on opening day. He watched his former assistant, Shaun Cole, manage his first game as head coach.

The contest marked the culmination of a long journey for Cole that began in 2008 as the pitching coach at Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, Washington. He has worked with USA Baseball, the Padres, and at Arizona and Eastern Kentucky before coming to The Mesa in 2021.

“It’s an honor to be the head coach here and get this opportunity,” Cole said. “(I am) the fifth head coach in the history of the program. I don’t take that lightly. … It’s an honor to have this position. I’m thankful for it. I’m thankful I get to lead these guys. I’m thankful for the coaching staff.”

I'd like this amount to  

Athletic Director JD Wicker also saw the start of Cole’s Era at SDSU. He sat on the first row at the beginning of the game, but with softball and men’s basketball also competing on Friday, did not stay long. Wicker’s decision to hand the reins of the baseball program to Cole makes sense for the program. If Wicker had hired a CEO-type head coach, it is doubtful someone of Cole’s quality would be guiding the Aztecs’ pitchers.

Chris Canada reacts after striking out a batter to end a threat in the third. (P.J. Panebianco/EVT)

Other campus celebrities who took in the action were SDSU football coaches Ryan Lindley and Matt Johnson. Despite the outcome, Cole will long remember the occasion.

SDSU’s first series under its new head coach went about as well as could be expected. Competing against a talented, veteran club, the Aztecs never looked overmatched. As a pitching staff, they struck out 39 batters in the three games and have a combined 2.90 ERA. They also gave up a plethora of free bases, 23 walks, and 5 hit batters, which proved the difference in both losses.

Offensively, SDSU’s 43 strikeouts were a recipe for defeat. But they also outhit (27-19) and out-scored (17-13) the Pilots. More importantly, as Cole and his staff are building professional habits, they stayed in the game mentally, fighting back to tie 4-1 and 6-0 deficits in the first two games.

One sign of a good team is the number of runs they score in the final three innings. By that standard, SDSU could exceed expectations. The Aztecs scored 13 runs in eight late-game innings. Their attempt at a comeback show the young players ability to fight back despite the circumstances. That is something Cole and his team can build upon.

It is very early, but Cole’s fingerprints can already be seen in the aggressiveness at the plate and the competitiveness of the Aztecs. Their next opportunity is Tuesday night against Cal State Northridge.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *