Aztecs earn big Friday night win over Missouri

Jacob McCombs (18) greets Irvin Weems (19) and Jake Jackson at home after they all came in on a Colby Turner triple. (P.J. Panebianco/EVT)

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Jacob McCombs erupts as he crosses home plate. (P.J. Panebianco/EVT)

The name Gwynn is possibly the most recognized name in San Diego Sports. Whenever you attend a San Diego sporting event, you’re bound to see a number 19 jersey.

Tony Gwynn had an incredible impact on the community both on and off the field. San Diego honors Gwynn throughout the year. One of those ways is with the Tony Gwynn Legacy Weekend, which was first played in 2016 to honor the former Aztecs. Since then the Red and Black are a favorable 14-11 during the event.

In the first game of the Tony Gwynn Legacy on Friday night, the Aztecs matched up against the University of Missouri at Tony Gwynn Stadium. Chris Canada took the mound for the Red and Black. The last time he started was opening day where he pitched three scoreless innings before running into some trouble in the fourth.

The Red and Black currently sit at 1-3 overall after an opening series against Portland, where the team showed great fight in all three games but could only get away with a single win. They flashed on Monday in Slam Diego fashion as Jacob McCombs hit a 7th-inning grand slam, but the team lost 7-5 to CSUN. Missouri enters with a record of 3-1 after winning two games of a three-game series with Cal Poly and then defeating CSU Bakersfield.

Finley Bates moved into the leadoff spot and hit a pair of doubles. (P.J. Panebianco/EVT)

The bright spot has been the freshmen, most notably Jake Jackson. Jackson took home Mountain West Freshman of the Week honors after an impressive start to his collegiate career. He batted .250 with four hits, including four runs scored and 4 RBIs.

The Aztecs and Tigers have faced off three times, with the first meeting in 1985 ending in a 10-10 tie. They have split the last two meetings, with the Tigers winning the most recent matchup 3-1 at the USD Invitational in 2008.

Starting the game, Canada faced senior Trevor Austin. Austin lined the second pitch to left field, where Jackson caught the first out of the game. Canada sandwiched a strikeout with three walks to load the bases. A wild pitch behind the batter allowed the Tigers to get on the board first as Thomas Curry scored. Jeric Curtis ended the inning with a ground out to first allowing Canada to get through a tough inning only down 1-0 despite facing six batters.

Right-handed junior Bryce Mayer started off pitching for the Tigers. After Finley Bates grounded out to start the inning for the Aztecs, Sean Montoya hit a perfect shot to left field. Jackson came to the plate, and on a high 2-1 pitch, Montoya made a sliding attempt and stole second. After Jackson walked, Brady Lavoie struck out.

Irvin Weems hit a shot to the left field gap, allowing Montoya to score from second and Jackson to advance to third to even the score 1-1. Jacob McCombs was then hit by a pitch making the bases loaded for Colby Turner. Turner hit a line-drive double just fair down the third base line, bringing Jackson, Weems, and McCombs home to give SDSU a 4-1 lead. The great inning ended on an Evan Sipe groundout.

Canada started off the second inning by walking the seventh batter he faced, Justin Colon. Freshman Mateo Serna came to the plate and hit a high fly ball to left field, where Jackson was there to record the out. After Colon stole second on a wild pitch, Canada was able to strike out Drew Culbertson. Canada then hit Austin, allowing him to take first, but he bounced back by striking out Curry to end the inning.

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With a 4-1 lead shortstop, Xavier Gonzalez was walked to start the bottom of the second. Back to the top of the order, Finley Bates hit a bomb that would settle at the left field wall allowing Gonzalez to get to third as he ended with a double. Montoya, who hit a perfect shot to left field earlier, grounded out but allowed Gonzalez to score for the second time and put the Aztecs up 5-1. Jackson would then ground out as well but not without letting Bates get the Aztecs sixth run of the game. The inning ended after Lavoie popped out to the Shortstop Culbertson.

Colby Turner drops his hitting gear off with third base coach Tony Tarasco after his second triple in just five games. Turner had three hits and was a homer shy of the cycle. (P.J. Panebianco/EVT)

Canada began the third inning by striking out Corona. After Lovich walked, he advanced to second on a balk. Moore hit a line drive double to left field that dropped right in front of Jackson, allowing the Tigers to earn their second run of the night as Lovich scored from second. After Curtis advanced to first on a hit by a pitch. Canada was pulled after 3.1 innings pitched. His final stats for the night would be 2.1 innings pitched and three earned runs.

Jacob Riordan entered the game with two on and one out. Colon was the first batter he faced, and he hit a line drive just over the head of Gonzalez, allowing Moore to score the third run for Missouri. On the same play, a great throw by Jackson got the out at third. The very next at-bat, Serna, hit a bomb to center field that looked like it might be gone, but Weems made a jumping catch at the wall to end the inning as the crowd erupted.

When Weems was asked about how big plays like that during the game help get his teammates going. He pointed out at that “Gives them more momentum” and added that it “Helps get more energy into the offensive side of things”

The third inning was the first scoreless inning for the Red and Black as Weems hit a groundout, followed by a McCombs strikeout. Then Turner would end the inning with a long flyout to center field on the warning track.

The fourth inning started out with a Culbertson single to left field. After he would steal second, he was thrown out at third by Bates. The inning ended as Curry grounded into a double play.
SDSU failed to score again in the fourth. Sipe started the inning out with a strikeout. Cade Martinez came to the plate for the first time in the game and hit a flyout to center field, and Bates followed that with a flyout to right field to end the inning.

Riordan started the fifth off hot with a strikeout of Corona. Then Lovich walked on a 3-1 count. He then came back to strike out Moore but Lovich stole second on the play. He ended the inning with another strikeout of Curtis on a 2-2 count.

Another quick at bat for the Aztecs as they failed to score for the third straight inning. Montoya had a promising long fly ball to right field, but Moore was able to track it down to record the out. Jackson and Lavoie both struck out swinging to end the inning.

Colon started out the sixth inning grounding out to Turner who made a throw on the run that took first baseman Lavoie off the bag, but he was still able to make the tag. Riordan got his fourth strikeout on Serna. After Culbertson and Austin both hit back-to-back singles, Riordan struck out Curry to strand both runners and end the inning.

Jacob Riordan celebrates a strikeout. He came relief in the third inning and pitched 4.2 innings of shutout baseball, striking out six. (P.J. Panebianco/EVT)

Jacobi Kaden came in for Mayer, and with that change, the bats came alive again for the Aztecs in the sixth inning. Weems hit a single to right field, and after McComb struck out, Turner hit a triple to deep right field, allowing Weems to score and end the Aztecs ‘ scoreless inning drought.

The next at-bat, a wild pitch that got by Serna Mateo, and Turner slid into home plate for the score. Sipe came to the plate and failed to connect. Martinez was able to get a base hit down the third base line. Bates came to the plate and a double to the left field gap that brought Martinez home from second.

Montoya kept the bats hot as he hit a great shot right over second base, and the Red and Black got to double digits as Martinez scored the tenth run of the night. Left-handed pitcher Nic Smith came in for Kaden after he gave up four runs on the night. The inning ended as Freshman Jackson would strike out looking on a 0-2 count. Mayer would end the night with five innings pitched and six earned runs.

The Aztecs and Tigers failed to score the rest of the way. SDSU held on in the ninth inning with their sizable lead and headed into the weekend with an impressive 10-3 win over Missouri.

Weems pointed out how important it was for the team to beat an opponent like this heading into the weekend when he made sure to point out that “It definitely gives us confidence knowing we can beat any team that comes in here, especially into our home field.”

Arkansas-Pine Bluff transfer Jacob Riordan has been a bright spot in the Aztecs pitching rotation. Tonight was just another example of his ability to come in and help the team get wins consistently. When asked about the impact he has had so far this season, Cole emphasized, “That’s one of the reasons I brought him here; we needed that older experience.” based on his great performance tonight, he stated, “I hope that that’s a good a good momentum builder for him moving forward.”

In the most exciting game of the season and the most dominant win by this team so far, the momentum of the team making big plays really fueled them. With so many freshmen on the team, that energy is important during a game and will be even more important during the close Mountain West games. When asked how the players react in the dugout during a game like this, Manager Shaun Cole stated, “The energy of especially the young group…has been outstanding” and added that with that, “A good team that plays with heart is really tough to beat.”

The Red and Black played great on defense tonight, holding the Tigers’ high-powered offense to only three runs. Great plays were made all over the field, from Turner making off-balance throws to first and some great tags to Weems and Jackson making spectacular catches in the outfield. Which was something Cole pointed out that he told the team following the opening series against Portland, saying, “We gotta play better defensively and stop giving up free bases.”

The Aztecs take on CSU Bakersfield tomorrow, February 24, at 6:00 PM at Tony Gwynn Stadium for the second game of the Tony Gwynn Legacy Series.

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