San Diego State softball looked to rebound in Game 2 of their crucial Mountain West series against Boise State.
San Diego State came into the game with a record of 27-12 and 11-2 in the conference after Thursday night’s 6-2 loss against the Broncos. Boise State entered the game 28-8 and 7-3 in Mountain West action. San Diego State came into the game Friday night with a one-game lead over the Broncos in the MWC standings, with the Aztecs leading the tightly bunched pack. Boise State was one game behind with Utah State and UNLV only a game behind them.
Saturday’s night game was crucial for the Aztecs to maintain their lead, as with the MWC not having a post-season tournament, it is likely that only the first-place team will get a post-season bid.
Senior Maggie Balint was back in the circle for the Aztecs. Balint took the loss on Friday night, moving her record to 13-5. But Coach Stacey Nuveman wanted to go back to her right-handed ace in this pivotal game. Balint only went two innings in the loss giving up four hits and three earned runs. Balint opened the game with a sterling ERA of 1.57, and Nuveman was depending on Balint to keep the Broncos at bay. Boise State head coach Justin Shults handed sophomore right-hander Taylor Caudill the start for the Broncos. Caudill started the evening with an 11-5 record and a solid 3.23 ERA.
Balint started the game strong by striking out the first three batters of the game in the top of the first. The three strikeouts gave Balint 200 on the season. Balint is just the seventh pitcher this season in NCAA D1 to reach the 200-strikeout mark. Balint continued to baffle Bronco hitters in the second with two more strikeouts. Caudill matched her in the bottom of the first, but senior Danielle Romanello greeted her in the bottom of the second with a booming double to center. AJ Murphy sacrificed Romanello to third, but Caudill was able to induce two groundball outs to strand Romanello at third.
Balint had an easy 1-2-3 inning in the top of the third, and the Aztecs rewarded her with two runs in the bottom of the third. Macey Keester received a one-out walk, and sophomore Mac Barbara hit a deep drive to left field that just missed going out. Keester was able to score on the double, giving the Aztecs a 1 -0 lead. Bella Espinoza moved Barbara to third base on a ground out, and Jillian Celis cashed that in with a line-drive single to center to score Barbara.
Boise State was able to get the leadoff runner on in the top of the fourth inning on a passed ball strikeout, but Balint stranded runner Eliyah Flores at first base by getting two flyball outs and another strikeout giving her seven through four innings.
The seventh strikeout moved Balint into sixth place for the season in strikeouts in Division 1. Caudill settled back in during the bottom of the fourth and shut down the Aztecs’ hitter in a quick fashion. Boise State got their first hit of the game in the top of the fifth inning with one out after Mykenzie Hanna singled up the middle after a 13-pitch at-bat. That single is wasted when Serene Hutchinson lines out to shortstop AJ Murphy, and she’s able to double up Hanna at first base.
In the bottom of the fifth, Keester worked another one-out walk, and Barbara laced another single up the middle to put runners on first and second with one out. Pinch hitter Jessica Cordola popped out, and Jillian Celis struck out to strand the runners. Boise State finally figured out Balint in the top of the sixth with a single by Flores and a two-strike home run to right-center by Kelsey Lalor, evening the game at two. Balint escaped further damage by getting a ground out to end the inning. The Aztecs threatened again in the bottom of the sixth with a single by AJ Murphy, but Alexa Schultz grounded into a fielder’s choice. A stolen base by pinch-runner Nicole Siess put a runner in scoring position. A Makenna Brocki walk and another stole base by Siess put runners on the corners for Taylor Adams. But Caudill was able to strike Adams out to end the threat and take the game to the seventh inning, all tied at two.
Balint regained her form in the top of the seventh by shutting down the Broncos on two flyouts and another strikeout. In the bottom of the seventh, Keester was able to get on base for the third time when she was hit by a pitch. Bronco head coach Justin Shults then went to his bullpen and brought in senior left-handed pitcher Sara Johnson who came in on Thursday night to get the save. A wild pitch moved Keester to second base, and the Broncos decided to intentionally walk hot-hitting Mac Barbara. Bella Espinoza then laid down a perfect bunt single to load the bases. Celis and Romanello were unable to capitalize as each of them struck out, and AJ Murphy grounded out, allowing the Broncos to escape the jam and sent the game into extra innings.
The Broncos put two runners on in the top of the eighth on a single and a hit by pitch, but Balint was unflustered and was able to strike out the side ending the inning on a strikeout of Kelsey Lalor, stranding the runners. The Aztecs weren’t able to capitalize on an eighth-inning single by Adams, and the game headed to the ninth inning. Coach Stacy Nuveman looked to her bullpen and brought in Freshman lefty DeeDee Hernandez. Hernandez has shown she belongs at this level by starting her freshman campaign with a 7-3 with a 1.37 ERA.
Hernandez wiggled out of a two-out, two-runner on situation with a strikeout of Hutchinson on a nasty change-up, but Johnson matched the effort with a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the ninth, sending the game to the tenth inning. The Broncos were unable to do anything against Hernandez in the top of the tenth inning. The Aztecs were also shut down in their chance in the tenth inning, and the game rolled into its fourth extra inning, still tied at two apiece. Hernandez had her change up working as she set down the Broncos quickly in the eleventh inning. But Johnson was up to the task as she struck out the side in the bottom of the eleventh.
Both pitchers had no problems in the twelfth inning. But in the top of the thirteenth inning, the Broncos got a leadoff single from Autumn Bennett, and she was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Kelsey Hall. A pop-up made it two outs, and a single by Bella Rocco followed, but Alexa Schultz threw a bullet to catcher Daniella Romanello to nail the runner and bring the raucous crowd to its feet. Schultz followed that up with a line-drive single with one out in the bottom of the thirteenth.
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Schultz stole second base as pinch hitter Shay Whatman struck out to move into scoring position. Taylor Adams finally ends this game with a walk-off line-drive single to right to end this amazing duel among the top two teams in the league and to send an overflow crowd of 951 home happy.
The Aztecs remain on top of the league standings with this victory and will face off again against the Broncos on Saturday, with the rubber game of the series starting at noon.
Michael Gross has been coaching and writing about softball for over 15 years. He is currently the Head Coach at Southwestern College in San Diego and the Israeli U18/19 National Team Head Coach. Coach Gross was the Head Coach at Olympian High School for 7 years where he won 2 CIF titles. He is also a professional Public Address Announcer working for San Diego State University, Point Loma Nazarene, UC San Diego, CIF San Diego Section and several local high schools as well as announcing for CIF. He has his BA from the University of Phoenix and his MS in Exercise Science from Concordia -Irvine
Coach Gross is a native San Diegan and lives in Chula Vista with his wife Lisa, his 3 daughters and their 2 dogs.