Caden Miller’s walk-off sends SDSU into the postseason
The San Diego State Aztecs were back in Tony Gwynn Stadium to face the University of New Mexico Lobos.
The Scarlet and Black entered Thursday’s contest, sharing second place in the Mountain West with San Jose State. Both were a half-game behind first-place Air Force.
SDSU dropped two of the three games to the Falcons last weekend. In the final homestand of the season, the Aztecs seek to regain the top seed before the conference tournament. SDSU also needed one win to punch its ticket to the conference postseason tournament.
“We have a good chance to do that,” SDSU second baseman Caden Miller explained postgame when asked about the odds of regaining first place. “We got TJ (Fondtain) going (Friday) and Chris (Canada) going Saturday, so we got two of our best arms, and I think we’re going to stay out. If matchups play a big role in the tournament, you have to have a lot of pitching, something I think we’re really deep in.”
SDSU went with freshman RHP Xavier Cardenas III, who has one win on the year with an ERA of 2.63 and 19 K’s. Cardenas started the game, striking out the first batter and allowing two batters to reach bases before the Lobos closed out the first with a ground out to shortstop Xavier Gonzalez.
Lead-off hitter for the Aztecs, Cole Carrigg, was able to advance to third off a Lobos’ error by the left fielder. After Irvin Weems walked, Shaun Montoya stepped to the plate and brought Carrigg home off a bunt down the first base line. Weems advanced to second, but nothing more would come from San Diego State, but they threw the first punch leading 1-0 over the Lobos.
In the second, Cardenas recorded his third and fourth strikeouts of the game. Carrigg came to the plate again in the bottom of the frame. He erupted the crowd with a double toward the center field wall. It was his eighth double of the year. Carrigg would steal third, but Weems struck out, looking to end the inning.
The Lobos come into this contest as the #1 hitting team in the country at .337 on the year. They were also tied for 31st in the country with a total of 85 homers. New Mexico bats woke up in the third as they were able to tie the game at one with a double to left field by Braydon Runion.
After a pair of walks, the Aztecs brought in senior veteran Brian Leonhardt to cap off Cadenas’ night. The freshman left with the bases loaded and two outs. Leonhardt did what a four-lettered senior was supposed to do, strike out the last batter to get out the inning for SDSU.
San Diego State could not overcome the one-run deficit against New Mexico as they went hitless in the fourth. With two outs in the fifth, Montoya ignited Tony Gwynn Stadium with a triple down the first base line. TJ Fondtain came up to bat to try and bring the tying run home, but a stoppage occurred when the Lobos’ starting pitcher left the game with what appeared to look like an elbow issue. Fondtain walked, but SDSU was unable to tie the game after Caden Miller popped out to center field to keep the score, 2-1.
In the sixth, after Gonzalez struck out looking, hot-hitting Poncho Ruiz cracked one off the right field wall for a triple but was tagged out at home when Tino Bethancourt hit a fielder’s choice to the second baseman on the next at-bat. Another potential momentum builder for SDSU squandered. The Lobos put up another scoreless inning.
Leonhardt continued to contain the top-hitting team in Division I with his efforts on the mound. He held the Lobos to one run and only two hits in five innings of relief. The single run he gave up was a double by Sean Stephens, which gave UNM a 3-1 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth.
“Our bullpen was unbelievable,” SDSU head coach Mark Martinez said after the game. “The other thing I’m proud of is Xavier Cardenas, in his first start of his career, threw a lot of pitches, and that’s a lot to ask of a freshman to start a “playoff” game, and I’m proud of him, I think there’s a lot more in the tank, that guy is going to be a superstar in college baseball and be a very high draft pick by the time this is all done.”
Down by two, Miller looped a single to right field. It gave the Aztecs a chance for some late-inning heroics. After a groundout by Gonzalez, Ruiz brought home Miller for his 37th RBI of the season with a base hit to right field. Bethancourt added a base hit over the second baseman to advance, but that was all the SDSU could muster.
After a quick three outs in the ninth inning, San Diego State’s Charlie Rhee, who came into the game with only 11 at-bats this season, singled. Rhee represented the tying run. Weems sacrificed Rhee to second, with Montoya to follow.
New Mexico’s pitcher Arthur Steinkamp plunked Montoya on the lower back to put the go-ahead run on. After working a full count, Miller stepped into the box and cracked his fourth light show of the season. Not only did the blast give SDSU a walk-off victory on Thursday night, but it sent the Aztecs into the postseason.
“It’s every kid’s dream,” Caden Miller told EVT about his favorite light show of the year. “I just saw a fastball in and took my swing, and it went over the fence. I mean, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done!”
“It’s been a rollercoaster of a year.” Coach Martinez added sharing his feelings about this season after punching their ticket to the Mountain West Tournament Thursday night. “Some of these moments haven’t come our way most of the season. This was our first walk-off of the season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The right guy at the right moment, you got a guy that has been in the program for a long time and been playing really good; it’s crazy too, how things work out.”
Eldridge Armstrong III picked up his 5th win on the year. The Aztecs defeated the Lobos 5-3. They are back in action Friday night to continue their final series of the regular season against the University of New Mexico.
San Diego Christian College Alum
Bachelors of Arts in Communications with emphasis in Broadcasting and Journalism.
22 years old