San Diego State Aztecs baseball is back!
This weekend, the Aztec season began on the national stage. Facing off in the MLB4 tournament featuring Cal, University of Houston, and Texas Christian University.
While the Aztecs walked away with a 1-2 record, there was a lot to like.
Lost 5-3 to TCU
The Aztecs battled while the nation watched on the MLB network. Their Ace, Troy Melton, couldn’t take the bump while he deals with a minor injury. That meant TJ Fondtain would make his pitching debut in the season opener. That did not phase him one bit. He worked 4.1 innings, struck out five, and only allowed one earned run against the #17 ranked TCU.
After Fondtain came out with an apparent arm injury, the bullpen took over. Last season this would have been a nerve-wracking event, but this is a new pen. All offseason coach Mark Martinez praised his bullpen and was excited about his ability to use it. Rickey Tibbett, Joseph Ingrassia, and Jadon Bercovich carried the team to the 9th inning. Combined, they struck out five while allowing only one run on three hits.
At the plate, things went exactly as planned for the Aztecs. Without their big-time sluggers, the team reverted to small ball. They tallied six hits, all of which were singles, and had two stolen base attempts, with one being successful.
In the 6th inning, the Aztecs took advantage of a TCU defense that was still dusting off the cobwebs. Brian Leonhardt reached base from a fielding error. Two batters later, the bases were loaded. A wild pitch by Luke Savage allowed to score and advance the runners to second and third. After that, Tyler Glowacki and Alex Rodriguez both put the ball in play to score both Tino Bethancourt and Johnny Giannola.
Alex Rodriguez had himself a great college debut. He tallied half of the Aztecs’ six hits and knocked in the previously mentioned run. The Mountain West took notice and named him the Freshman of the week for his five-hit weekend.
— James E. Clark 3 (@EVT_JClark) February 19, 2022
Now in the 9th inning, with a 3-2 lead, SDSU turned to their new closer, Robert Brodell. Armed with a fastball-slider combo, he tried to take on the Horned Frogs lineup. His slider was clearly off, evident in the two wild pitches he threw in the inning. That allowed TCU to sit on the fastball, which they snacked on. They had two singles, a double, and three walks (two intentional) on route to a three-run inning and eventual victory.
Won 4-3 over Houston
In game two, Kelena Sauer made his first career start. Last season he turned heads when he showed off his devastating sweeping curve while pitching out of the bullpen. The results were as expected. Sauer was scary.
In his five innings pitched, he struck out six, walked two, and allowed one earned run on three hits. Not only that, but he was able to keep his pitch count in check, throwing 78 pitches on the day. This is a key stat to track all season for Sauer. As mentioned, he was a bullpen arm last year. He is expected to take on significantly more innings as a starter, and his pitch count will be monitored as he builds up his strength.
At the plate, the Aztecs had a much more disciplined approach. They tallied four walks and two hit by pitches, but the key was cutting down on the strikeouts. Only six strikeouts compared to thirteen in the first game.
Once again, it was a big rally that did most of the heavy lifting. In the 5th inning, they used three hits, a walk, and a hit by a pitch to score three runs. It will be said a million, but it’s the small ball that will score runs for this team. Innings like this are vital for them. The Aztecs did tack on another run in the 7th via a Poncho Ruiz sacrifice fly.
In the 9th inning, Martinez turned Bercovich to close out the game. While he did pitch the day prior, he only threw six pitches. It was another 9th inning scare for the Aztecs. He quickly allowed two players to reach base. Then with two outs, he allowed a double to bring the game within a run. He kept his composure and worked a fly ball to end the game and secure the first Aztec victory.
Lost 6-3 to Cal
In this game, the Aztecs FINALLY showed some power, coming from the two players with that potential, Brian Leonhardt and Poncho Ruiz. Leonhardt got things going in the first inning, hitting a two-run home run that also scored Ruiz, who walked before him. Then in the 6th inning, Ruiz hit a solo shot to give the Aztecs three runs on the day.
— MLB4 (@MLB4_AZ) February 20, 2022
Unfortunately for the Aztecs, that would be most of their offensive production for the day. They had scattered a double and three singles across the other seven innings. In this tournament, Cal quickly established themselves as a team to watch for the rest of the season.
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They attacked Jacob Flores and limited him to just 4.1 innings pitched. While on the mound, he struck out six, walked three, and gave up four hits resulting in two earned runs (One unearned run came on a Tino Bethancourt error). Ricky Tibbett didn’t fare any better. In one inning of work, he gave up two earned runs. Just like with the offense, this Cal lineup was able to best them.
The Aztecs will now play UC Irvine on Tuesday, their first weekday game in a LONG time.
Evan is a student finishing up a degree in Finance from Northern Arizona University. The ability to break down numbers and find the story behind them has lead to his first of writing for East Village times. He covers baseball which is the sport he grew up playing and has followed even after his playing years.