“Remember these two things: play hard and have fun” – Tony Gwynn
In the tournament created in his memory, Fresno, Hawaii, UNLV, Utah, and SDSU did exactly that; played hard and had fun. The five teams played a combined six games at Tony Gwynn Stadium over this past weekend.
Over the weekend, the Aztecs went 2-1. Beating Hawaii 7-1 on Friday, losing to Utah 4-0 on Saturday, and then earning a walk-off win 4-3 on Sunday against Utah.
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A key to the weekend was winning this game. The Aztecs were riding a three-game losing streak coming into a tournament they will host. They were mighty successful in that goal, beating Hawaii 7-1.
TJ Fondtain set the tone with another great outing, striking out two batters in the first inning on route to seven total strikeouts in the game. The biggest change for him between this outing and his first was his pitch count control. In his outing against TCU, he threw 76 pitches yet only worked 4.1 innings. This time around, he threw 79 pitches and worked six complete innings.
The lone run for Hawaii came in the 5th inning. While the run was listed as unearned, it started with Fondtain failing to cleanly field a bunt right back at him. He was dinged with an error for that play. That runner scored after the next two batters singled.
After Fondtain came out of the game, Ricky Tibett came into work a three-inning save. Coming into the season, Tibbett looked destined for the rotation. Instead, he is the first arm coming out of the bullpen.
As for the offense, they made massive strides this game by striking early and capitalizing on Hawaii’s mistakes.
Caden Miller got things going in the third inning. He singled to right field then quickly stole second base. Now in scoring position, Miller was able to score off a Poncho Ruiz single. In the 4th inning, Johnny Giannola tripled and scored on a Cole Carrigg groundout.
In the 6th inning, the Aztecs really broke the game open. They started the inning with their 3-4-5 hitters ready for action. Ruiz was hit by a pitch, Brian Leonhardt singled, followed by Giannola knocking in Ruiz with a single. Going with the small ball philosophy, Carrigg laid down a sacrifice bunt but reached on a throwing error by Aaron Ujimori.
With the bases loaded and no outs, Tino Bethancourt slapped a grounder to shortstop. Hawaii managed to get Carrigg out, but Bethancourt beat the double play possibility; Leonhardt scored as well.
At this point, three Aztec runners had crossed home plate. Then things got even worse for Hawaii when Alex Rodriguez reached based on yet another throwing error. This set up Caden Miller to knock in the 6th and 7th runs of the game for the Aztecs. They won 7 to 1.
In their first of two matchups against Utah, the Aztec bats failed to replicate their performance on Friday.
The offense was held to just three hits all game. Mark Martinez tried to do everything in his power to wake up the bats. He had pinch hitters come in for Johnny Giannola, Max Foxcroft, and Alex Rodriguez. All three of them had no hits and two strikeouts each when they were pulled from the game.
These substitutions lead to some new defensive looks for the Aztecs. Super utilityman Cole Carrigg was moved from center field to second base. Blake Butcher made his collegiate debut and manned third base. Lastly, Shaun Montoya found himself in center.
The pitching staff, to their credit, tried to keep SDSU in the game for as long as possible. With Kelena Sauer on the mound, he held the Utes to just three earned runs in his five innings pitched. What stands out from his outing are the seven strikeouts and no walks, bringing his season total to thirteen strikeouts and just two walks.
Robert Brodell came into the game in the 6th inning. The typical set-up man managed to throw four innings to save the rest of the bullpen. In that time, he only allowed two hits, one walk, and struck out four batters.
Still, with no offensive support, the Aztecs lost 4-0.
The final game of the Tony Gwynn Legacy tournament was the perfect ending to the weekend.
Jacob Flores took the bump for the Aztecs. For five innings, he wielded his fastball circle-change combo to great effect. By the end of the second inning, he had already struck out four batters. Utah finally got a hit in the fourth inning. They paired that hit with a walk and well-placed sac bunt to score their first run of the game.
In the fifth inning, Flores started to lose his command. He hit one batter, then left a meatball for Carter Booth. Booth then launched the ball over the left-field wall. Flores finished the inning and outing after that. Giving up only two hits but having them be a part of a 3-run Utah offense.
The Aztec lineup had Flores back all game. In the third inning, Shaun Montoya earned his first collegiate hit. Caden Miller walked to get two runners on base. Carrigg advanced Montoya with a fielder’s choice groundout. Then Poncho Ruiz singled to score Montoya.
All four of the previously mentioned players had a HUGE impact on the offense today. Montoya had two hits, an RBI and a run. Miller reached base safely in all four of his plate appearances with two hits and two walks. Carrigg went hitless but was credited with two sacrifices. Then Ruiz had two hits, one being a double, a walk, and RBI.
Miller, Carrigg, Ruiz are mainstays in the lineup. Montoya is in an open competition for innings in the outfield. Producing like he did today will keep him in the lineup.
Montoya’s one RBI came in the fourth inning. Tino Bethancourt singled and stole second. Then advanced to third on a groundout. That’s when Montoya singled up the middle to take back the lead 2-1 in the fourth.
Due to Utah’s scheduled flight, the game wasn’t going past the seventh inning. So, it got very exciting in the bottom of the seventh when the Aztecs were down by one. Kenny LaBeau deserves credit for his SDSU debut. He pinch-hit for Alex Rodriguez in the fourth, got a hit, then led off the seventh inning with a walk.
The previously mentioned core of Miller, Carrigg, and Ruiz put in their work to get LaBeau into scoring position. That was done with a single sac bunt and walk. This set the stage for Brian Leonhardt, a veteran of big moments, to make an impact.
He certainly did with a single that fell just shy of Utah’s center fielder. LaBeau and Miller both scored for a walk-off victory.
Walkoff for the Aztecs! Brian Leonhardt hits a bases loaded single to score two. Aztecs win 4-3 pic.twitter.com/XupnW1njWg
— East Village Times (@EVT_News) February 28, 2022
As Tony Gwynn drilled into the psyche of all Aztec baseball players, “play hard and have fun.” This weekend the Aztecs certainly lived up to that.
The Aztecs are still in the midst of a busy stretch. Today they once again face off against Hawaii in a non-tournament game. Then they have a shot at redemption in a matchup against UC Irvine on Tuesday.
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.