SDSU Aztecs Baseball moves within one win of title

SDSU celebrates a Pancho Ruiz homerun. (PJ Panebianco/EVT)

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Irvin Weems has started the season strong for SDSU. (PJ Panebianco/EVT)

The Aztecs punched their postseason ticket Thursday night courtesy of Caden Miller’s three-run, walk-off bomb. SDSU came into Friday’s contest still within reach of winning the Mountain West regular season title. 

With the Air Force Falcons dropping its game against UNLV, the Aztecs can claim at least a share of the championship with a sweep over New Mexico. SDSU went with TJ Fondtain (6-3) as their starting pitcher tonight on Friday night. Fondtain is the favorite to win conference pitcher of the year. He entered the contest with an ERA of 2.68 and 84 K’s in 80.2 innings. He also pitched a no-hitter earlier this season. 

“It might be too early to tell you this, but I really feel like he’s a conference player of the year.” Coach Martinez, on how impactful Fondtain has been this season, “He’s done it both on the mound; I think he’s up there in the stats with the conference in home runs. I feel like he’s definitely the Tony Gwynn player of the year.”

“TJ has been awesome the whole year!” Poncho Ruiz told EVT after Fondtain’s performance on Friday. “He hasn’t stopped; every outing is unreal; it’s just great to have a guy like him in our rotation.”

Leadoff hitter Shaun Montoya got things started for San Diego State with a base hit over the second baseman. Montoya advanced to second on a wild pitch. Two sacrifice flies later by Irvin Weems and Poncho Ruiz, respectively, gave SDSU an early 1-0 advantage.  

TJ Fondtain is starting the opener against Arizona State. (PJ Panebianco/EVT)

“Big at-bat in the first inning.” head coach Mark Martinez spoke on Ruiz’s RBI to start the game for SDSU. “When you’re doing stuff right, it’s crazy how you get one to fall in, and obviously, he’s feeling better at the plate. He’s catching the dog out of it, he’s fun to watch behind the plate, and I’m so proud of his growth and development this year.” 

“A lot of pitchers in our conference like to start me out with an offspeed (pitch),” Ruiz spoke about what he saw in the box during Friday’s outing. “I was looking for some offspeeds and got a barrel to it, my first double was a 3-2 count, and I knew the pitcher didn’t want to walk me because I was the leadoff hitter, and he was going to attack me with me a fastball, so I got on top of it and hit a line drive over the second baseman!”

In the second inning, New Mexico’s Reed Spenrath opened up the inning with a double and was followed by Justin Olson’s base hit down the left side. Konner Kinkade would bring home Spenrath on a base hit to even the scoreboard. Fondtain closed out the inning with his fifth strikeout of the game.

In the fourth inning, Fondtain walked a batter, and the next man up, Jake Olson, hit a two-run bomb over the right field wall that gave the Lobos the 3-1 lead. New Mexico showed exactly why they are the best-hitting team in the country with their 86th home run as a program this year.

Starting catcher Poncho Ruiz got things started for SDSU in the bottom half of the inning as he cracked the ball toward right-center for his eighth double of the season. Fondtain brought home Ruiz with another double, bringing the Aztecs to within one. Fondtain recorded his eighth double and displayed why he is one of the best-hitting pitchers in Division I. With one out, Xavier Gonzalez looped his base hit RBI toward center field and tied the score at 3. 

“He’s been awesome obviously in conference,” Coach Martinez reflected on Ruiz’s play on Friday. “He’s struggled his last 30 at-bats, and I think the one thing that he’s got back to is an approach, to look for what he’s going to get rather than what he wants, and that was shown tonight.” 

Pancho Ruiz has started 67 games in his Aztecs career. (PJ Panebianco/EVT)

The Aztecs took a 4-3 lead in the fifth inning when Ruiz dropped in an RBI double down the right field line between the Lobo’s fielders. Ruiz brought home Charlie Rhee, who started in place of Cole Carrigg. Carrigg was serving a one-game suspension because he was thrown out of Thursday’s game for arguing balls and strikes.  The RBI was Ruiz’s 39th of the season.

“Oh man, that guy, he can hit a ball; I can tell you that much,” Fondtain told EVT about how reliable of a hitter Ruiz is. “Every time I’m up there, I’m very confident that he’s going to get on base, and if there’s any runners that are on base that he’s going to score them. He’s such a talented hitter, and I’m very excited to see what he’s going to be like in the future!”

TJ Fondtain had nine strikeouts through six innings and finished with 113 total pitches. Ricky Tibbett stepped on the mound in the seventh as the Scarlet and Black strived to take over first place after Friday! 

“I felt great today,” Fondtain recapped his appearance on the mound. “I was able to execute my pitches, but I’m also happy that we’re in first place, and I’m excited to win a ball game (Saturday) and make sure we get our first Mountain West Conference Title since 2004, so hopefully we make some history tomorrow!”

During the eighth inning, the Aztecs made two pitching changes, bringing in the freshman Conner Abadie in for Tibbett for only one batter, and in came man with the brick-by-brick mentality, Eldridge Armstrong III, to cap off the inning. After a scoreless inning from New Mexico, San Diego State is now in a first-place tie with San Jose State after the Air Force dropped one against UNLV. 

“It’s amazing! Hopefully, we win tomorrow, and they lose, so we can clinch the first seed, and we don’t have to share”, Ruiz explained his theory about the last game of the regular season. 

TJ Fondtain improved to 7-3 on the season. Kelena Sauer recorded his twelfth save on Friday. SDSU’s next game is Senior Night on Saturday, the Aztecs would honor six seniors before the game, with Chris Canada starting for SDSU. “This is a precursor to next Saturday.” Coach previewed the last game of the 2023 season. “You hope we’re playing for the championship game, and we have every confidence in Chris to take it home for us.” The first pitch is scheduled for 11 am. 



Coach Martinez gave a breakdown of each senior in his program.

“Brian Leonhardt, he’s been here for I don’t know how long, six years? Leads with him he’s not only a leader of our baseball program, but he’s a leader in the athletic department and our university. He’s going to be missed; I’m trying to keep him; I’m trying to have him apply for a job here at the athletic department.”

“Caden Miller, his walk-off home run (Thursday), couldn’t have happened to a better guy; he’s a 4.0 student, unbelievable.”

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“Ricky Tibbett is a guy that we’ve been handing the ball to, I can’t believe his arm is still on his shoulder, but he bounces back, night after night, he wants the ball, he competes his tail off, he’s been so much fun to watch!”

“Julian Jackson has been a kid that came into our program that has created a great culture for us. He’s had an interesting path, going to Eastern Kentucky out of high school, where he played for coach Cole and then he came here. He’s been a joy to watch grow and develop.”

“Max (Foxcroft) has been a joy to transition from player to coach; he’s a guy that does just about everything in our program. He breaks down film; he does scouting reports; he drags the field; he waters the field; he makes sure there’s practices set up; he manages our managers. He just does an unbelievable job for us, and it’s been a lot of fun to work with him! We talked about it last spring where he had to forgo his last year of eligibility, and there was a little bit of tears there, but that young man is going to be a great college coach for a very long time, I’m so proud of him.”

“One of our managers, this kid Logan. Came in this year to help us, and same thing, just does pretty much everything you ask him to do. He’s just a phenomenal young man, and great things await him as well.”

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