SDSU Aztecs Baseball: Brick by Brick

Credit" PJ Panebianco/ EVT Sports

Credit: PJ Panebianco/ EVT Sports

The San Diego State Aztecs were back in action this week after a 2-1 Mountain West conference series win against the Nevada Wolfpack.

With a historic series opener as TJ Fondtain was able to become the Aztecs’ eighth pitcher to throw a no-hitter and the first since Washington Nationals’ pitcher Stephen Strasburg did so in 2009. Fondtain also achieved a career-high of 14 strikeouts in the win. 

This year’s San Diego State baseball program has been following the motivational words of “Brick by Brick.” This mentality has helped this team stay in the hunt for a regular-season conference title, but when did this mentality begin? Who started it?

“Eldridge Armstrong is the culprit there.” Coach Martinez credited Armstrong for starting this movement around the program. “It really hasn’t taken a life of its own until last week or so, and they bought into it. It’s building a foundation for something bigger, and it’s a great mindset because it’s something you can play the game of baseball in those little moments and not try to hit a five-run home run or whatever; it’s brick by brick and build on those things throughout the game.” 

The Aztecs are now in sole possession of first place in the MW after San Jose State dropped two games in their series against Air Force. San Diego State won their first game against the University of Nevada Las Vegas Friday night, 4-2. Chris Canada started on the mound Saturday and came into the game with two wins and four losses this season. Adding an ERA of 5.29, with 54 strikeouts and about 48 innings pitched. 

The “oo’s and ahh’s” did not wait so long as the first inning began with back-to-back bombs from UNLV’s Rylan Charles and Jacob Sharp. The Running Rebels got off to a quick two-run lead early as Canada worked around the plate to get out of the first. The Aztecs were able to get out of the inning after a series of hits with a 4-6-3 double play!

“I wanted my “get back.” were the words of Saturday’s starting pitcher Chris Canada after his performance in the first. “I feel like I’ve grown in that kind of sense; in the past, I feel like I would’ve kind of backed down or stomped on the breaks, but I just kept going and wanted to give my team the best chance to win possible.” Canada was focused on the game one brick at a time during Saturday’s outing stating and has bought into Armstrong’s brick-by-brick mentality, “Aw man, I even said it when I went out there in the second inning, I was like “brick by brick,” I mean it means a lot of things but really what it means is just one step at a time, so for me it meant one pitch at a time, one batter at a time, one inning at a time.”

Credit: PJ Panebianco/ EVT Sports

At the bottom of the first, UNLV’s pitcher Noah Beal threw a dart behind the back of Cole Carrigg, who had words for Beal. Then, the umpires met to discuss the play and awarded both dugouts warnings, and just when the situation started to calm down, first base coach Brian Shubsda was chirping back and forth with UNLV’s coaching staff in the dugout, which eventually got himself a quick trip to the showers. 

“They don’t like me very much,” Carrigg told EVT after the game regarding the pitch thrown to him in the first inning. “I think it started from the last time we played them at UNLV, not a similar situation, but there was some scuffle, you can say. It’s not acceptable to throw behind somebody’s head like that, so things got pretty heated.”

Two coaches from San Diego State’s dugout were thrown out on Saturday; meanwhile, nobody from UNLV was; Carrigg spoke on that situation, “Honestly, I don’t really care that they didn’t get thrown out; that shows a lot that our first base coach, Shubs and our head coach had our back and had our team’s back, so that was really cool to see that.”

“It started (Friday) night.” Coach Martinez reflects on the altercation during Carrigg’s at-bat, “Them throwing at TJ Fondtain, they hit him in the head. Luckily he had the face guard on. That was intentional; they’re going to say it wasn’t. I don’t think that was directed by their coaching staff, but I do think that group (in the opposing dugout) is having a rough year, and they’re going to try and make a statement somehow, and today in the bottom of the first inning, they threw behind Cole Carrigg.” Martinez told EVT about the Running Rebels’ pitcher, “This guy is not a guy who is going to throw a bunch of wild pitches, and it kind of started from there. I don’t really care if they hear this; I think it’s a butchly way to go about it.” 

Coach Martinez continued to explain the situation, “I went out there, and they gave warnings to both benches; I didn’t appreciate that because we have done nothing wrong, and they said “by rule, we have to,” and I’m like whatever, and our first base coach got into it with their coaching staff, and he got dumped. They were still jawing all game, and I’m telling the third base umpire “hey man, you’re going to let that go, just let it go.” and then he kept letting it go, Cole gets a base hit, of course, he’s popping off, that pitcher is popping off, and the only guy they talk to is Cole Carrigg. So he brought some of that onto himself, but whatever, I don’t know why they’re throwing at him number one. Number two, they say nothing to that guy, and then (Carrigg) gets picked off, and (UNLV) is running down the dugout chirping at him, and they didn’t say anything, so I was pissed! I’ll be real honest; I don’t think that’s the way the game is played.”

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Poncho Ruiz, the Aztec’s leader in RBIs this season (34), approached the plate after Carrigg was walked and was able to bring him home with a double down the third base line that brought home Carrigg! SDSU cut the deficit in half as they ended the first trailing 2-1. 

Credit: PJ Panebianco/ EVT Sports

After Canada struck out three batters in second, it was now the Scarlet and Black’s turn to erupt Tony Gwynn and have a chance to take the lead as Xavier Gonzalez doubled to the center field wall and advanced to third off a throwing error from the Running Rebels’s catcher during Irvin Weems’ at bat. Weems plated Gonzalez with a single of his own between the infield and stole second after the first pitch of Trevor Fox’s at bat.

Weems moved to third off of Fox’s groundout and was sent home by Cade Martinez’s base hit zipping through the infield. Lead-off hitter Shaun Montoya continued this hitting barrage by the Aztecs, grounding to the second baseman as Martinez was tagged out on the play. San Diego State left one man on base as the second inning concluded with the score now in their favor, 3-2.

In the bottom of the fourth with two outs, second baseman Caden Miller kept the inning alive with his third light show of the season and extended the Aztec’s lead to 4-2. The filled seats in Tony Gwynn Stadium rose to their feet and celebrated as the junior infielder added more opportunities for the Aztec’s offense to stay warm and ready. 

“Really, in the bottom of the first!” Martinez explained when things started to move in a good direction for the Aztecs, “You get a guy on, and one of our veteran guys goes up and gets a two-strike double down the third base line, and I think that definitely woke us up a little bit. You get a big hit out of Irv(in Weems) after X(avier Gonzalez) leads off with a double to score him, and Caden comes up and gets a game-winning hit, so that was pretty cool. Very proud of our guys tonight.”

Through five innings, Canada reached six strikeouts and had kept the Running Rebels from touching any base beyond first. UNLV had been hitless since the second, and Canada was just warming up after giving up two homers that started the game on Saturday night. The infield played a huge part in the hitless streak by UNLV, as Miller tossed a ground ball out of his glove to Gonzalez on an amazing play to close out the fifth inning. 

Carrigg drilled a line drive up the outfield to a base hit for San Diego State, as fans cheered loudly for Carrigg after what had happened in the bottom of the first. He later put himself in a pickle which helped the Running Rebels get their first out of the inning. Words were exchanged from somebody in the Rebels’ dugout and were not liked by coach Martinez and Carrigg. After that moment, two outs from a pop-out by Ruiz and a ground out from TJ Fondtain closed out the inning for the Aztecs.

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The sixth inning started with coach Martinez getting tossed by the home plate umpire when Martinez seemed to be talking about a previous play and was not enjoyable to blue’s ears. San Diego State now down two coaches, and with two outs, Canada struck out UNLV’s third baseman Braden Murphy; the Aztecs stood in front 4-2.

Credit: PJ Panebianco/ EVT Sports

Coach Martinez spoke about his ejection on Saturday’s game, “It’s a bootleg way to play baseball, and so I went to tell the third base coach, and the home plate umpire came over and said “knock it off,” and I said, “Hey listen, all I’m asking you is to treat both sides the same way.” I stopped talking to him, and he goes, “You just need to stop talking.” I’m like, “What, I’m just trying to have a conversation with you, that’s it. All I’m asking you is to treat them the same way you’re treating us.” and he warned me, so I said, “You’re going to let that [expletive] go on.” and that’s how he tossed me. That’s what I got tossed for, it’s my second one of the year, so I got to sit a game tomorrow; I already filled out the appeal, but (it’s) not going to happen, but what I’m really most proud of is how our guys responded tonight, (UNLV) got two quick solo home runs, you come back and score a run in the bottom of the first, huge! You get a couple key knocks in the second to take the lead, and we just expanded from there.”

Once again, with two outs, SDSU was able to bring home Miller for a run as Fox singled to the shortstop and was fortunate to land on base from a throwing error. The Aztecs extend their lead 5-2. Started the seventh inning by putting Ricky Tibbett on the mound for Canada, who capped his night off with six full innings pitched, eight strikeouts, and 96 pitches.

After a hitless performance by Tibbett, San Diego State brought in Eldridge Armstrong in the eighth, who sat down his first three batters and struck out two of them. Miller added one more hit for the Scarlet and Black, and Kelena Sauer took the mound for save time in the ninth. He came into the game to save, and that is exactly what he did!

“Both our starting pitchers didn’t have their best stuff.” Coach Martinez spoke about the pitching this weekend, “It’s a testament to their mental toughness; they grind it through. Chris (Canada) pitched a really good game, he kept us in the game, and he kept them off balance; he found his cutter, and it was good; I really couldn’t tell you much after that.” as coach Marinez chuckled.  

The Aztecs looked good after a shaky start of Saturday’s outing and would take this series win against UNLV with one game to go Sunday night. Canada would achieve his third win of the season. Canada, after finding out about clinching first, said, “Man, that’s awesome; I’m trying to go far with this team; we’re not done yet!

Carrigg also added to the big news with, “We kind of got cut short my freshman year because there was no conference tournament, and we had a really good team; last year was really rough, and this year to be in first place, it means everything, that’s our only goal right now is to get into the conference tournament and win that then get on to regionals.” SDSU moves to 13-6 in Mountain West play, clinched first place in the conference, and seeks to move forward in a good direction this season brick.

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