SDSU Baseball- Tony Gwynn Legacy Recap

(PJ Panebianco/EVT)

After dropping the ball (many times) against Washington State Friday night, the Aztecs wrapped up the Tony Gwynn Legacy with a record of  2-1.

Wins against North Dakota State and Hawai’i University gave the Aztecs their first two victories of the season after having their worst five-game start since 2016 (1-4). 

North Dakota State

During Sunday’s contest against North Dakota State, SDSU had a strong fourth inning offensively, bringing in seven runs, including a bomb to right field by junior TJ Fondtain. Momentum from Fondtain’s dinger carried that inning with hitters like Shaun Montoya doubling down the right field line for two RBIs. Center fielder Cole Carrigg added more fun to the inning with his two-RBI double to right field as well. SDSU recording their first win is a sign that change is coming this season at Tony Gwynn Stadium. 

University of Hawaii

The Aztecs drew first blood in the bottom of the third when Poncho Ruiz singled to right field, rallying home Shaun Montoya, who had some words to share with the small Hawaii fan section. The score would remain 1-0 through six innings, thanks to pitcher Jonny Guzman, who wore the retired #19 to honor the late coach Tony Gwynn; a tradition that select seniors do during the TG Legacy. Guzman recorded seven strikeouts in five full innings pitched while only allowing one hit for Hawaii.

Evan Sipe, the starting catcher for Monday night’s contest, played security guard as he caught two out of three robbers trying to steal second base. The Rainbow Warriors would not score until the seventh inning when the Aztecs let two wild pitches get by the plate and two runs scored on back-to-back at-bats. Shortly after, third baseman Tino Bethancourt hit a homer to left field, which ignited the crowd and dugout to tie the game at two runs apiece. After a great two-strikeout performance by right-handed pitcher Eldridge Armstrong III, Maddox Haley came off the bench in the eighth inning and delivers a base hit RBI to right field, which brought home the winning run from Poncho Ruiz. 

Coach Martinez

Monday’s game against Hawaii was “gritty,” according to coach Martinez. “That was actually a really good baseball game, it’s nice to win those. Last weekend we suffered three games like that, and I think sometimes it creates a little doubt. We needed to win a game like that moving forward to help boost our confidence moving into conference weekend for sure,” coach Martinez said after the game. “It was fun to watch. A lot of contributors, obviously, it was good to see Tino (Bethancourt) break out a little bit and hit a home run for us. Maddox (Haley) coming off the bench was huge, and Kelena (Sauer) finishing the game,” the coach stated about his young players.

Martinez went on to praise the talent on his team. “Jonny Guzman was freaking lights out; I mean, again, he was really good last weekend too. Getting those veteran guys going. Same thing with Tino, we started him at third base and played there all season so far, along with Irv (Weems) we need to get him going, and he had a decent night. He was 0-for-2 but had a couple walks. He lined out to right field (also), so you’re starting to see some great things for him. We’re looking through the day that Brady Lavoie comes back too and again add another vet to the lineup,” Martinez said.

Pancho Ruiz hits against Air Force in 2022. (PJ Panebianco)

Poncho Ruiz 

Starting catcher Poncho Ruiz told EVT Monday night, “If you realize the energy we had on Friday was way different than the Sunday and Monday game. We had a player’s meeting and said we’re 0-5, but the season is not over; it just started. Let’s bring a different mentality in the dugout. Be loud and try to make the other opponents scared of us.”

Ruiz batted 2-for-4 and earned his 5th RBI this season, “I try to work first on my defense because defense wins championships, so I got to stick with the pitcher at all times even if I do bad at batting, I try to flush that and be ready to catch.” Ruiz said when asked if his ability to hit goes unnoticed.

Coach Martinez added, “Well, he got off to a slow start too (along with Carrigg), and one of the things we’ve been talking about is we just gotta keep sending out our veteran guys out there, and they’re going to work it out.”

Tino Bethancourt

The redshirt sophomore went 2-for-2 Monday, with one of those being his dinger to right field to tie the game in the seventh. Bethancourt started the Legacy with a strikeout in his only at-bat Friday against Washington State, then did not have a plate appearance Sunday. The blue-collar approach that coach Martinez harps on his guys are showing out and showing through Bethancourt, “I was sitting fastball, and I was late on the first one, then they threw me a changeup, so I was ready to go. I fired on it, turn and burn.” Bethancourt said as he reflected on his home run after the game. 

Hawaii subbed in their pitching throughout the game twice. When asked about the pitching on Monday, Bethancourt stated, “When a new pitcher comes in, you definitely want to see the first pitch, to see what he’s got, see how the ball moves. They started off with a lefty over the top, and then the homer (off of Conner Harrison, Hawaii), he had that 12-6 curveball going loopy, and I just laid off that and just stuck to things that were straight. So that was the fastball/changeup was on me, and I just wanted to tie the game up for the boys.” 

(PJ Panebianco/EVT)

Cold Carrigg?

Top MLB prospect Cole Carrigg struggled this past weekend, coring his only run against WSU on Friday while batting 1-for-4. Sunday’s outing was the complete opposite, as he went 2-for-4 with four RBIs and a run. Against Hawaii, Carrigg was cold, batting 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and a flyout. With the struggles this weekend, that goes to show how much of a threat he is at the plate.

Carrigg shared postgame against about the adjustments that are needed for him to get the ball over the defense, “Just slowing myself down and getting pitches that I want to hit, but I’m glad the guys won, we got a really good win, and it feels way better than losing.”

Martinez shared his thoughts about Carrigg’s troubles offensively, “One of the things we’ve been talking about is that he’s obviously circled in the lineup, that they are going to pitch him hard. He is trying to create too much at the plate rather than let the game come to him and trust his really, really good ability. I think that’s the biggest thing for him, to try to slow the game down, let the game come to him, be willing to take walks.”

Strength of Schedule

The Aztecs started the season playing against two of the top four teams in the PAC-12, with Washington State and Arizona State winning all their games against the SDSU. Adding the CSUN loss, who is the second-best team in the Big West, and a much-needed win against Hawaii. Was this done by design? 

Martinez talked about the schedule, “Yes, we’re going to try and do that every year; I think next year we’re supposed to open up at Miami, and it kind of got jacked up, but we’re going to Hawaii next year, and this year we’re playing UConn, and they’re ranked. We’re playing USC on the road. So it’s by design, more of us can engage where we’re at and also hopefully prepare us for the postseason,” the SDSU coach stated. 

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It’s Not About How You Start, but How You Finish

This year has been the worst seven-game start to any season since the 2016 year, where the Aztecs started off 1-6 and ended the season 21-38, 11-16 in the conference play. They started their first winning streak of the year at a much-needed time. 

“There are two different things (from the 2016 season). That year, we were a little light as far as talent,” Martinez explained. “I think we’re pretty loaded with talent (this year), and we also played a great three-game set over at ASU, every game was in doubt throughout the whole weekend, and so we could have won three very easily. I’m not really too worried about it, ‘16 was a little bit different as far as the makeup of the team, the pitching wasn’t very good that year, and I think we’re pretty good on the mound, and we got a lot of talent,” Martinez said.

The Aztecs look to continue to keep the ball rolling in Las Vegas, Nevada, as they start conference play in a three-game weekend series against UNLV. 

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