SDSU Softball Opens the Season with a Bang!
The San Diego State softball season opened in 2023 with a doubleheader against CSUN and Arizona State.
San Diego State softball began its 2023 campaign with a pair of games at the SDSU softball stadium against Cal State University Northridge and Arizona State University on Thursday. Last season, the team won the Mountain West Championship and made a run in the NCAA playoffs.
Coach Stacy Nuveman-Deniz starts her second year at the helm with a talented and experienced squad.
This year’s main question mark will be who will replace ace Maggie Balint in the circle. Coach Nuveman-Deniz has talent and depth with returners Dani Martinez, Dee Dee Hernandez, and Allie Light. Talented transfers Sarah Lehman (Depaul) and local product Cassidy West (Fresno St, Mission Bay HS) are also in the mix. Nuveman also has All-Conference player Mac Barbara returning, along with several other letter winners.
The team is poised to defend its title in the conference and make another run in the NCAA. Returning infielders Jillian Celis, AJ Murphy, and Jeweliana Perez, along with returning outfielders Bella Espinoza, Macey Keester, and Elianna Reyes provide a wealth of veteran leadership to the Aztecs. Behind the plate this season will be Florida transfer Cali Decker and incoming freshman Jade Ignacio. Mac Barbara will see time behind the dish, along with being the primary designated hitter. Nuveman-Deniz has a great mix of veteran returners, talented freshmen, and experienced transfers, which should bode well for the upcoming season.
Coach Nuveman-Deniz will also be featuring a new staff as longtime assistant coach Mia Longfellow resigned to go into private business, and Rachel Garcia moved on to UCSD. Returning associate head coach Victoria Hayward teams with previous Indiana assistant coach Kendall Fearn and UCLA standout Delanie Wisz as the volunteer assistant coach to round out the staff.
Game 1 of the season featured the Aztecs facing off against in-state rival Cal State Northridge. Senior Dani Martinez started in the circle for SDSU against the Matadors, with sophomore transfer Cali Decker behind the plate. The Matadors briefly threatened in the top of the first with a single and a walk, but Martinez was able to induce a pop-up to end the threat.
Freshman Riley Wickum started the game for the Matadors. A walk to Barbara and a booming double off the center field fence by AJ Murphy put two runners in scoring position, but a groundout by Cali Decker ended the scoring opportunity in the bottom of the first for San Diego State.
CSUN went down in order against Martinez in the second; however, the Aztecs were able to plate one in the bottom of the second when an infield single pushed Macy Keester across the plate. Keester was aboard on a fielder’s choice and had moved to third on a double by Makenna Brocki. Neither team was able to capitalize on having a runner on in the third inning, and the teams headed to the fourth inning with the Aztecs leading 1-0.
Martinez again sent the Matadors in order in the fourth inning, and the Aztecs took advantage when freshman Jade Ignacio led off the inning with a double to right center, Macy Keester bunted pinch runner Elianna Reyes over to third, and a single to short right field by Makenna Brocki brought Reyes home. The Aztecs added another when Mac Barbara lines a single to center to score Brocki. Barbara was caught stealing to end the inning with a lead of 3-0.
Dani Martinez was replaced in the top of the fifth inning by Dee Dee Hernandez. Martinez was outstanding, only allowing one hit over four solid innings. The Matadors were able to get to Hernandez for one run in the top of the fifth with a single by Shay Whatman and a double by Samantha Kwiatkowski. Hernandez struck out the side to get out of the inning with only one run scored. However, it didn’t take long for San Diego State to get that run back as Florida transfer Cali Decker smoked an opposite-field home run to left field to give the Aztecs their three-run lead back.
Dee Dee Hernandez went three strong innings, only allowing one run. Fresno State transfer and local high school standout Cassidy West entered the game in the 7th inning, with the Aztecs leading 4-1. The Matadors were able to get to West for two runs with a double and three singles to make it 4-3, which forced Coach Nuveman -Deniz to go back to Dani Martinez.
A single by Carys Murakami with two outs plated the third run of the inning tying up the game at four apiece in the 7th. Martinez was able to get a strikeout to end the inning.
In the bottom of the 7th, Jillian Celis hits a one-out double to right to get the inning started for the Aztecs, and AJ Murphy dropped a single into short right field to move Celis to third. But pitcher Lauren Carranco was able to get a strikeout and a groundout to send the gamer into extra innings.
The 8th inning started with a runner at second base, and the Matadors sacrificed her to third. A deflected ball went to shortstop Jillian Celis, and she was able to nail the runner at the plate to preserve the tie for SDSU. Martinez struck out the final batter, and the Aztecs headed to the bottom of the 8th with the game tied at four.
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Taylor Okada was placed at second base to start the inning. A wild pitch moved Okada to third base, and a rocket off the center field fence by freshman Jade Ignacio gave the Aztecs a walk-off 5-4 win!!
Dani Martinez was the winning pitcher, going five-plus innings.
The Aztecs ended up with 12 hits and eight runners left on base. The Matadors had four runs, eight hits, and eight runners left on base. The Aztecs will continue with a 7:30 pm game against Arizona State on Thursday evening and face Notre Dame at 7 pm on Friday, February 10. They will conclude the tournament with a game at 11:30 am against Memphis on Saturday, February 11.
Michael Gross has been coaching and writing about softball for over 15 years. He is currently the Asst. Head Coach at Southwestern College and the Israeli U18 National Team Head Coach. Coach Gross was the Head Coach at Olympian High School for 7 years where he won 2 CIF titles. He is also a professional Public Address announcer working for San Diego State University, Point Loma Nazarene, University of San Diego and several local high schools as well as announcing for CIF. He has his BA from the University of Phoenix and his MS in Exercise Science from Concordia -Irvine
Coach Gross is a native San Diegan and lives in Chula Vista with his wife Lisa, his 3 daughters and their 2 dogs.