Shaun Cole era begins for SDSU baseball

SDSU baseball started its exhibition season. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

SDSU Football might be on a bye week, but Saturday was still a busy day on the Mesa.

Early in the afternoon, the upper, synthetic practice field next to the P7 parking structure hosted a lacrosse match. On its lower mate, the University of Washington Men’s soccer team, who are in town to play the Aztecs on Sunday, practiced.

At Tony Gwynn Stadium, SDSU baseball competed in a double-header exhibition against one of the top junior colleges in the country, Central Arizona College (CAC).

According to CAC’s website, 168 Vaqueros have been drafted, including 20 who reached the majors. Among the notable alumni, former Padre and AL All-Star Ian Kinsler played at CAC. They competed in three of the last four NJCAA World Series Champion Games, winning two.

Shaun Cole radios in a pitch to catcher Evan Sipe. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

“It gives us a lens to look through against a different uniform,” SDSU head coach Shaun Cole said after the first game about how the exhibition fits into the offseason plan. “We’ve been practicing against each other for a while, so it’s good to come out and get some competition against a different jersey.”

Over a hundred spectators were on hand for the event, including around a dozen scouts. While MLB organizations are coy about who they are in town to see, an educated guess is RHP Xavier Cardenas.

Cardenas is the latest in a series of Aztec pitchers to pique the interest of the professional ranks. The Tampa Bay Rays selected last season’s ace, TJ Fondtain, in the 14th round in July. Troy Melton, the ace of the squad the two years prior, went to the Tigers in the 4th round. Melton supported his alma mater on Saturday from the stands.

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“It’s great, those guys have been coming out to practice,” Cole said when asked about Melton’s presence on Saturday. “For our guys to be around those guys and hear how the pro experience has gone so far. Obviously, Troy did a lot of great things for this program, so to come back and talk to our guys, what it’s like to put in the work, and also what the adjustments are at that level.”

Irvin Weems at the plate. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

Despite the contest not counting in the standings, it was a spirited affair. CAC, in particular, played with a lot of emotion and energy. Their dugout erupted nearly every pitch.

Cardenas started for the Aztecs. He scattered three hits but no runs over two innings. His final out of the afternoon, a strikeout, stranded runners on second and third. He threw various pitches, changing the speed of his offerings by around 20 mph.

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound sophomore is embarking on a similar season to the one Melton had in 2021, where each pitch will be under a microscope. This offseason, Cardenas has had the opportunity to learn from Melton’s journey.

New coach Tony Tarasco lays down signs for the Aztecs. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

“That’s the beauty of those guys coming back,” Cole explained. “Troy comes out. Kelena Sauer was out. Casey Schmitt was out. Cole Carrigg’s been out. It’s good to have them around, talking to our players.”

“We’re also going to have some alum come out for the November 16 game. The Gywnns will be here. Travis Lee will be here. Those are great guys to give back and talk to our guys and be around them. Also, another side of it is for our alumni to come back and connect with the team. Those are all valuable.”

Chris Canada relieved Cardenas in the third and showed some of the same issues that have plagued his career to this point. With a runner on first, he hit a pair of runners and issued a four-pitch walk to surrender the first run.

Three innings later, CAC added another. Arkansas-Pine Bluff transfer pitcher Jacob Riordan hung an off-speed pitch. It was crushed down the right field line, landing on the roof of the building above the visitor’s bullpen.

The Aztecs’ offense laid dormant until the seventh. CF Irvin Weems reached on an error to lead off the bottom half of the inning. Weems advanced to second on a balk before C Evan Sipe knocked him in with a double. Sipe advanced to third on a bunt single by SS Xavier Gonzalez. RF Shaun Montoya scorched a line drive into the hole between first and second, but CAC’s second baseman made a diving catch and doubled Gonzalez off first.

Assistant coach Julius McDougal (left) on Saturday. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

The spectacular play stopped a rally, but 2B Finley Bates’ two-out single knocked Sipe in the next at-bat.

On the afternoon, Sipe played well. He commanded the defense, threw out a would-be base stealer, caught and tagged a runner on a close play at the plate, fired multiple balls to first base to keep CAC players close to the bag, and had an RBI and scored a run.

“He had a great game today,” Cole said of catcher Eva Sipe. “He’s going to balance these out early in the season with David Whittle, and those two will compete behind the dish. I think it’s great we have two solid options to pick from.”

The game headed to the ninth tied at two. Utah State Eastern transfer pitcher Dylan Hawkes walked a pair to start the inning and balked the runners to third. A miscue by 1B Brady Lavoie on a ground ball and a sac fly plated a pair to give CAC a 4-2 advantage.

SDSU put runners on first and second in its final chance, but the rally fell short when Bates flew out to right to end the game.

Evan Sipe on third. He had an RBI and scored a run for the Aztecs. (Paul Garrison/EVT)

“Saw some good things, saw some things we still need to work on,” Cole said. “We can’t walk two guys in the ninth. Two walks an error; that’s really what decided the game at the end. So. we’ve got to clean that up.”

Putting too much emphasis on an exhibition months before the season would be foolish. Still, there were many teachable moments. Cole admitted that his new staff had to work out some minor kinks in the way they coached a game together. The Aztecs only allowed one earned run but gave up four total runs because of sloppiness in the field and on the mound. The dress rehearsals on Saturday provided the perfect opportunity to continue working toward the season.

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