Sunday, May 31, 2009

Aztecs season ends against UC Irvine

IRVINE – San Diego State players wore long faces yesterday as they moved slowly toward an open gate along the right-field line and left the field at UC Irvine's Anteater Ballpark.

There are 64 teams selected for the NCAA Tournament each year and 63 of them pretty much leave the way the Aztecs did after their 14-3 elimination-game loss to top-ranked UC Irvine.

The Anteaters (45-14) took control early – challenged only in the fourth inning when SDSU's Ryan O'Sullivan hit a two-run double that trimmed a 4-0 deficit to 4-2 – and were never threatened thereafter.

Not that much more was expected of SDSU, which was seeded No. 3 in what was regarded as the toughest region in the tournament.

In the 10 years since the NCAA expanded the field from 48 to 64 teams, No. 3 seeds have advanced only 10 percent of the time. For those who lost their first game, which the Aztecs did with Friday's 5-1 loss to Virginia, the odds of advancement fall to 1 percent.

“With Virginia (ranked No. 7 in the nation) and UC Irvine, the No. 1 team in the country, no one expected us to win,” SDSU coach Tony Gwynn said.

The Aztecs (41-23) did come away with something – a 4-1 win on Saturday that eliminated defending national champion Fresno State.

“I thought that was huge,” Gwynn said. “You lose both and it's almost like not going. But you win one and you have that feeling like you can win again. Like they felt today.

“But after about seven innings (against Irvine), I think they had that feeling like, 'Hey, those guys are pretty good.' ”

In 1979, Gwynn played on the SDSU team that reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time. It began a string of eight postseason berths in 13 years for the Aztecs. But a generation had passed since SDSU's last NCAA appearance in 1991. Winning has had to be learned all over again. Perhaps the foundation for that has now been laid.

“What we accomplished shows what kind of ballclub we had and what kind of ballclub we're going to be,” said O'Sullivan, who was one of four freshmen in the starting lineup yesterday against the Anteaters. “This school is going to become known for going to regionals. It's something we should do from here on out.”

Said SDSU catcher Matt Parker: “We've got a lot of guys who are going to come back next year who know what it's like to make it to the postseason, to play in pressure games with big crowds.”

While much of the team returns, the identity of the team will be dramatically different.

Junior right-hander Stephen Strasburg is the only player with eligibility remaining who definitely is not expected back. The Washington Nationals are all but certain to use the first pick in next week's draft on Strasburg, who went 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA and led the nation with 195 strikeouts.

Before the season began, Strasburg was sitting in the stands at Tony Gwynn Stadium when he said: “My goal right now is to make an impact on this program and leave a footprint to help build a tradition for the future.”

Walking toward SDSU's bus after yesterday's game, Strasburg was secure in the knowledge that he had accomplished that goal.

“I think definitely the best is yet to come,” Strasburg said. “I'm just so thankful I was able to be a part of this. It was a great run for us. . . . I did everything I possibly could. I'm an Aztec for life. I think a lot of these guys are, too.

“It's all about building a tradition and we've got a lot of great, young players in the program who are going to keep doing that.”

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