Saturday, May 23, 2009
MWC Tournament: Utah beats SDSU for title
It was right there.
I could see it. I could smell. I could taste it.
And then it was snatched away.
But isn't that always the way.
(Hence, the photo. "But that's football," my wife says. I know. I know. That's not the point. OK, try this one.)
Utah defeated San Diego State 9-3 today at TCU's Lupton Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas, to win the Mountain West Conference Tournament championship and the gold ticket to the NCAA Regionals.
It was all within San Diego State's grasp after the Aztecs put themselves in the driver's seat with wins over UNLV and New Mexico on Tuesday and Wednesday and followed it up with an amazing comeback win over Utah on Thursday to advance to the finals. All SDSU needed was one more victory to end its NCAA postseason absence.
The current generation of SDSU fans doesn't realize that the Aztecs used to be regular parties to the party, going to the NCAA Tournament eight times in a 13-year period from 1979 to 1991. In fact, the 1984 team came within a run of going to the College World Series in Omaha (SDSU lost to Cal State Fullerton 8-7 in 11 innings after having the would-be winning run thrown out at the plate earlier in the game). Most of the players on this year's team were still learning to walk and talk when the Aztecs made their last appearance 18 years ago.
It isn't as if the Aztecs haven't had their chances since then, especially since moving into the MWC 10 years ago.
SDSU reached the tournament finals each of the conference's first five seasons. In fact, the Aztecs defeated Air Force for the inaugural MWC title in 2000. But, just their luck, the conference didn't receive an automatic tournament berth in its first season and the Aztecs were left home. SDSU lost in the finals each of the next four years, to BYU in 2001 and 2002 and to UNLV in 2003 and 2004.
The Aztecs failed to reach the finals for one reason or another the next four years. One year it was academic (three or four players were declared ineligible and literally pulled off the team bus in 2005 right before it departed for the tournament in Las Vegas). Another year is was pitching injuries. The previous two years it was an offense that went AWOL.
Winning the MWC Tournament has been the only way to reach the NCAAs. No MWC team has ever received an at-large berth.
That could/should/will change this year.
TCU is ranked No. 10 in the nation by Baseball America and was even viewed as a probable host site for the first round (we'll see if going 1-2 this week does anything to change that). I still believe SDSU will be invited as well. The Aztecs (40-21) are among two dozen teams to reach the 40-win plateau, have an RPI and strength of schedule ranked among the top 45 teams in the nation, finished strong down the stretch. And they have the best pitcher in the nation, which ought to count for something.
We'll find out for sure on Selection Monday (9:30 a.m. on ESPN).
I thought just this once the Aztecs might do it the easy way.
And so we wait.
It's been 18 years. What's another day or two. That's nothing. Utah fans have been waiting for this moment since 1960.
The Road to Omaha wasn't even paved back then.