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.”

SDSU throws curve — Rasmussen starts vs. UC Irvine

IRVINE — As excited as San Diego State fans were with yesterday's 4-1 win over Fresno State, it seems the Bulldogs had barely been eliminated and everyone already wanted to know one thing:

Who is today's starting pitcher?

UC Irvine and Virginia were still getting loose on the field last night when that question was posed to SDSU coach Tony Gwynn. The answer was dependent on today's opponent. The candidates to start were senior Jon Berger and freshman Ryan O'Sullivan. Berger would start if the Aztecs were matched up against Virginia. UC Irvine plays small ball and Gwynn wanted someone who could field his position well if SDSU was to play the Anteaters. That meant O'Sullivan, the Aztecs' regular shortstop.

Virginia's 5-0 win over UC Irvine dropped the Anteaters into the loser's bracket, so expect to see O'Sullivan on the mound.

Not so fast. We get to the ballpark and the Aztecs have sophomore left-hander Craig Rasmussen penciled in on the lineup card. O'Sullivan has his back out at shortstop.

Rasmussen (1-1, 3.60 ERA, 14 BB, 11 BB in 25 IP), a Hilltop High graduate, has made 26 appearances in two seasons. This is only Rasmussen's second career start, the first coming Feb. 28 in an 8-3 win over University of the Pacific. He got the win, allowing five hits and three runs over five innings with two walks and two strikeouts.

UC Irvine will start right-hander Crosby Slaught (7-0, 4.56 ERA, 48 SO, 19 BB in 71 IP), who has started in each of his 15 appearances this season.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lavigne, Meredith keep Aztecs' hopes alive

IRVINE — Junior right-hander Tyler Lavigne kept San Diego State’s NCAA Regional hopes alive today, pitching the Aztecs to a 4-1 victory over Fresno State that eliminated the defending national champions from the tournament.

Lavigne said he was still feeling the effects of starting two games in four days at last week's Mountain West Conference Tournament.

“I knew I didn’t have my best stuff and I was going to have to locate better,” said Lavigne, who didn’t have the velocity on his pitches that he normally does. There was an upside, however. “Throwing slower helped my sinker move more,” said Lavigne. “I tried as much as possible to pound the strike zone and get ground balls.”

Lavigne (8-2) limited the Bulldogs to five hits and one unearned run over 7 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts at UC Irvine’s Anteater Ballpark. SDSU closer Addison Reed came on to get the final four outs, recording his nation-leading 20th save in 20 opportunities.

SDSU (41-22) will play top-ranked UC Irvine on Sunday in an elimination game at 4 p.m. The winner there stays on the field for an 8 p.m. game against Virginia. The Cavaliers defeated UC Irvine 5-0 in tonight's late game and need just one more victory to win the regional. A loss on Sunday night would force a winner-take-all game on Monday night.

SDSU freshman first baseman Brandon Meredith, who struck out four times in Friday’s game against Virginia, sparked the Aztecs offense, hitting a two-run home run in the first inning and a solo homer in the fifth off Fresno State starting pitcher Matt Morse (4-3). That staked SDSU to a 3-1 lead and the Aztecs added another run in the fifth on a wild pitch.

“It comes down to putting the ball in play and seeing what happens,” Meredith said after putting two balls out of play.

Fresno State (32-30) managed its only run with two outs in the fourth inning when SDSU center fielder Pat Colwell dove for Kenny Wise’s sinking liner and let the ball get past him for a triple that scored Brennan Gowens.

Lavigne allowed only two other runners as far as second base, leaving with two outs in the eighth inning to a rousing ovation from a crowd of some 2,000 fans.

Reed came on and retired all four hitters he faced, ending the game with a strikeout that gave SDSU its first postseason victory since 1990.

“It’s a good win for us,” said SDSU coach Tony Gwynn. “It kind of takes the edge off (Friday’s loss). Today, I thought we played a lot more relaxed.

“Bottom line is we got a W and we get to play tomorrow. The guys are pretty excited about that.”

Friday, May 29, 2009

NAIA World Series: PLNU comes up just short

Point Loma's quest for an NAIA championship ended with an 11-8 loss to Lubbock Christian tonight in the World Series finals at Lewiston, Idaho.

The Sea Lions (45-13) fell behind 5-0 in the first inning before rallying to make a game of it. PLNU was just a run down at 8-7 after scoring three times in the top of the fourth inning, but couldn't overcome Lubbock, which defeated the Sea Lions 5-1 on Thursday night to force the winner-take-all championship game.

There's more on PLNU's runner-up finish in a story right here.

Virginia hands Strasburg his first loss of the season

RECAP

IRVINE — The Virginia Cavaliers did something to San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg today that no one else could do this season.

They beat him.

No. 7-ranked Virginia scored two early runs off Strasburg on the way to a 5-1 victory over the Aztecs in the opening game of the NCAA Regional hosted by UC Irvine.

Strasburg (13-1), his fastball sitting at 97 mph much of the game, struck out 15 and did not walk a batter over seven innings. But he needed two innings to get dialed in. The Aztecs trailed 2-0 by that point and couldn’t muster the offense against Virginia starter Robert Morey (3-0) to make a game of it.

The Aztecs (40-22) meet the loser of tonight’s UC Irvine-Fresno State game on Saturday at 4 p.m. in an elimination game).
With one out in the first inning, Virginia’s Phil Gosselin swung at the first pitch he saw from Strasburg and launched it over the left-field wall and against the Anteater Ballpark scoreboard.

The Cavaliers (44-12-1) added another run in the second inning when Steven Proscia scored with two outs on an infield single to second base. Proscia led off the inning with a single and had moved to third base on two wild pitches by Strasburg.
SDSU made it 2-1 in the eighth inning on a sacrifice fly by Chris Wilson, but the Cavaliers expanded the lead to 5-1 with three runs (two on a homer by Steven Proscia) in the bottom of the eighth.

It was the first loss for Strasburg since a 1-0 defeat to Utah in the 2008 Mountain West Conference Tournament.

PREGAME

NCAA TOURNAMENT — IRVINE REGIONAL
SAN DIEGO STATE (40-21) VS. VIRGINIA (43-12-1)

IRVINE — The 2009 NCAA Tournament gets underway here under a canopy of clouds with temperatures in the mid-60s. UC Irvine has fewer than 1,000 fixed seats, so bleachers were brought in to accommodate the larger crowd. The gathering is dominated with red and black, with perhaps two-thirds of the crowd here in support of the Aztecs. That's no surprise. SDSU fans had about a 90-mile drive while their Virginia counterparts had a 2,550-mile flight. Cavaliers fans — perhaps 50 strong — are adjacent to the team's dugout along the third-base line.

SDSU coach Tony Gwynn announced this morning that ace Stephen Strasburg (13-0, 1.24 ERA) would indeed start against Virginia, which is countering with Robert Morey (2-0. 3.25 ERA).

HERE WE GO

1ST INNING — The Aztecs get runners to second and third with two outs, but Virginia starter Robert Morey strikes out Cory Vaughn swinging on a 2-2 pitch to get out of it. SDSU's Stephen Strasburg strides to the mound in the bottom of the inning and starts with a strikeout of leadoff hitter Jarett Parker. Phil Gosselin jolts the crowd a moment later, however, when he launches the first pitch from Strasburg over the left-field wall and off the scoreboard for a 1-0 lead. It's shocking in a "Hey, you're not supposed to be able to do that off him" kind of way. But it is the fourth HR allowed by Strasburg this season. Virginia's Danny Hultzen and Dan Grovatt follow the homer with singles, but Strasburg gets a strikeout of John Hicks and a fly ball from Tyler Cannon to end the inning. Strasburg tops out at 97 mph in the first inning.

2ND INNING — Morey allows a two-out walk to East Gust, but nothing comes off it. Strasburg makes his own trouble in the bottom of the inning when he throws two wild pitches after Steen Proscia singled to lead off the inning. Strasburg followed with two strikeouts, but Proscia scored to make it 2-0 when Parker beat out a single to second base that Mitch Blackburn took too much time on. That would have ended the inning. It continues and is prolonged further when Strasburg fails to field Gosselin's infield tapper for an error that puts runners at first and third. Strasburg finally strikes out Hultzen to end the inning. He is already at 50 pitches after just two innings.

3RD INNING — Pat Colwell gets things started with a single up the middle, but Morey keeps him there by retiring the next three hitters. The Aztecs have gone down meekly to this point, giving the crowd virtually nothing to get excited about. Strasburg's slow start also has prevented a buzz from building. In the bottom of the third, Strasburg looks more impressive with two strikeouts among three straight hitters retired.

Many in the crowd — including the press box — who haven't seen much of Strasburg this season wonder if he's had a game where he hasn't been dominate from the first pitch. He has. He allowed a leadoff home run at TCU and allowed two runs in the first inning at Utah in a pair of Mountain West Conference games. On both occasions, the opponents were getting on his fastball early. So Strasburg went to the offspeed stuff — much of it thrown in the dirt — and started mowing them down. He allowed just one run over the next seven innings in the game against TCU and pitched six shutout innings against Utah after the two-run first. We'll see if that pattern continues here. The key is whether the Aztecs offense can muster anything. Strasburg's last loss was 1-0 to Utah in the 2008 MWC Tournament.

4TH INNING — Back-to-back singles by Chris Wilson and Gust put runners at the corners with two outs, but Morey gets Ryan O'Sullivan on a tapper back to the mound to end the threat.

5TH INNING — Torres coaxes a one-out walk from Morey, but nothing comes of it. Strasburg gets two strikeouts wrapped around a single to give him 10 strikeouts for the game.

6TH INNING — Morey pitches in and out of trouble. He allows a double to Mitch Blackburn and hits Easton Gust in the foot, but it's all wrapped arund three strikeouts. Strasburg allows an infield single to Proscia with two outs, but gets Franco Valdes swinging to end the inning.

7TH INNING — Virginia coach Brian O'Connor goes to the bullpen and brings in Tyler Wilson to replace Morey and its more of the same for the Aztecs. Wilson retires the side in order, two of the hitters on strikeouts. That's 11 strikeouts for SDSU, including four by freshman first baseman Brandon Meredith. Strasburg's pitch counts move past 120 in the inning, but he doesn't appear any worse for the wear. He strikes out the side, giving him 15 for the game.

8TH INNING — The Aztecs finally get something going when Wilson issues a one-out walk to Vaughn and Blackburn follows with a double down the left-field line to put runners at second and third. Wilson hits a sacrifice fly to center field to bring home Vaughn and make it 2-1. Blackburn moves to third on the play, but the Aztecs can't get him home. Virginia goes to the bullpen again and brings in Matt Packer, who gets out Gust.

Andrew Leary runs in from the SDSU bullpen, meaning Strasburg's day is done.

STRASBURG'S LINE — 7 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 B, 1 SO. His ERA rises to 1.32 while running his season strikeout total to 195 (with 19 BB) in 109 innings.

Leary wraps a couple of fly outs around a single, but then he gives up a two-run homer to left field to Proscia that makes it 4-1. Virginia adds another run after Chase Thomas replaces Leary, making it 5-1 on a single by Parker.

9TH INNING — Virginia closer Kevin Arico came on, struck out O'Sullivan, retired Pat Colwell on a soft liner to second base and got Torres on a grounder to second to end the game.

Strasburg gets the ball today against Virginia

IRVINE — San Diego State's pitcher for today's NCAA Regionals game against Virginia has been shrouded in secrecy all week. In fact, SDSU coach Tony Gwynn was still mulling his decision during yesterday afternoon's practice day at UC Irvine's Anteater Ballpark.

"You will find out in time," said Gwynn. "I had to make the exact same decision last week (in the Mountain West Conference Tournament) and nobody cared. When I am ready to make that decision I will let you know."

That moment finally arrived this morning when the Aztecs announced that ace right-hander Stephen Strasburg will be on the mound against the Cavaliers. First pitch is at 4 p.m. (San Diego time). The game will be broadcast live on ESPNU. The UC Irvine-Fresno State game follows at 8 p.m.

Strasburg (13-0) leads the nation in strikeouts (180) and ERA (1.24). He has walked only 19 batters in 102 innings. He was named first-team All-American and national Player of the Year yesterday by Collegiate Baseball. SDSU closer Addison Reed also was a first-team selection by the newspaper.

There had been discussion all week whether to start Strasburg or junior right-hander Tyler Lavigne (7-2), who started two games over four days in the MWC Tournament.

I spoke with Lavigne on Wednesday before the team boarded a bus for Irvine and he said he was still recovering from the experience. It made me wonder if Lavigne's readiness is what was holding up the decision. If Lavigne could potentially start two games again this weekend, then it made sense to start him today and have the opportunity to bring him back for a possible "if necessary" game on Monday. Strasburg hasn't shown the same recuperative powers and wouldn't have been a candidate to make two starts. Also, in the discussion, of course, was how the pitchers match up against the teams in the four-team regional.

I wouldn't have argued with Lavigne making the start, but I'm glad to see Strasburg get the ball. SDSU has waited 18 years for this opportunity and it's good to go with your best in the opener. Besides, while UC Irvine is ranked No. 1 in the nation and Fresno State is the defending national champion, Virginia appears to have the best offensive club (batting .333 as a team while averaging 8.32 runs per game) in the bracket. This will be Strasburg's biggest challenge.

College baseball fans around the country will get to see what San Diegans have been witness to throughout the season. Greatness. Strasburg will get prime time exposure on the East Coast, whetting the appetites of Washington Nationals fans who can't wait to see that No. 1 pick used on June 9 for the 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior right-hander.

By the way, Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said the Cavaliers will start sophomore right-hander Robert Morey ()2-0, 3.25 ERA, 70 SO in 52.2 IP). Morey appeared in 15 games this season, but made only six starts. Opponents have batted .207 against him.

Here is Tournament Central for the Irvine Regional.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

NAIA World Series: PLNU unable to seal the deal

After 10 straight victories, Point Loma Nazarene hit a bump in the road today in a 5-1 loss to Lubbock Christian at the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.

The Sea Lions (45-12) could have claimed the championship with a victory. Instead, they face a rematch tonight against Lubbock Christian (51-8) with the title going to the winner.

Read more about today's game right here.

D-II CWS: Great UCSD run comes to an end

An incredible season for UCSD came to an improbable end today in the Division II College World Series when Emporia State's Kellen Lane hit his first career homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to give Emporia State a 5-3 victory over the Tritons at the USA Training Complex in Cary, N.C.

UCSD (41-15) was eliminated with the loss. Emporia State (49-13) advances to Saturday's national championship game against the winner of the Belmont Abbey-Lynn game.

A complete writeup on the game is right here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

NAIA World Series: PLNU one win from title

Point Loma Nazarene is one win away from the NAIA World Series championship after smashing five home runs — two by Kaohi Downing — in tonight's 8-6 victory over Lee University in Lewiston, Idaho.

More details on the game are expected to be posted here.

PLNU (45-11) plays Lubbock Christian on Thursday in the title game.

D-II CWS: UCSD rocks Dowling in elimination game

UCSD avenged an earlier loss to Dowling today in the Division II College World Series, pounding out 23 hits in a 13-1 win at the USA Baseball Complex in Cary, N.C.

Trevor Decker pitched a three-hitter for the Tritons (41-14), who are one of four teams still alive in the double-elimination tournanent.

No. 1-ranked UCSD plays Emporia State on Thursday at noon (San Diego time).

More details of the big win are right here.

SDSU's pitching dilemma: Strasburg or Lavigne?

San Diego State is taking its sweet time naming a starting pitcher for Friday's NCAA Regionals game against Virginia.

No. 1 starter Stephen Strasburg (13-0) or No. 2 starter Tyler Lavigne (7-2)?

Inquiring minds are eager for an answer.

If it seems like starting Strasburg is a no-brainer, consider that Lavigne was able to pitch — and pitch well — on just two days' rest in last week's Mountain West Conference Tournament. Strasburg has not shown the same recuperative powers. So going with Lavigne against the Cavaliers and saving Strasburg for Saturday's game may give SDSU its best chance of success.

This isn't exactly what the programmers at ESPN had in mind when they selected the Irvine Regional as one of the two — among 16 four-team regionals — to televise this weekend on ESPNU. Or didn't you notice that the SDSU-Virginia game is scheduled for 4 p.m., which, if my math is correct, corresponds to 7 p.m. on the East Coast.

Prime time.

That isn't SDSU coach Tony Gwynn's concern.

"We're doing what's best for San Diego State," said Gwynn. "We're going up there to win. We're not going up there just to make an appearance for the first time in 18 years. We're going up there to try to win and whatever situation puts San Diego State in the best position to win, that's what we're going to do. And honestly we haven't decided yet. You try to get your scouting reports, you try to look at rosters, you try to look at matchups, look at what kind of success they've had, who they've played; all those things go into it.

"Obviously Stephen (Strasburg) is our horse, but I think we can win with Tyler Lavigne. We'll see. My mind isn't made up on it. (Pitching coach) Rusty Filter came to my office this morning and we talked about it for about 20 minutes. I know Stephen wants the ball, but Tyler Lavigne wants the ball, too. It's about trying to set it up so it puts us in the best position to win."

Strasburg said it doesn't matter to him if he pitches Friday or Saturday.

"No, no preference," he said. "We're going to have to win at least two games. Whichever game I'm pitching, I'm going to give it everything I have. I'm confident with the other pitchers that we have and the hitters that we have that if we play our best baseball we should be able to get the job done."

Strasburg said the Aztecs' mindset will be one of the keys to advancing.

"Obviously we have to play our best baseball," said Strasburg. "We've played 61 games so far this year and I think we still have yet to play our best game. We need to go out there and play loose and really learn from what happened at the conference tournament championship. I thought at some point as a team we were playing not to lose instead of playing to win. That's what we're going to go do this weekend."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

UCSD, PLNU keep championship hopes alive

Top-ranked UCSD took a big early lead in an elimination game at the NCAA Division II College World Series, then survived a ninth-inning grand slam for an 8-6 win over No. 2 West Chester at the USA Training Complex in Cary, N.C.

UCSD's Matt Rossman (8-2) got the win, but not until reliever Ryland Macfadyen recorded the final out. Macfadyen came on with the bases loaded and two outs. He gave up a bases-loaded homer to Matt Baer before getting Kevin McGrath on a grounder to end the game.

Here's the game recap here.

Point Loma Nazarene also kept its national title hopes alive as Brandon Dixon pitched a seven-hitter in a 2-1 win over Lubbock Christian in the NAIA World Series at Lewiston, ID. There's more on the game right here.

The Sea Lions (44-11), who are the only team still undefeated in the tournament, play Lee University on Wednesday.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Aztecs are in! SDSU faces Virginia

San Diego State received its first NCAA Regionals bid in 18 years this morning, gaining admittance into the 64-team field in the four-team Irvine Regional.

The Aztecs (40-21) received the No. 3 seed and will play No. 2 seed Virginia (43-12-1), the ACC Tournament champion, in the opening game of the double-elimination regional. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m. at UCI's Anteater Ballpark. The game is to be televised by ESPNU.

In the other matchup, No. 1 seed UC Irvine (43-13), the top-ranked team in the nation meets No. 4 seed Fresno State (32-28), the defending national champion. That game is scheduled for 8 p.m.

The winner of the Irvine Regional faces the winner of the Oxford Regional (the participants are #1 Mississippi, #2 Missouri, #3 Western Kentucky and #4 Monmouth) in next week's Super Regionals, which is a best-of-three format. The eight Super Regionals winners advance to the College World Series, which is June 13-24 in Omaha, Neb.

Information for the Irvine Regional is right here.

The printable 64-team bracket is right here for those who want to follow along at home.

There's an interactive bracket right here.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

D-II CWS: UCSD falls to Dowling in opener

Top-ranked UCSD was brimming with enthusiasm and loaded with confidence coming into the NCAA Division II College World Series in Cary, N.C.

No. 21-ranked Dowling put a damper on that.

Make that Dowling's Gabriel Duran (10-2), who pitched a three-hitter today in a 3-1 win over the Tritons at the USA Baseball Training Complex. Dowling struck out four, walked two, overcame two errors and allowed only an unearned run in the sixth inning.

UCSD's Tim Shibuya (8-5) allowed the three runs — two in the fourth and one in the eighth — over 7 2/3 innings.

There are more details on the game here.

UCSD (39-14) meets West Chester (46-10) on Tuesday in a losers' bracket game. All of the sudden the Tritons must win to keep a dream season from coming to an abrupt end in the double-elimination tournament.

Here's the CWS bracket right here.

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.

Aaugh! Indeed.

(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.

Nope.

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.

Friday, May 22, 2009

MWC Tournament: Utah forces deciding game

San Diego State didn't have a comeback in it tonight against Utah, losing 4-1 to the Utes in the Mountain West Conference Tournament at Forth Worth, Texas.

So the Aztecs (40-20) and Utes (25-29) will come back to the field at TCU's Lupton Stadium on Saturday at 11 a.m. (San Diego time) to play for all the marbles. The winner takes the MWC's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.

SDSU right-hander Tyler Lavigne (7-2) pitched admirably on two-days' rest, pitching into the eighth inning before leaving with Utah ahead 2-1. Reliever Andrew Leary allowed two runs over the final two innings. Three Utah pitchers — normally all starters for the Utes — limited SDSU to five hits and one fourth-inning run.

I would expect Ryan O'Sullivan to start for the Aztecs since he has not yet pitched in the tournament. O'Sullivan was 4-3 during the regular season with a 5.85 ERA. The freshman right-hander from Valhalla High has been muc improved late in the season, going 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA in his last four starts.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

MWC Tournament: Aztecs' amazing comeback

San Diego State rallied for eight runs in the eighth inning and an amazing 9-8 victory over Utah tonight in the Mountain West Conference Tournament at TCU's Lupton Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.

SDSU advances to Friday night's MWC Tournament finals — one win away from an automatic berth to the NCAA Regionals — awaiting the winner of an elimination game between Utah and TCU. First pitch is 5 p.m. (San Diego time). Junior right-hander Tyler Lavigne, who beat UNLV in Tuesday's opener, has asked for the ball on two days' rest, and it appears he is going to get it. The leash on Lavigne will be short. The Aztecs want to win it here and now, even though they would have another crack at the title on Saturday in the double-elimination event if they come up short on Friday.

SDSU starting pitcher Jon Berger pitched four hitless innings tonight against Utah and got two quick outs in the fifth before running into trouble when the Utes scored five runs. Utah stretched its lead to 8-1 heading into the bottom of the eighth and it seemed the Aztecs' were on their way to another disappointing tournament finish.

Instead, SDSU mounted the biggest comeback of a season that has been full of them.

The Aztecs (40-19) sent 13 men to the plate in the eighth. Ryan O'Sullivan opened the inning with a single. When O'Sullivan's turn in the order came back around, he singled again to drive in two runs that made it 8-8. Pat Colwell followed with a double to left-center that gave the Aztecs the lead.

In the ninth, SDSU closer Addison Reed came on and retired the Utes without incident for his nation-leading 19th save in 19 opportunities.

SDSU reached the MWC Tournament finals each of the conference's first five years, but this is the first time the Aztecs have reached thefinals since 2004. SDSU won the inaugural MWC Tournament in 2000, although the MWC did not receive an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament that season and the Aztecs were shunned by the selection committee. SDSU has not been to an NCAA Regional since 1991.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

MWC Tournament: SDSU edges New Mexico 2-1

RECAP
San Diego State ace Stephen Strasburg pitched 7 2/3 shutout innings to lead the Aztecs to a 2-1 win over New Mexico this afternoon in the Mountain West Conference Tournament at TCU's Lupton Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.

Amid the celebration of the Aztecs (39-19) advancing to Thursday's winner bracket semifinals, however, was what internet broadcasters Chris Ello and Craig Elsten speculated was an oblique muscle injury that forced Strasburg from the game. Strasburg grabbed his left side after walking New Mexico's Adam Courcha on four pitches (Strasburg's only walk) and throwing another ball when Daniel Gonzalez came to the plate with two outs in the eighth inning. Strasburg was relieved moments later by SDSU pitching coach Rusty Filter and replaced by closer Addison Reed.

After the game, Filter said it was only a cramp in Strasburg's lower back and that he was fine after getting some fluids for hydration.

"He just cramped up in his back," Filter told Baseball America's Aaron Fitt. "He was coming out in one more batter anyway. He threw one more pitch, and enough was enough. He’s fine — he’ll be ready to go. He’s back at the hotel bouncing around like college kids do."

Strasburg was reportedly at 90 pitches when he departed. The bright side of coming out early and not being injured is that Strasburg potentially could be available for an inning or two of relief if the Aztecs were to need him on Friday or Saturday.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

On Thursday night, SDSU plays No. 6 seed Utah, which upset top-seeded TCU tonight by a 9-7 score, with the winner there advancing to the tournament finals. The tournament champion receives the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Regionals.

Strasburg (13-0) allowed three hits over 7 2/3 innings before leaving. Strasburg struck out a season-low six batters and walked one. He lowered his ERA to 1.24 and raised his season strikeout total to 180 with 19 walks in 102 innings pitched.

SDSU scored the game's first run on a two-out double by Mitch Blackburn in the sixth inning. The Aztecs made it 2-0 in the ninth when Easton Gust came home from third base on a wild pitch.

The insurance run made all the difference in the bottom of the ninth when New Mexico rallied for a run off Reed with two outs. Reed hit a batter to load the bases before left fielder Josh Chasse caught a fly ball in foul territory to end the game.

Reed set an SDSU single-season record with his 18th save (in 18 opportunities).

HERE WE GO

1ST INNING — New Mexico senior left-hander John Hesketh gets off to a strong start, retiring Pat Colwell and Brandon Decker on grounders to second base before striking out Brandon Meredith swinging. San Diego State's Stephen Strasburg opens the bottom of the inning by getting MWC Player of the Year Mike Brownstein looking at strike three. Max Willett follows with an infield single to second base, but Strasburg gets Ryan Honeycutt on a popup back to the mound. The inning ends when SDSU catcher Erik Castro cuts down Willett trying to steal second base.

2ND INNING — Three up and three down again for the Aztecs, whose only ball out of the infield is Cory Vaughn's fly out to left field. Strasburg also retires the Lobos in order, although all three hitters avoid striking out.

3RD INNING — Chris Wilson pops up to second, Easton Gust grounds out to first and Ryan O'Sullivan strikes out looking as Hesketh makes it one time through the SDSU lineup without allowing a baserunner. Strasburg also faces the minimum the first time through the New Mexico batting order, getting Justin Howard swinging, Adam Courcha looking and Daniel Gonzalez on a fly ball down the right-field line.

4TH INNING — Colwell gets the inning started with a single and the Aztecs load the bases with two outs, but Hesketh gets Mitch Blackburn on a ball hit back to the mound to end the threat. Strasburg continues to mow, getting a pair of grounders and a fly ball to right field to retire the side in order again.

5TH INNING — O'Sullivan gets a two-out single off Hesketh, but the Aztecs can't move him along. Rafael Neda singles to right to open the bottom of the inning off Strasburg and the Lobos bunt him over to second base. But Strasburg gets a groundout and a flyout and returns to the dugout.

6TH INNING — This game is shaping just like last month's Strasburg-Hesketh encounter, a 1-0 SDSU victory in which Strasburg went the distance and struck out 14. Who blinks first this time? New Mexico. Meredith coaxes a one-out walk and then Castro singles to right-center to put runners at the corners. Vaughn pops up to second for the second out, but Blackburn doubles down the left-field line to score Meredith and give the Aztecs a 1-0. Strasburg has a run to work with now and he strikes out both Corcha and Gonzalez looking before Brownstein lines out to O'Sullivan at shortstop.

7TH INNING — Hesketh exits after allowing a leadoff single to Gust and a sacrifice bunt by O'Sullivan. Reliever Will Kerr gets out of the inning after Colwell walks when pinch hitter Jomel Torres hits into a doubleplay. Strasburg allows a one-out single to Honeycutt, but New Mexico can't make anything of it.

8TH INNING — New Mexico will need two more relievers to get through the inning. They do so without allowing a run, stranding runners at second and third when Wilson strikes out to end the inning. Strasburg gets a fly out and a strikeout before walking Courcha. The All-American has allowed but three hits over 7 2/3 shutout innings, and that's going to be enough on this day. It appears Strasburg has some sort of injury. Play-by-play broadcaster Craig Elsten suggests that it may be a strained oblique muscle. SDSU pitching coach Rusty Filter comes to the mound and calls for closer Addison Reed. Gonzalez fouls off four straight pitches before striking out to end the inning.

9TH INNING — With the Aztecs looking for insurance, Gust opens the inning with a single to right-center. O'Sullivan strikes out swinging before Colwell single to right to put runners at the corners. Colwell steals second to put two runners in scoring position, but then Josh Chasse looks at strike three for the second out. Opportunity appears on the verge of being lost when New Mexico reliever Cole White helps the SDSU cause with a wild pitch that allows Gust to score and make it 2-0.

The Aztecs are three outs away from advancing to a winner's bracket game against the winner of tonight's TCU/Utah game. Reed is 17-for-17 in saves this season, which leads the nation. He goes after the top of the Lobos lineup. Brownstein steps in and is quickly in an 0-2 hole. He works the count to 3-2 before grounding to shortstop O'Sullivan, who backhands a ball in the hole and throws out Brownstein on a ball first baseman Meredith digs out of the dirt. Reed strikes out Willett on a 1-2 pitch for the second out. Pinch hitter Cameron Smith comes to the plate as the Lobos' last chance. Reed starts Smith with a ball, then gets two straight strikes. New Mexico is down to its last strike. But Smith watches two balls load the count before singling to center field on a ball that takes a bad hop over the glove of second baseman Blackburn. Neda follows with another single and just like that the Lobos have the tying runs aboard. . Filter visits Reed at the mound. The sophomore right-hander is perfect in save situations this season, but it hasn't always been clean. Reed again gets ahead in the count 1-2 on New Mexico's Kevin Atkinson and the Lobos are again down to their final strike. But Atkinson singles to make it 2-1. Brian Cavazos-Galvez is now the batter for New Mexico. Reed gets him 0-2, then wastes a pitch for a ball. Then Reed hits Cavazos-Galvez with an inside pitch and the bases are loaded. Howard steps up with a chance to win the game with a single. With a 1-1 count, Howard sends a foul fly to left field, Chasse drifts over and gloves it for the final out. It is Reed's school-record 18th save and it couldn't have come in a more pressure-packed situation.

PREGAME
San Diego State sends ace right-hander Stephen Strasburg (12-0, 1.34 ERA, 174 SO, 18 BB in 94.1 IP) to the mound this afternoon on the second day of the Mountain West Conference Tournament in Fort Worth, Texas.

Strasburg faces No. 2 seed New Mexico, a team he beat last month in Albuquerque with a six-hit shutout. He struck out 14 in the 1-0 win. New Mexico is expeted to counter today with senior left-hander John Hesketh (6-3, 3.61 ERA), who was the hard-luck loser against Strasburg last month.

The winner of today's game plays tonight's TCU/Utah winner on Thursday. The winner of that game advances to the tournament finals.

There should be a good subplot to this SDSU-New Mexico game because Strasburg puncutuated last month's victory over New Mexico with a demonstrative fist pump that didn't sit too well with the Lobos and coach Ray Birmingham. They had only themselves to blame, especially the had coach. Birmingham made some comments about Strasburg during game week — and before — and the pitcher responded with one of his most dominating — and emotional — wins of the season.

Here's part of what Birmingham said: “There’s a guy down in San Diego State rumored to be worth $25 million. When he comes down here, we’re going to make him look like 25 bucks.”

SDSU's Daily Aztec had a good story on the comments and commotion.

I believe Birmingham is a good coach — he took over last season at New Mexico following a stellar junior college coaching career and led the Lobos to one of their best seasons — but he tends to spike himself by putting his foot in his mouth. He's got some good ol' boy in him, so maybe Birmingham's comments came across better spoken than in print. The comments didn't seem to bring forth what he meant by the time they got back to Strasburg. In good ol' boy terms, "Why poke a stick at a rabid dog?"

We'll see today if both sides have put it all behind them or if some bad blood bubbles up in today's game.

SDSU moved up to #41 in RPI after yesterday's 12-1 win over UNLV, so the Aztecs are pretty well positioned for an at-large berth to the NCAA Regionals should they miss out on the automatic berth being award to the MWC Tournament champion.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

MWC Tournament: SDSU opens with win over UNLV

San Diego State blew open a close game with a seven-run eighth inning against UNLV tonight in the first round of the Mountain West Conference Tournament on the way to a 12-1 win at Lupton Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.

The double-elimination tournament opened today with an upset, No. 6 seed Utah beating No. 3 seed BYU 2-1 in 10 innings.

That means the No. 5 seed Aztecs (38-19) will play No. 2 seed New Mexico, which received a first-round bye, on Wednesday at 1 p.m. (San Diego time) in one winner's bracket game and Utah will play top-seeded TCU in the other winner's bracket game. Also, BYU plays UNLV in an elimination game.

SDSU starter Tyler Lavigne (left) struggled early with his control against UNLV, but the junior right-hander allowed just one run and three hits over 7 2/3 innings. Lavigne (7-1) walked four and struck out eight.

Erik Castro, Cory Vaughn and Ryan O'Sullivan drove in two runs apiece for the Aztecs. Castro was 3-for-4, raising his team-high average to .395.

SDSU ace Stephen Strasburg (12-0, 1.34 ERA, 174 SO, 19 BB) is expected to start for the Aztecs against New Mexico. Strasburg pitched a shutout with 14 strikeouts in a 1-0 win over the Lobos last month in Albuquerque.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Strasburg leads six Aztecs earning MWC honors

San Diego State junior right-hander Stephen Strasburg was named Mountain West Conference Pitcher of the Year for the second straight year during a banquet tonight in Fort Worth, Texas, on the eve of the MWC Tournament, which is being hosted by TCU.

Strasburg was one of six Aztecs players earning all-conference recognition. SDSU outfielder Cory Vaughn and closer Addison Reed joined Strasburg on the first team and first baseman Brandon Meredith, catcher/third baseman Erik Castro and pitcher Tyler Lavigne were selected on the second team.

New Mexico second baseman Mike Brownstein was selected MWC Player of the Year and TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle was selected Coach of the Year. Utah catcher C.J. Cron was selected Freshman of the Year, although he did not appear on either the first or second teams. Meredith and TCU shortstop Taylor Featherston were the only freshmen listed, both as second-team selections.

The complete all-conference teams are right here.

The Aztecs (37-19) open the six-team, double-elimination tournament on Tuesday at 6 p.m. (San Diego time) against UNLV (26-30).

Here's Tournament Central on the MWC Web site, which includes the tournament schedule, gametracker, rosters, stats, quotes, etc.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

UCSD headed to Division II College World Series

With a trip to the Division II College World Series hanging in the balance, UCSD turned a tie game into a runaway with eight runs in the top of the ninth inning for a 12-4 victory over Sonoma State and the NCAA Division II West Regional title at Keizer, Ore.

The victory sends the No.2-ranked Tritons (39-13) to the College World Series, which is being hosted at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. The event is May 23-30. The Tritons open the eight-team, double-elimination tournament on Sunday at 10 a.m. (San Diego time) against East champion Dowling (34-16).

Here's the tournament bracket.

Here's the NCAA Division II championship page.

Here's the Division II championship history if you're interested.

More details on today's big win are right here.

This is UCSD's first trip to the CWS in Division II, although coach Dan O'Brien was part of the 1994 Tritons team that reached the Division III College World Series.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

SDSU beats Utah in a barn burner

With any opportunity for San Diego State to get a top seed in the Mountain West Conference Tournament gone after Friday's 15-5 loss to Utah, I didn't expect much from today's regular season finale against the Utes.

All we got was a 10-9 SDSU win in 12 innings that included:

— Two home runs from freshman Ryan O'Sullivan — the second a three-run homer that tied the game 7-7 in the ninth inning — who moved from shortstop to the mound with two outs and the bases loaded in the 12th to get the final out for his first collegiate save.

— A controversial call in the seventh inning that led to coach Tony Gwynn's ejection, the third time he's been ejected in his seven-year coaching career. Gwynn was ejected after protesting a call on a ground ball hit by Austine Jones down the third-base that landed in foul territory but was ruled to have gone over the third-base bag. It came with the bases loaded, drove in three runs and boosted Utah's lead from 4-3 to 7-3. "That ball was five feet foul," Gwynn told the plate umpire before returning to the SDSU dugout, where further comment led to the coach's ejection.

— 21 of the 25 players on the traveling roster played in the game, nine pitchers among them.

— The 37th victory of the season, the most during the Gwynn era.

Tomorrow the Aztecs (37-19) fly to Fort Worth, Texas, where TCU will be hosting the MWC Tournament. No. 4 seed SDSU will play No. 5 seed UNLV on Tuesday in their first tournament game. Tyler Lavigne (6-1, 3.62 ERA) was held back from today's game so he could start Tuesday. SDSU ace Stephen Strasburg (12-0, 1.34 ERA) will pitch Wednesday.

Here's the MWC Tournament bracket as well as championship central from the MWC site.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Loss to Utah costs Aztecs No. 2 seed

Watching this evening's San Diego State-Utah game unfold reminded me of control tower supervisor Steve McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges) in the movie Airplane! At various times in the movie, McCroskey said he picked the wrong week to quit drinking, smoking, sniffing glue and taking amphetamines. It's no wonder he jumped out a window toward the end of the film.

SDSU picked the wrong day to play its worst game of the season.

SDSU committed five errors and five Aztecs pitchers were pounded for 16 hits tonight in a 15-5 Mountain West Conference loss to the Utes at Lindquist Field in Ogden, Utah.

The Aztecs' postseason hopes didn't go out the window with the loss, but the road to the postseason did become longer. SDSU came into the three-game series against Utah needing a sweep to assure themselves of second place in the MWC.

So much for second.

The significance is that the top two teams in the Mountain West Conference receive first-round byes in next week's MWC Tournament, which is being hosted by TCU. The bye means the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the double-elimination event could play just three games, win them all, and claim the championship and an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. Everyone else will use valuable pitching before the top two teams have even taken the field.

The Horned Frogs have clinched their fourth straight regular season conference championship. By the way, TCU has only been in the MWC four years. Here's how the standings look:

TCU 14-5 .737
BYU 14-8 .636
New Mexico 14-8 .636
SDSU 14-9 .609

TCU, New Mexico and SDSU all have one game remaining. The best the Aztecs can now do is finish 15-9, which is a .625 winning percentage. That means SDSU will finish either third or fourth in the conference.

The reason winning percentage is being used to determine the champion is because, as usual, several games were lost to weather and not made up, so the teams are not playing the same number of games. TCU had four games cancelled (including an entire series against Air Force), BYU had two cancelled and New Mexico had one cancelled.

Tonight's loss means the SDSU coaching staff will probably be up late tonight trying to decide who to start on the mound in Saturday's finale against Utah. The game doesn't mean much. Finishing third or fourth doesn't really impact tournament seeding (It means playing either No. 5 seed UNLV or No. 6 seed Utah on Tuesday in a first-round game), although every victory is meaningful when it comes to at-large consideration for he postseason.

Here's the big question: Do you start Tyler Lavigne (6-1, 3.62 ERA) in Saturday's game, or save him now for Tuesday's tournament opener? Lavigne has been the Aztecs' second best pitcher this season. If Lavigne goes on Saturday, then he won't be available until Thursday or Friday next week.

I would save Lavigne for Tuesday, not that anyone asked.

SDSU ace Stephen Strasburg is expected to start Wednesday's game.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Strasburg improves to 12-0 as SDSU routs Utah

RECAP
Utah stunned Stephen Strasburg with two runs in the first inning — with a walk, a triple and an infield single — but it was all Aztecs thereafter as San Diego State scored 11 unanswered runs for an 11-2 Mountain West Conference victory over the Utes in a game played before 1,685 at Lindquist Field in Ogden, Utah.

Strasburg (12-0) remains unbeaten, allowing six hits with one walk and 10 strikeouts over seven innings. Strasburg's ERA rises a tad to 1.34. He increases his national lead in strikeouts to 174, against 18 walks, in 94.1 innings pitched. Strasburg's fastball touched 98 mph, but he got most of his strikeouts tonight with his slider, much as he did in last year's 23-strikeout game against the Utes. Strasburg wasn't nearly as dominating as he has been this season, but he got better as the game went on and was tough when he had to be. In the fourth inning, he strands a runner at third base with no outs. In the sixth, he strands runners at second and third with no outs. In the seventh, he strikes out the side.

Strasburg is now one win away from equaling the SDSU record of 13 wins set by Bill Blount in 1983. Strasburg will have an opportunity to match the record in next week's Mountain West Conference Tournament at TCU.

Catcher Erik Castro's two-run homer in the fifth inning gave the Aztecs a 4-2 lead and they never looked back on the way to their sixth straight win. SDSU (36-18, 14-8 MWC) drew even with BYU for second place in the conference. The Aztecs must win their next two games against the Utes to assure a second-place finish. Lose one of the games and BYU will finish percentage points ahead of the Aztecs for second. New Mexico also could pass SDSU in the standings. The top two teams in the MWC receive first-round byes in the tournament. The tournament champion receives an automatic berth to the NCAA Regionals.

SDSU set a record for season wins (36) during the Tony Gwynn era and the victory moved Gwynn over .500 in his career (209-208) for the first time since the 2005 season. The Aztecs' victory total is just four shy of national leaders LSU and Coastal Carolina.

The Aztecs are trying to position themselves for an at-large berth should they miss out on the automatic. They came into the series with an RPI of 38. Anything below 45 usually means a team can breathe easy. Sweeping Utah would get SDSU to 38 wins, but it also will cost them in RPI since the Utes are so low (128). If SDSU can get to 40 wins during the MWC Tournament, they should be fine. Reaching the tournament finals would be even better.

SDSU is aiming for its first postseason appearance since 1991. SDSU's 2000 team won the MWC Tournament, but it was the first year of the conference, no automatic berth was available and the Aztecs were left out.

Bids to host an NCAA regional or super regional are due tomorrow. SDSU officials have said they will bid, although it is a longshot for the Aztecs to host. It appears the West Coast will get three bids and they are expected to be awarded to No. 1-ranked UC Irvine, No. 3-ranked Arizona State and No. 5-ranked Cal State Fullerton.


HERE WE GO

1ST INNING — SDSU loaded the bases with one out, but the Aztecs weren't able to make anything of the opportunity when Cory Vaughn hit into an inning-ending double play. Strasburg, who is walking fewer than two batters a game this season, walks the first batter he faces — Utah leadoff hitter Corey Shimada. Shimada is bunted to second before teammate Nick Kuroczko triples to make it 1-0. C.J. Cron then follows with an infield single to second base and it's 2-0 Utes. It is the first runs scored in 17 innings against Strasburg, who had pitched 21 straight innings on the road without allowing a run. It is the first time the Aztecs have trailed with Strasburg on the mound in 64 innings. Strasburg finally gets out of the inning with a groundout and his first strikeout of the game.

2ND INNING — SDSU's Mitch Blackburn leads off the inning with a single off Utah starter Brian Budrow. Blackburn is caught stealing, however. Then Easton Gust strikes out and Brandon Decker flies out. So much for that. Let's see what Strasburg has as he returns to the mound. The 6-foot-5 right-hander seems more himself, wrapping strikeouts of Cooper Blanc and Michael Beltran around Green's groundout to third base.

3RD INNING — Ryan O'Sullivan opens the inning by looking at strike three from Budrow, who then walks Pat Colwell. The walk quickly comes back to bite him when Jomel Torres doubles to right-center and Colwell comes around to score and make it 2-1. Torres moves to third base on a wild pitch, but Brandon Meredith strikes out and so does Erik Castro and that's it for the Aztecs. Strasburg, whose velocity has topped out at 98 mph to this point, allows a one-out single to Tyler Yagi but gets a double play to get out of the inning.

4TH INNING — The Aztecs get Budrow on the ropes again, putting Vaughn and Blackburn at second and third on a pair of singles and a sacrifice bunt by Gust. Decker grounds out to second base to score Vaughn and make it 2-2 before Budrow can get out of the inning. Strasburg walks the tightrope in the bottom of the inning, allowing a leadoff double to Cron, who moves to third on a wild pitch. Strasburg rises to the challenge as he has all season, however, striking out Devin Walker and Austin Jones before Blanc flies out to right to strand Cron at third.

5TH INNING — Colwell singles to center to put the leadoff hitter on for SDSU for the fourth time in five innings. The Aztecs are on the verge of squandering another opportunity when Castro hits a two-out pitch to left-center for his 10th homer of the season. It's the third straight game in which Castro has homered and ties him with Vaughn for the team lead in homers. More importantly, it gives SDSU a 4-2 lead. Strasburg retires the side in order for just the second time in five innings.

6TH INNING — SDSU goes down in order on three straight infield grounders. Strasburg gets Yagi looking at a slider for the first out of the inning. It is Strasburg's seventh strikeout, all of them coming on sliders according to SDSU play-by-play man Chris Ello. The slider is what Strasburg used effectively against the Utes in last year's 23-strikeout game. Trouble lurks again when Kuroczko singles to center and Cron singles to left (his third hit in the game off Strasburg). Both runners move up on a wild pitch, but Strasburg bows his neck again by retiring Walker on a fly to left and Jones on a fly to center to end the inning.

7TH INNING — O'Sullivan leads off with a walk, bringing Utah coach Bill Kinneberg out to the mound to ask Budrow for the ball. Greg Krause takes over for the Utes. Krause doesn't exactly strike fear in a hitter since they're batting .309 off him. Colwell flies out to right field before Torres singles to right to put runners at the corners. The Aztecs make it 5-2 when Meredith's groundout to shortstop scores O'Sullivan. Torres moves to second on the play, which leaves first base open. The bag is quickly filled when Castro is intentionally walked. Castro homered in his last at-bat, but the Utes would rather face Vaughn? He has more power than anyone on the club, although he's gone eight games since his last homer. Krause keeps Vaughn in the yard, but the sophomore hits a hanging curveball for an RBI single to right. The hit ends an 0-for-7 stretch with runners in scoring position and gives the Aztecs a 6-2 lead.

Strasburg comes out in the bottom of the inning better than ever. It must have been the rousing version of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." He strikes out Blanc and Green looking, then gets Beltran swinging to strike out the side for the first time. That's 10 strikeouts now, the 12th time in 13 games that Strasburg has reached double digits in Ks.

8TH INNING — Tyler Anderson replaces Krause on the mound for the Utes and, boy, does he get into trouble. Gust hits a leadoff single and Decker reaches on an error while trying to bunt Gust over. O'Sullivan then advances the runners with a bunt, so Utah intentionally walks Colwell to set up the double play. The Aztecs refuse to cooperate, singles by Torres, Meredith and Castro producing three runs and a 9-2 lead. Reliever Robert Chimpky comes in for Andersen. SDSU adds two more runs before the inning ends to make it 11-2.

The big inning makes it pointless to bring back Strasburg for another inning, especially since he's expected to throw a day early (Wednesday) in next week's MWC Tournament. Kegan Sharp comes on for Strasburg, whose line is 7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 10 SO. Strasburg is in line to improve to 12-0. His ERA rises slightly to 1.34. He now has 174 strikeouts on the season with 18 walks in 94.1 IP. Sharp looks sharp in the inning, retiring the Utes in order on a strikeout and two infield grounders.

9TH INNING — The Aztecs go quickly, perhaps eager to get this over with secure in victory with a nine-run lead. Sharp finishes off the Utes, getting Blanc swinging at strike three to end the game.

PREGAME

San Diego State opens a three-game series at Utah on Thursday evening needing a three-game sweep to assure the Aztecs of second place in the Mountain West Conference. The top two teams in the regular season receive a first-round bye, saving valuable pitching in the double-elimination tournament being hosted next week by TCU. The tournament winner receives the MWC's automatic berth to the NCAA Regionals.

SDSU sends all-Everything right-hander Stephen Strasburg (11-0, 1.28 ERA, 164 SO, 17 BB in 87.1 IP) to the mound against the Utes. Strasburg is coming off last week's no-hitter against Air Force. He struck out 23 batters in a regular-season game last season against Utah. The Utes would probably like to focus more on their 1-0 win over Strasburg and the Aztecs in the MWC Tournament. Utah sends Brian Budrow (4-4, 5.45 ERA) to the mound.

SDSU (35-18, 13-8) enters the series in third place in the MWC, trailing TCU 12-5 (which has three games remaining) and BYU 14-8 (which has completed conference play). The conference standings will be determined by winning percentage because several teams have had games cancelled because of weather. Utah (20-26, 7-14) is in sixth place in the conference.

The game — and series — is being played in Ogden, Utah, at Lindquist Field, home of the Class A Ogden Raptors (Dodgers affiliate). Utah shares it's field in Salt Lake City with the Triple A Salt Lake City Bees (Angels affiliate) and both teams were scheduled to be at home this weekend, so the Utes moved over to Ogden for the series.

Monday, May 11, 2009

USD faces early ending to season

USD (28-25) travels to UC Irvine on Tuesday for a game against the Anteaters that will wrap up not only the regular season but the 2009 season itself. It is an early ending for a program that has become accustomed to postseason appearances.

The Toreros were torpedoed by injuries to their top two pitchers — Sammy Solis and Kyle Blair — and four position players — center fielder Kevin Muno, third baseman Victor Solis, first baseman Jose Valerio and infielder Steven Chatwood — which explains, at least in part, how the team staggered down the stretch.

USD opened West Coast Conference play by winning its first six games. The Toreros went 5-10 the rest of the way, however, and won't be around to defend their back-to-back WCC championships. Gonzaga and Loyola Marymount will meet in two weeks to determine the conference's automatic entrant in the NCAA Tournament.

This is the first time in 10 seasons that USD has failed to reach the 30-win plateau and the first time in four years the Toreros will miss the postseason.

UCSD is No. 1 seed in West Regional

UCSD received the top seed in the Division II NCAA West Regional, a four-team get together in Keizer, Ore., in which everyone is pretty familiar with each other. Three of the teams are members of the California Collegiate Athletic Association and just spent the weekend playing each other in the CCAA Tournament won by the Tritons.

The Tritons (34-21) play No .4 seed Cal State Dominguez Hills and No. 2 seed Western Oregon (33-12) plays No. 3 seed Sonoma State (32-14) in Thursday's opening games of the double elimination tournament. The tournament schedule is right here.

UCSD comes into the tournament having won nine of 10 games, including three straight (one against CS Dominguez Hills and two against Sonoma State) in the CCAA Tournament. UCSD is 3-2 against Dominguez Hills, 3-3 against Sonoma State and 1-3 against Western Oregon this season.

This is UCSD's third straight appearance in the 48-team postseason tournament. Last year, the Tritons fell one game short of reaching the Regional finals. The winner this weekend advances to the eight-team NCAA Championship May 23-30 in Cary, N.C.

Here are the schools that made the 48-team field. Inteestingly, six of the sites have six teams, one site has eight teams and the West Regional has four teams.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

UCSD wins CCAA Tournament championship

UCSD won its second California Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament championship in five years today with an 8-7 victory over Sonoma State at Palm Springs Stadium.

The Tritons (36-12) came into the ninth inning with a three-run lead, allowed it to get away when Sonoma State (32-14) rallied for four runs in the ninth, then scored twice in the bottom of the ninth to pull out the victory. It was fitting that UCSD's Garrett Imeson struck the winning blow with an RBI single to center. After all, Imeson is the school's all-time hits leader.

There's more on the win right here at the school's Web site.

The title gives UCSD the conference's automatic berth in the Division II NCAA Tournament. The Tritons' postseason plans should be firmed up Sunday when the tournament bracket is revealed.

Six Tritons players were selected to the all-tournament team, led by MVP Vance Albitz.

UCSD also won the tournament title in 2005.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Strasburg no-hits Air Force before record crowd

When I heard on Monday that tonight's San Diego State-Air Force game was already a sellout, I joked with SDSU coach Tony Gwynn that they would really know college baseball had made it in this town when scalpers were hanging out in front of the ticket windows before the game.

I guess it wasn't a joke after all.

On Wednesday, an ad turned up on Craigslist for four tickets to the game priced at $40 apiece (face value is $7). And it didn't even guarantee the buyer a seat. The tickets were for standing room only.

Outrageous?

I don't know if the seller ever found a buyer, but it turns out that the tickets would have been worth every penny.

That's how electric it was tonight as SDSU junior right-hander Stephen Strasburg pitched the seventh no-hitter in school history — and first in 20 years — in a 5-0 win over Air Force before 3,337, the largest crowd in Tony Gwynn Stadium history.

Strasburg struck out 17 in the game, including seven of the first nine hitters, and allowed just two baserunners in the game —  on leadoff walks in the fourth and sixth innings. One of the runners was erased attempting to steal, meaning Strasburg pitched to just one batter over the minimum. In his final home start of the season, Strasburg finished off the Falcons by striking out the side in the ninth inning.

“I was giving it everything I had left," said Strasburg, whose fastball touched 101 mph in the third inning and consistently hit 99 mph during the game. "I think in that last inning my stuff was the best it was the whole game.

Strasburg tossed a one-hitter in his 23-strikeout game last year against Utah and also had a one-hitter last year against TCU, but this was the first no-hitter of his career. Tossing a no-hitter is "hard," said Strasburg, "especially at the college level because you’ve got aluminum bats and a guy could hit a 15 hopper over a guy's head for a single."

Strasburg improved to 11-0 on the season, lowered his ERA to 1.24 and increased his strikeout total to 164 in 87.1 innings with just 17 walks.

“We’ve been seeing the same thing all year," said SDSU coach Tony Gwynn. "Tonight wasn’t much different, except that they didn’t get a hit.

"It’s fitting he throws a no-hitter in his last start at home."

There was really no close play that jeopardized the no-hitter. The deepest drive was the one left fielder Brandon Decker caught in the fourth inning at the warning track. In the eighth, Jon McMahon hit a chopper up the middle but shortstop Ryan O’Sullivan ranged behind second base and turned it into an out.

“Everytime Strasburg goes on the mound it’s something special,” said O’Sullivan. “As the game went on, you’re like, ‘Wow, he has a chance to do this.’ In the eighth and ninth, he had that look in his eye like, ‘I’m going to do this.’ “

In the ninth, Strasburg struck out Blair Roberts and Tytus Moss swinging to bring Nathan Carter to the plate and the crowd to its feet. Strasburg started Carter with a strike. Then a ball. Then strike two. Then Carter looked at a slider for strike three.

That set off a celebration.

SDSU catcher Erik Castro threw off his mask with his left hand and inexplicably tossed the ball away with his right (didn't he realize the College Baseball Hall of Fame was going to want the ball to put alongside the one it has from Strasburg's 23-strikeout game?), ran to the mound and picked up the pitcher.

“We didn’t really meet too great," said Castro. "He crushed my nose."

They were quickly joined by first baseman Brandon Meredith and the other infielders, then engulfed by Aztecs teammates from the dugout before the outfielders arrived to join in the group hug/dogpile/celebration.

“It was pretty intense," said Strasburg. "It got to where Brandon Meredith took the fall. I didn’t want to step on him. I was kind of holding him there and bracing for the guys jumping on my back. It’s a great experience. I’ve never really been in a dogpile like that in my life."

SDSU NO-HITTERS

Stephen Strasburg — SDSU 5, Air Force 0 (May 8, 2009)

Jim Gibbs/Kevin Nielsen —SDSU 14, Air Force 0 (April 23, 1989)

Mike Erb —SDSU 7, Utah 1 (April 22, 1986)

Matt Giampaoli — SDSU 7, UC San Diego 0 (March 22, 1982)

Ron Dargo — SDSU 5, BYU 0 (March 28, 1966)

Bill Lefler — SDSU 6, BYU 0 (March 28, 1964)

Richard “Dixie” Walker —SDSU 18, Whittier 0 (March 6, 1954)

PREGAME
The opener of San Diego State's three-game Mountain West Conference series has been a sellout — including standing room only seats — since Monday and Aztecs officials expect the crowd to exceed the record 3,072 who showed up two weeks ago at Tony Gwynn Stadium.

And it isn't because Air Force is in town.

It's the final regular season home game for SDSU junior right-hander Stephen Strasburg, who comes into the game with a 10-0 record, 1.38 ERA, 147 strikeouts and 15 walks in 78.1 innings this season. The Falcons will send right-hander Casey Allen (1-2, 7.22 ERA) to the mound for his eighth start of the season.

SDSU (31-17, 10-8 MWC) can still finish in second place in conference if it sweeps Air Force (14-31, 3-12) this weekend and and follows that up next week with a sweep at Utah. The top two finishers in the regular season receive first-round byes in the MWC Tournament that is to be hosted by TCU.

SDSU right fielder Cory Vaughn comes into the series leading the Aztecs with 10 home runs and 44 RBI and batting .337. Teammates Erik Castro (.378, 7 HR, 39 RBI) and Brandon Meredith (.305, 5 HR, 37 RBI) aren't far behind.

This must be a big game. The SDSU band is here and cheerleaders are dancing on the Aztecs' dugout. I've been coming to baseball games here since 1981 and never seen either group in attendance before.

HERE WE GO
1ST INNING — Strasburg goes right to work, getting leadoff hitter Nathan Carter looking at strike three. Addison Gentry manages a groundout to second base before Matt Alexander also looks at strike three on a good offspeed pitch that ends the inning. Strasburg touches 100 mph with one pitch and hits 99 mph consistently, according to the radar gun SDSU has on him behind the plate. The Aztecs go out in order against Air Force starter Casey Allen in the bottom of the inning.

2ND INNING — Air Force's Ben Ausbun, Jon McMahon and Jack Lupo all get their cuts in against Strasburg, and all three go down swinging. The Aztecs don't all stike out, but they don't do anything against Allen either.

3RD INNING — K.J. Randhawa and Blaire Roberts both strike out swinging before Tytus Moss grounds out to second base. It is six straight strikeouts (seven overall) for Strasburg before Moss makes contact. Shadows from the covering over the west-side standings start creeping toward the mound, making pitches go from sun to shade to sun to shade. As if Strasburg needs any help in an inning when one pitch is clocked at 101 mph. Allen may not be as dominating as his SDSU counterpart, but the results are just as good before he hits Ryan O'Sullivan with a two-out pitch to give the game its first baserunner. O'Sullivan is erased a moment later when Allen picks him off first base.

4TH INNING — Strasburg allows his first baserunner when leadoff hitter Carter works the count to 3-1 and then takes a low fastball for ball 4. No worries. Gentry hit a fly ball to left field for the first out, Alexander strikes out swinging and then Carter is caught stealing — when he overslides second base. In the bottom of the inning, In the bottom of the inning, Meredith finally gets the game's first hit with a two-out single to left field off Allen. But Castro strikes out to end the inning.

5TH INNING — Ausbun opens the inning with a strikeout, then McMahon hits a fly ball to center field for the second out. Lupo then thinks, 'What the heck' and tries to drop a bunt down the first-base line. Meredith picks it up and waits for Lupo to run down the line and tag himself out. Jomel Torres hits a two-out double to right field and Easton Gust follows with an RBI single to left field to give Strasburg a run to work with.

6TH INNING — Strasburg issues another leadoff walk, losing Randhawa on a 3-1 pitch when he's low with a fastball. Roberts tries to bunt his teammate into scoring position, but misses on the first two pitches — both strikes — then pulls his bat back on a slider that catches the outside corner for strike three. Moss steps to the plate and strikes out on three pitches, making Gentry the sole survivor in the lineup. Gentry's groundout and flyout make him the only player who hasn't struck out against Strasburg, although his third at-bat looms in the seventh inning. Randhawa steals second base standing up, but Strasburg pays him no mind and strikes out Carter to end the inning. That's 12 strikeouts for the game, which ties Air Force's season high (against The Citadel) for the season.

In the bottom of the inning, Pat Colwell leads off with a walk, moves to second on an error, goes to third on a flyout and comes home on Castro's slow infield grounder that is thrown offtarget to second for another error. Mitch Blackburn singles home another run two batters later to make it 3-0.

NOTABLE: The PA announcer informs everyone that 3,337 have jammed into Tony Gwynn Stadium. It's the largest crowd ever, surpassing the 3,158 who showed up in 1998 when the Aztecs played the New York Yankees in an exhibition game.

7TH INNING — Gentry leads off and watches strike three whiz by, meaning everyone in the starting lineup has struck out at least once. By the way, Strasburg took a perfect game into the seventh inning last year at home against TCU. That was broken up with a leadoff double in the seventh. Strasburg finished with a one-hitter that night. It was one of two one-hitters and a two-hitter he threw last season. Strasburg gets through the seventh tonight with the no-hitter intact after getting Alexander on a tapper back to the mound before striking out Ausbun to end the inning. That's 14 strikeouts now for the game.

8TH INNING — McMahon leads off the inning with a soft chopper up the middle that Ryan O'Sullivan ranges behind second base to field and throw to first base for the first out. Lupo makes the second out on a soft liner to first base and then the inning ends when Randhawa grounds out to O'Sullivan at short. The Aztecs add two runs in the bottom of the inning to make it 5-0, but the crowd doesn't notice that as much as they do Strasburg running out to the mound for the start of the ninth. He gets a rousing ovation.

Air Force is hitless as Strasburg takes the mound in the ninth. SDSU has six no-hitters in school history, the last coming 20 years ago on a combined effort by Jim Gibbs and Kevin Nielsen in a 14-0 home win over Air Force. By the way, Air Force was no-hit in the season's second game against Kansas.

9TH INNING — With the crowd oohing and aaaahhing on every pitch, Strasburg goes 2-2 to Roberts, who then fouls off a pitch before swinging and missing at a fastball for the first out. Strasburg then starts Moss with a ball before getting two strikes on him and then another strikeout (Castro throwing to first for the putout). The crowd rises in unison for the final out. Strasburg starts Carter with a strike. Then a ball. Then a strike. Then strike three. Game over. No-hitter. Strasburg is mobbed by his teammates on the mound.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

PLNU wins inaugural GSAC Tournament

Point Loma Nazarene, the NAIA's No. 3-ranked team, defeated The Master's 6-1 today at Carroll B. Land Stadium to clinch the inaugural Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament. The full recap is here.

PLNU was recognized here for this season's success. Coach Joe Schaefer (left) was named GSAC Coach of the Year and four Sea Lions players were selected for all-GSAC honors. The announcement was made late last week after PLNU wrapped up the GSAC regular season title with a 28-8 record.

PLNU's victory today in the GSAC Tournament earned the Sea Lions an automatic berth to the first round of the NAIA National Tournament, which begins next week at a site to be determined.

PLNU starter Brandon Dixon (8-3) allowed a run in the first inning against The Master's, then put up a bunch of zeros over the next six innings before turning the game over to the bullpen. The Sea Lions (38-11) tied the game with a run in the second inning, then blew it open with a five-run seventh inning. All five runs came with two outs — highlighted by Wes Kartch's grand slam.

UCSD making noise again

UCSD opened the California Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament today with a 2-1 win over Cal State Dominguez Hills, putting the Tritons (34-12) in today's semifinals. There are more details on the victory right here.

Earlier this week, UCSD head coach Dan O'Brien (left) was named CCAA Coach of the Year. Eight Tritons players earned all-conference recognition to join their coach with postseason honors.

UCSD, which won a school-record 43 games last season, is in the midst of one of its most successful seasons. The No. 4-ranked Tritons clinched the school's first CCAA regular season championship over the weekend, finishing 16-0 at home in conference play.

Strasburg's place among college baseball's elite

There was plenty of hype for San Diego State's Stephen Strasburg coming into the season. Amazingly, he has lived up to if not exceeded those expectations.

His name is mentioned in the same breath now with the greatest pitchers in college baseball history. I took a look at Strasburg's place among the best of the best in a story published right here in today's San Diego Union-Tribune.

No wonder crowds come out in record numbers every time he pitches now. A record 3,072 were in attendance two weeks ago when Strasburg beat TCU at Tony Gwynn Stadium. Strasburg makes his final regular season home start Friday against Air Force in a game that was declared a sellout on Monday.

I joked after Monday's press conference that you will know Strasburg's really made if there are scalpers out front of Tony Gwynn Stadium before the game.

It's no joke anymore.

Wednesday, someone had an ad on Craigslist offering four tickets to the game for $40 apiece (face value $7). And they didn't even include a seat — they were for standing room only.

Crazy.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Assessing postseason prospects for SDSU, USD

Here's how things shape up for San Diego State and USD as they approach the final two weeks of the regular season:

THE AZTECS
They control their destiny in the Mountain West Conference, thanks to UNLV taking two of three games over the weekend against New Mexico. By that, I mean that SDSU could still finish among the top two teams in the MWC and earn a first-round bye in the upcoming conference tournament.

Here's the top four teams in the standings:
TCU 10-4
New Mexico 12-8
BYU 11-8
SDSU 10-8

If SDSU closes out the season with sweeps over Air Force and Utah, then the Aztecs would finish percentage points ahead of both New Mexico and BYU, which had MWC games rained out earlier this season that can't be made up. That means neither the Lobos nor the Cougars could get to 16 wins. BYU finishes up conference play this week when it hosts UNLV. New Mexico closes out conference play next week at home against Air Force. TCU has two series remaining — hosting Utah this week before traveling next week to UNLV.

Obviously, the Aztecs are hoping to win the MWC Tournament and claim the automatic NCAA Tournament berth that comes with it. A strong finish down the stretch could enable the Aztecs to earn an at-large berth, however. It would be the first at-large awarded in the MWC's 10-year history.

By the way, SDSU is preparing to put in a bid to host an NCAA Regioanal or Super Regional. The Aztecs still need to play their way into such a scenario — UC Irvine, Cal State Fullerton and Arizona State are the most likely West Coast sites — but bids are due by May 15 so the paperwork must be filed just in case the opportunity presents itself.


THE TOREROS
Loyola Marymount's three-game sweep of USD was devastating to the Toreros' chances of playing in the West Coast Conference Championship Series.

Here's the top three teams in the standings:
Gonzaga 12-6
Loyola Marymount 12-6
USD 10-8

The only way for USD to reach the championship series is by sweeping this weekend's home series against USF AND a three-game sweep by either LMU or Gonzaga when the teams meet next week in Spokane, Wash. Pretty unlikely scenario, although stranger things have happened. Injuries that have plagued USD throughout the season seem to have finally caught up with the Toreros, whose at-large chances also are all but gone.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

USD's season on the brink

LOS ANGELES — USD has lost its grip.

And now things are in danger of slipping away.

The Toreros are two-time defending West Coast Conference champions. They opened WCC play this season by winning their first six games.

USD has lost seven of 11 conference games since.

Today's 7-3 loss to Loyola Marymount at Page Stadium was costly because it gives the Toreros virtually no margin for error now if they are to qualify for the WCC Championship Series.

USD (27-20, 10-7 WCC) fell into third place in the conference. Only two teams are invited to play for the WCC's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. Right now the Toreros are looking up at LMU and Gonzaga, which are tied for first at 11-6. Both LMU and Gonzaga hold the tiebraker edge (by virtue of series wins) over USD should the teams finish in a tie for first or second.

Sunday's finale becomes a must-win for the Toreros if they are to have a mathematical chance of winning the WCC regular-season title and host the championship series for the third straight year. Another loss and USD may be hard-pressed simply to finish second.

After Sunday, there will be one week remaining in the conference season: USD closes out with three games at home against USF while LMU travels to Gonzaga.

USD has played well enough to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament, but now that's slipping away as well. USD's stretch of three straight postseason appearance could be in jeopardy if the Toreros continue to play the way they did today against the Lions. In addition to the USF series, the Toreros have two nonconference games at Arizona State and

LMU got to Griffin (7-3) early, starting with one out in the first inning when the Lions' Ryan Wheeler clubbed his ninth homer of the season over the fence in right-center for a 2-0 lead.

Whenever USD battled back, LMU took control again. The Toreros cut the lead to 2-1 in the third inning, then slipped back to 3-2 in the fourth and 5-2 through five innings.

A run in the eighth cut it to 5-2 and USD had runners at second and third with one out. But LMU starting pitcher Alex Gillingham (4-2) got out of it. Gillingham was solid throughout the game, retiring 12 straight from the fourth through seventh innings.

The Toreros loaded the bases with no outs against LMU reliever Xavier Esquivel, but the junior right-hander extricated himself after allowing a run-scoring out to Jon Hotta.

USD coach Rich Hill stayed with Griffin, who allowed all seven runs on 13 hits with six strikeouts and one walk.

Could Strasburg go straight to the majors?

There have been 20 players during the draft era who made their major league debuts without spending a day in the minor leagues. In fact, here's the list if you want to check them out. There are several San Diego connections, which I'll get to later.

The reason for the topic today is increasing talk that San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg could go straight to the major leagues. I've heard it mentioned here and there during the season. ESPN's Buster Olney mentions it here among today's blog items.

I don't know that anyone would argue about Strasburg being ready for the big leagues.

"He's further along at 20 than any young pitcher I've ever seen," said SDSU coach Tony Gwynn. "I didn't see some of the great, great ones, but for a 20-year-old junior to be out there recognizing that they're cheating on the fastball and just drop that slider right on them, then a change-up and then a 99 (mph fastball) on the black . . . ."

Gwynn just shakes his head.

"He's the perfect example of a guy who makes what I do so much fun," said Gwynn, "because when he came in here as a freshman, there's no way anybody saw what's happening now back then. I'm not going to tell you I did. I didn't see it. You've got to be kidding me. He was throwing 90, 91. What's the big deal? I was telling Rusty (Filter, SDSU's pitching coach), 'There's a whole bunch of guys who throw 90. This guy?' Three years later . . . ."

Strasburg has been the consensus No. 1 overall choice for the 2009 draft since well before the season, back to last summer when he was a member of the U.S. Olympic team. Going 10-0 with a 1.38 ERA, 147 strikeouts and 15 walks in 78.1 innings pitched so far this year has only cemented things.

Washington has the first pick in the draft, followed by Seattle and then San Diego. Could contract demands (the $50 million figure thrown around two months ago is insane, of course) or some other issue cause him to drop in the draft. Maybe. But talent-wise he is head and shoulders above any other player in the draft.

What if Strasburg was to somehow slip to the Padres at No. 3? I asked Gwynn where Strasburg would fit into the Padres' rotation if he joined the team this summer.

"Three," said Gwynn, who would put Strasburg right behind Jake Peavy and Chris Young.

"If he went to Seattle, he'd be three.

"If he goes to Washington, he'd be one."

RIGHT NOW?!

"That's how I look at it," said Gwynn. "Now he's still got stuff he's got to learn. He's got to challenge the strike zone a little bit more at the big-league level."

But Strasburg's ready to go straight to the major leagues.

The last time I heard this kind of talk was during Mark Prior's junior year at USC in 2001. And perhaps Prior was polished enough to go straight to the major leagues. Prior had pretty absurd numbers too, going 15-1 with a 1.69 ERA, 202 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 138.2 innings. Baseball America called him the greatest college pitcher ever.

But there were a few things that prevented Prior from going straight to the majors. First of all, Prior was already well over 100 innings pitched for the Trojans, who reached the College World Series that season, when he was selected by the Chicago Cubs with the draft's second pick (the Twins took Joe Mauer with the first pick). And joining the team late in the season was out of the question when contract negotiations dragged on before Prior signed a deal in the fall that included a record $10.5 million signing bonus. Prior looked good during spring training in 2002, but the decision was made to give him a few starts in the minors. It turned out to be nine starts. Prior dominated and made his major league debut with the Cubs by late May.

Draft rules changed two years ago and teams now have until just August 15 to sign players. That means there would still be plenty of season remaining to showcase Strasburg. The question would be how many more innings a team would want to put on his arm after the college season (Strasburg will probably have pitched more than 100 innings for the Aztecs) and how ready to go Strasburg would be after contract negotiations have concluded.

The last player to go straight to the majors was Cal outfielder Xavier Nady with the Padres in 2000. The Padres also sent Minnesota outfielder Dave Winfield straight to the majors in 1973 and Oregon third baseman Dave Roberts in 1972.

The first player to go straight to the majors was USC pitcher Mike Adamson in 1967 with the Baltimore Orioles. Adamson was born in San Diego and played high school baseball at Point Loma High. In 1970, Stanford pitcher Steve Dunning went straight to the majors with the Cleveland Indians. Dunning prepped at University of San Diego High School.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Strasburg 10-0 after beating Santa Clara

RECAP
San Diego State junior right-hander Stephen Strasburg continued a season for the ages tonight, notching his 10th victory in the Aztecs' 5-0 victory at Santa Clara.

Strasburg (10-0) became the 14th pitcher in SDSU history to reach double-digit victories and the first since the 1990 season. He pitched eight strong innings, allowing three hits with 12 strikeouts and two walks. He threw 105 pitches, according to SDSU play-by-play man Craig Elsten. Strasburg, who lowered his ERA to 1.38, now has 147 strikeouts with 15 walks over 78.1 innings pitched this season.

By the way, the crowd of 1,496 that came out for the game was a record at Santa Clara's Stephen Schott Stadium.

SDSU second baseman Mitch Blackburn led the Aztecs with two RBI. Teammate Erik Castro had three of the team's 12 hits, raising his season average to .389.

SDSU (29-17) and Santa Clara (15-26) continue the four-game series on Saturday with a doubleheader and conclude it with a single game on Sunday.

HERE WE GO
1ST INNING — A two-out single by Brandon Meredith and a walk to Erik Castro put runners at first and second, but Santa Clara starter Nate Garcia gets out of it by getting Cory Vaughn on a fly out. Strasburg gets started quickly, striking out Matt Long and Kevin Madden swinging. He then hits Jon Karcich with a pitch before retiring Geoff Klein on a fly to left to end the inning.

2ND INNING — The Aztecs again get runners to first and second, this time with one out, but Garcia escapes again by getting Ryan O'Sullivan on a fly out and Pat Colwell with a strikeout. Strasburg gets Brady Fuerst swining to open the inning and closes it by getting Long swinging. In between he issues two walks — what would be his only walks of the game — but the Broncos can't do anything with this brief bit of wildness.

3RD INNING — A Brandon Decker walk, Meredith single and Castro walk load the bases with no outs. Garcia won't escape unscatched this time as singles by Blackburn and Jomel Torres produce a 2-0 lead. Madden opens the bottom of the inning with a single against Strasburg, who erases him a moment later with a grounder that SDSU's defense turns into a double play. The inning ends a batter later with Klein looking at strike three.

4TH INNING — Garcia gets the Aztecs in order and Strasburg does likewise to the Broncos, getting Andrew Biancardi with a swinging strikeout.

5TH INNING — RBIs by Vaughn, Blackburn and East Gust provide a three-run inning and a 5-0 lead that seems all but insurmountable with you-know-who on the mound. Strasburg underscores the point in the bottom of the inning by striking out the side.

6TH INNING — Garcia doesn't allow a run, but the damage has been done. Madden reaches on an error to open the inning for Santa Clara but Strasburg pays him no mind, getting the Broncos with a flyout, a strikeout and a popout. Klein is the strikeout victim, Strasburg's 10th of the game. It is his 10th double-digit strikeout performance in 11 starts this season.

7TH INNING — Both sides go down in order — Strasburg ending the inning with a strikeout of Kyle Van Dusen.

8TH INNING — Santa Clara reliever Cory Hall takes over for Garcia and quickly retires the Aztecs. Strasburg opens his final inning with a strikeout of Juan Parra and faces the minimum for the sixth time in eight innings.

STRASBURG'S LINE: 8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 12 SO

9TH INNING — Castro gets his third hit of the game, but never gets past first base. Andrew Leary relieves Strasburg and closes out the Broncos. Leary sandwiches two strikeouts around a single by Klein, then gets Biancardi on a grounder to third base to end the game.


PREGAME
San Diego State gets the week off from Mountain West Conference play, but the Aztecs face an important weekend nonetheless with a four-game series at Santa Clara.

SDSU (28-17) has 11 games remaining in the regular season and needs to secure as many victories as possible down the stretch to position the Aztecs for an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament should the team fail to win the MWC Tournament and the automatic postseason berth that comes with it.

Santa Clara (15-25) has struggled this season, so the Aztecs can ill-afford to give any ground against the Broncos. SDSU needs three wins this weekend. AT LEAST THREE WINS. SDSU comes into the weekend with an RPI of 27. But that's going to take a hit with Santa Clara (186), Air Force (268) and Utah (131) to close out the regular season. The Aztecs can't control how much their RPI slips, other than to win and let everything else take care of itself.

SDSU ace Stephen Strasburg (9-0, 1.54 ERA) takes the mound tonight looking for his 10th straight victory. Strasburg has 135 strikeouts on the season with just 13 walks over 70.1 innings.

Santa Clara dealt Strasburg one of his three losses last season, although shoddy defense behind the right-hander was mainly responsible for the Aztecs' 10-6 loss. Strasburg struck out nine and walked one over 5.1 innings against the Broncos. He allowed seven hits and seven runs, although only two of the runs were earned. It was only his third career start. Strasburg has improved some since then.