San Diego State opened the season by ruining San Diego’s grand opening of its brand new $13.8 million stadium, Fowler Park. The Aztecs wanted to finish the season in the same fashion when the two teams met Saturday afternoon in an elimination game of the Los Angeles Regional.
Instead, it was the Toreros that got the satisfaction of putting out their city rival. Dylan Covey produced his strongest outing of the season to lead San Diego to a 6-3 win at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
Covey has been one of the biggest enigmas in college baseball this season, but he found the groove at the opportune time against San Diego State. But it wasn’t without some consternation early.
San Diego State jumped ahead in the second inning. Ryan Muno led off the inning with a double off the right field wall and came around to score on a two-out RBI single by Brad Haynal.
The Aztecs tacked on another run in the third inning when the control issues that have plagued Covey throughout his career made an appearance. He issued two walks, allowed a double steal and gave up a hard hit sacrifice fly. A wild pitch prompted San Diego head coach Rich Hill to begin warming up the bullpen. Covey said he saw the action in the pen, but didn’t fret.
“I was just going to go after the hitter and keep throwing how I was throwing.”
Covey was able to get the red hot Tyler France to ground out to shortstop to end the threat.
“It was huge [to get out of the inning]. They got one that inning. This whole year for me has been trying not to give up that big inning and I did that today.”
A hard line out to third base and a two-out double for San Diego State the next inning had Hill cranking the bullpen gears once again, but Covey settled in from that point. The junior right hander retired 11 in a row and 12 of 13 before exiting to a standing ovation from a strong contingent of Torero fans stationed behind the San Diego dugout.
“The last four starts he’s been spot on, progressively getting better, which is what you want from your pitchers through the year,” senior catcher Austin Green said. “This is his best start of the year, and he’s showed the resilience he has.”
It was a special performance after Covey hadn’t pitched out of the sixth inning all season and entered with a .500 record and a 5.22 ERA.
“That’s been us all year. Somebody has stepped up and done amazing things,” Hill said. “This group is as resilient as any I’ve ever been around.”
The Toreros’ resiliency showed in the fifth inning when they were finally able to get San Diego State’s radar gun popping starter, Michael Cederoth. The 6-foot-5 flamethrowing right hander was routinely hitting triple digits early in the game and held San Diego to only one hit through four innings, but as has been the case for him on several occasions this season things unravelled quickly in one big inning.
Dillon Checkal led off the inning with a single to left field. Cederoth then walked or hit three of the next four batters bringing home a run and forcing SDSU head coach Tony Gwynn to go to his bullpen.
“In the beginning, it was probably my best start I’ve had all year, but of course, bad habits tend to catch up to me,” Cederoth said. “Five walks obviously showed up in five runs, and I take that to heart, and I know for a fact that’s not going to happen next year.”
Philip Walby, who was San Diego State’s third weekend starter all season, entered to face senior Austin Green with the bases loaded.
“All the pressure was on him. He had to come to me. I was just looking for one pitch,” Green said. “I was guessing fastball and he threw one middle-in and I hit it pretty hard through the hole, and it got the inning going.”
Green’s liner through the left side gave the Toreros the lead, plating a pair of runs. An error in the outfield allowed the runners to advance to second and third base. Andrew Daniel followed with a sacrifice fly to left field. Green tagged and headed for third base. Shortstop Evan Potter rushed the relay throw and chucked it wide of third base when there really wasn’t a play at third, allowing another run to score to make it 5-2.
The emergence of Green in the middle of the lineup has been the key to San Diego’s offense in the second half of the season, according to Hill.
“Austin Green the last six weeks has stepped up and come up with some clutch RBIs, most of them with two out. What he’s done is truly amazing,” Hill said. “There have been some ups and downs and he’s persevered and here he is standing at the mountain top. He deserves all the praise.”
San Diego added a run in the sixth inning on an Austin Bailey RBI single and centerfielder Louie Lechich killed a potential rally in the eighth inning when he gunned down a runner at the plate to end the inning after he couldn’t make a diving catch on a shallow flare.
Freshman Troy Conyers collected his first collegiate save recording the final four outs, including a pair of strikeouts in a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
No hitter recorded more than one hit, but several batters were on base multiple times with San Diego’s Kris Bryant leading the way reaching base three times in five plate appearances.
The Toreros advance to Sunday’s 2 p.m. elimination game against the loser of the Cal Poly/UCLA game. San Diego State is eliminated from the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
“It’s awesome. It’s a little in-town rivalry we have going on,” Green said. “It feels great that we got them at the end of the year. It’s much better to beat them in the end than it is in the beginning because nobody remembers that. We’re going to remember this one right here and now.”
Check out the 18-shot photo gallery from Game 3 of the Los Angeles Regional: