By John Philip Wyllie
With the collegiate season winding down and the Mountain West Conference baseball playoffs fast approaching, the SDSU Aztecs are looking for a little momentum. They may have found it last weekend. The red and black improved their conference record to 14-10 on Sunday with a 3-0 shutout of conference leading and nationally ranked UNLV.
Third baseman Chad Corona sparked the offense with a key eighth-inning hit, Ben Coon and Drew Jensen combined on the mound to pitch nine scoreless innings and second baseman James Guerrero helped turn a couple of key double plays that snuffed out the Rebels offense.
“We got beat in the first two games of this series and yesterday (15-3) was pretty bad,” Corona said, who had two doubles in four at bats. “We didn’t want to get swept here in our own park.” Thanks to Corona’s key eighth-inning RBI double, the Aztecs didn’t.
SDSU had little early success in stringing hits together against Rebel’s starter Jake Vose. But in the eighth inning, designated hitter Garrett Cook got the ball rolling with a one-out single. Rielly Embrey then bunted safely and a wild throw to first put the Aztec runners into scoring position. Then Corona, a local product from Sante Fe Christian, stepped up to the plate. Reliever Ryan Braun came in to pitch to for the Rebels and Corona belted a double off of him to right field. His double sparked a three-run eighth inning that ultimately decided the game.
While Corona was sparking the offense, second baseman James Guerrero was playing his typically solid game at second base. Guerrero, a promising freshman, closed out the Rebels second inning when he hustled back to catch a well-placed looper to short right field. He also turned two double plays against the Rebels, one of them for the game’s final two outs.
“(Sunday’s victory) was a big confidence builder,” Guerrero said. “Now we have to build on this and carry this momentum into the Mountain West Conference playoffs. This sends a message out to the other teams in our conference.”
A year ago, the Aztecs swept through their regular season and playoff competition until they met BYU. With only a single victory needed for a berth in the NCAA tournament, their season came to a screeching halt when they dropped two straight to the Cougars. This time around, UNLV sits atop of the standings and the Aztecs are a bit of a long-shot currently tied for third place with BYU.
“We started slow this season, so our goal right now is to pick it up and carry that momentum into the Mountain West Conference tournament,” Corona said. (As the Aztecs found out last year) you never know what can happen there.” The Aztecs close out the regular season at home (May 15-17) against New Mexico.
Fernando Valenzuela Jr., son of the legendary Dodger pitcher was in uniform for the Rebels playing first base and going 0-4 at the plate. After the game, he attracted quite a crowd of young autograph seekers.
“Today I didn’t have such a good day, but yesterday (2 home runs, 6 RBIs) I was better, so that happens,” Valenzuela said. “Whether it was baseball, football or school, my dad has always been behind me no matter what I wanted to do.” When asked about the expectations that go along with being the son of a celebrity, he said, “It hasn’t been a hassle, nobody expects too much. I’m human and I just play the game.”