Aztecs Set for Midweek Game at CSUN

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Derrick Tuskan/San Diego State

SAN DIEGO – San Diego State will play its final non-conference road game of the regular season on Tuesday, April 30, when it makes the drive to the San Fernando Valley to battle CSUN, starting at 3 p.m. PT.

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The Aztecs (11-32) will be looking to put the brakes on a nine-game losing streak after dropping all three encounters in a Mountain West weekend series at New Mexico, April 26-28, following a midweek setback at the University of San Diego on April 23.

In four games last week, Finley Bates and Tino Bethancourt led the team with a .333 batting average (5-15), with Bethancourt tying Jake Jackson and Irvin Weems for the top spot on the squad with four RBIs.

Weems belted two homers in SDSU's 8-4 setback at New Mexico on April 26, giving him a team-high total of six round-trippers for the year.

SDSU is projected to start sophomore right-hander Aidan Russell (0-2), while CSUN is expected to counter with freshman lefty Destin Allen-Fox (0-0) on Tuesday.

Russell will be making his first start of the season after 12 relief appearances, posting an 8.68 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings.

Russell collected his first collegiate save against Portland on Feb. 18 after giving up one unearned run in a career-long four innings when he struck out a personal-best six hitters.

Russell earned a starting assignment in his Aztec debut last season, allowing one hit in one scoreless inning at UC Riverside on March 7, 2023. He has never faced the Matadors in his career.

Meanwhile, Allen-Fox has made three starts in five appearances this year, logging a 3.60 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 10 innings of work. In his last outing at Fresno State on April 23, he recorded career highs of five strikeouts and four innings pitched but did not factor in the decision.

Entering the week, SDSU pitchers lead the Mountain West in strikeouts (387) and opposing batting average (.270) while ranking second in fewest hits allowed (388) and sixth in ERA (7.62).

The Scarlet and Black also tops the conference with 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings, which is good for 58th in the country as of April 29.

Individually, reliever Garvey Rumary is tied for third in the MW with 18 appearances, just ahead of teammates Jadon Bercovich and Evan Miranda, who share the sixth position with 17 games pitched.

In addition, Miranda shares the third spot in the conference with 13 games finished, while Bercovich is tied for seventh in that category with seven.

Offensively, SDSU is slotted fifth in the MW this week in doubles (85) while occupying the sixth spot in hits (392) and batting average (.263).

Despite missing the last three weeks, freshman Colby Turner still shares the top spot in the conference with four triples, which is tied for 19th in the nation as of April 29.

Elsewhere, Shaun Montoya is tied for fifth the MW with 57 hits and shares the sixth spot with eight stolen bases.

Shaun Montoya is the lone Aztec to start all 43 games this season, playing exclusively in right field. The SDSU junior has made 48 consecutive starts dating back to last season and has started 93 of the last 95 contests he has appeared in.

Since March 22, a span of 24 games, Montoya has hit .400 (40-100) with seven doubles, two triples and 25 runs scored, raising his batting average from .215 to .318.

Additionally, Montoya leads the team with multiple hits in 18 games, followed by Finley Bates, who has accomplished the feat in 13 different contests.

Bates has seen action in 42 games thus far, earning 26 starts at shortstop and 15 at second while appearing as a late-inning defensive replacement in SDSU's 7-1 victory over Portland on Feb. 18.

A native of Castle Park, Colorado, Bates ranks second on the team with 69 total bases, 50 hits, 10 doubles and 25 runs scored while occupying the fourth spot in batting average (.284) and the fifth position in slugging percentage (.392).

Bates has reached base safely in 11 consecutive outings and owns the team's longest current hitting streak at six games.

Meanwhile, Jake Jackson ranks second on the Aztecs with multiple RBIs in six games trailing fellow freshman Colby Turner, who has accomplished the feat in seven contests.

In the series finale at New Mexico on April 28, Jackson tied his career high with three hits and four RBIs, falling one home run short of the cycle.

For the season, Jackson finds himself among the team leaders in several categories, including batting average (3rd, .288), runs scored (T-3rd, 24), RBIs (4th, 24), on-base percentage (4th, .348), slugging percentage (4th, .407) and hits (5th, 34).

Over the past 10 games, Jackson has posted a slash line of .472/.524/.722 with five doubles, two triples and 12 RBIs.

Jackson has been named Mountain West Freshman of the Week on two occasions this season (Feb. 19 and April 22).

Despite a 7-5 setback to the Matadors at Tony Gwynn Stadium on Feb. 21, the Aztecs still maintain a 47-43 advantage in the all-time series, which dates back to 1960.

In that earlier meeting, SDSU was plagued by six errors and a passed ball, which led to six unearned runs for the Matadors.

Jacob McCombs hit a pinch-hit grand slam in the bottom of the seventh to give the Aztecs a brief 5-4 lead. However, CSUN scored twice in the eighth and added a solo homer in the ninth to account for the final margin.

In three career games against the Matadors, Tino Bethancourt is hitting .375 (3-8) with two doubles and a pair of runs scored.

The Matadors (27-14) have won eight straight and 10 of their last 11 after recording a weekend home sweep of CSU Bakersfield, winning by scores of 5-3, 5-4 and 3-0.

Prior to those victories, CSUN also routed Fresno State 15-2 in a midweek road clash on April 23.

With their results, the Matadors raise their record to 13-5 at home and 14-9 on the road. In addition, CSUN finds itself in a three-way tie atop the Big West standings at 14-4 with UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara.

Entering the week, the Matadors rank among the conference leaders in several offensive categories, occupying the second position in batting average (.294), hits (414), runs scored (316) and RBIs (283) while sharing the second spot in home runs (42). In addition, CSUN is slotted third in both on-base percentage (.406) and slugging percentage (.454).

The Matadors have five players batting over .300 for the season, including Kevin Fitzer (.392), Jarren Sanderson (.348), Kamau Neighbors (.338), Jakob Simons (.331) and Will Linberg (.305).

Simons leads the Big West with 15 homers and ranks second in RBIs (51), runs scored (49) and slugging percentage (.702) while sharing the fifth spot in stolen bases (12).

Additionally, Fitzer tops the conference with a .800 slugging percentage and ranks second with 10 homers and fifth in batting average (.392). He also shares the third spot in doubles (13) and is tied for sixth in RBIs (38).

Elsewhere, Neighbors shares the seventh position in the Big West with 38 runs scored and is slotted 12th in both batting average (.338) and on-base percentage (.459).

On the mound, CSUN pitchers are sixth in the conference in hits allowed (378) and occupy the seventh spot in opposing batting average (.272) but rank just ninth in ERA (5.32) and strikeouts (305).

However, the Matadors enter the week with a collective .979 fielding percentage, which ranks third in the Big West.

CSUN lists seven players on its 2024 roster from San Diego County high schools, including three Rancho Bernardo High alums in Shunsuke Sakaino, Trent Abel and Jehee Lee, who are joined by Andrew Gauna (Patrick Henry HS/Sand Diego Mesa CC), Blake Ignaciak (El Camino HS/Palomar JC), Destin Allen-Fox (Santana HS) and Nathan Barraza (Mission Hills HS).

Similarly, SDSU features nine players on its current roster who are alumni of San Diego County high schools, including Trevor Fox and Cade Martinez (St. Augustine); Manoah Chapman and Jake Jackson (Madison); Xavier Gonzalez (Hilltop); AJ Klubeck (Westview); Brady Lavoie (La Costa Canyon); Evan Sipe (San Marcos); and Nico Tomasello (Granite Hills).

Since 1965, San Diego State has had 227 student-athletes chosen in the MLB First-Year Player Draft, including 31 selections since 2015.

Former Aztec center fielder Cole Carrigg was taken by the Colorado Rockies as a catcher in the Competitive Balance "B" Round with the 65th overall pick of the 2023 MLB First-Year Player Draft; pitcher TJ Fondtain was selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 14th round (423rd overall), while fellow hurler Kelena Sauer went to the Toronto Blue Jays shortly thereafter in the 15th round (454th overall).

With its selections, SDSU has had multiple players picked in six of the last seven years and nine of the last 11 overall.

In 2022, former Aztec right-hander Troy Melton was chosen by the Detroit Tigers in the fourth round with the 117th selection overall.

The previous year, in 2021, SDSU had five individuals drafted by MLB organizations.

Infielder Mike Jarvis was selected by Pittsburgh in the sixth round with the 163rd pick, while catcher Wyatt Hendrie also went to the Pirates shortly thereafter in the seventh round in the 193rd spot overall.

In addition, the New York Mets grabbed center fielder Matt Rudick in the 13th round (382nd overall); right fielder Jaden Fein was selected by the Washington Nationals in the 15th round (443rd overall), while right-handed pitcher Michael Paredes was snapped up by the Minnesota Twins in the 18th round (549th overall).

The Mountain West Championship returns to "America's Finest City" this season and will be conducted at Tony Gwynn Stadium, May 23-26. The top four teams in the MW regular-season standings will qualify for the double elimination tournament, with the winner receiving an automatic berth into NCAA regional competition. NCAA Regionals will be held May 31-June 3.

SDSU has hosted the MW Championship on five previous occasions, most recently after the 2022 season. The Aztecs also welcomed the event in 2018 when the Scarlet and Black claimed its fifth tournament crown in a six-year span.

Following Tuesday's clash, San Diego State opens a seven-game homestand, starting this weekend when it welcomes Fresno State for a Mountain West series, May 3-5, at Tony Gwynn Stadium.