Jackson's Slam Lifts Aztecs to Senior Day Victory

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Derrick Tuskan/San Diego State

SAN DIEGO – Powered by Jake Jackson's seventh-inning grand slam, San Diego State salvaged the final game of a Mountain West weekend series against Air Force with an 8-4 triumph to highlight Senior Day festivities at Tony Gwynn Stadium.

With the victory, the Aztecs (15-35, 9-18 MW) snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Falcons, who were denied a chance to forge a three-way tie for first place atop the conference standings. As a result, Air Force (23-26, 15-12 MW) remains in the third spot, one game behind Fresno State and New Mexico with one week left to play.

SDSU utilized six relievers on the day after starter Xavier Cardenas III was lifted with one out in the seventh.

Although he issued seven walks, Cardenas avoided trouble throughout his appearance, tying his career high with eight strikeouts to offset two runs (one earned) on three hits.

Aidan Russell (1-2) was credited with the victory despite giving up one run on one hit and a walk in 1 1/3 innings of work.

Offensively, the Aztecs were stymied for much of the game until plating three runs in the sixth to erase a 2-0 deficit.

Tino Bethancourt ripped a two-out single up the middle to score David Whittle and Finley Bates, while Irvin Weems followed with a sacrifice fly to bring in Shaun Montoya.

Previously, the Scarlet and Black loaded the bases off Falcon starter Ben Weber, as Whittle drew a walk, while Bates followed with a single to center field before Montoya was struck by a pitch.

With SDSU nursing a slim 3-2 lead, Air Force knotted the ballgame in the top of the seventh when Charlie Jones belted a solo homer deep over the fence in left with two outs.

Undaunted, the Aztecs responded with five runs on three hits in the bottom of the frame, with the Falcons employing four pitchers in that span.

Brady Lavoie uncorked a leadoff double down the left-field line, while Xavier Gonzalez followed with a sacrifice bunt, as Sam Hentges replaced Kyle Moats on the mound.

After Sammy Kahler struck out, Bates was issued an intentional walk to set up a potential inning-ending double play. However, those plans went awry when Montoya was hit by another pitch to load the bases.

Moments later, Jackson stepped to the plate and crushed an 0-2 pitch from Hentges to just left of straight-away center field for his first career grand slam and second homer of the season.

Shortly thereafter, SDSU reloaded the bases when Bethancourt drew a walk from Hentges, while Weems greeted new reliever Gaines Estridge with a single to center before Colby Turner was hit by a pitch. Lavoie then coaxed another walk from Estridge, which brought home Bethancourt, giving the Scarlet and Black an 8-3 lead it would not relinquish.

Air Force tacked on a run in the eighth to account for the final margin when Walker Zapp walked and scored on Aerik Joe's triple to left center.

After Dylan Hawkes fanned the first batter in the ninth, Jadon Bercovich took the hill and quashed any Falcon comeback hopes with two additional strikeouts, throwing six strikes in seven pitches to close out the game.

Moats (3-3), who was charged with the go-ahead run in the seventh, absorbed the loss after allowing two hits in 1 2/3 innings after taking over for Weber in the sixth. Weber struck out three batters in his start, surrendering three runs on three hits and a pair of walks.

Along with Jackson's heroics, Bates and Lavoie tied for game-high honors with two hits apiece, matching Joe's total for the visitors.

Air Force opened the scoring in the first when Chase Spencer singled on the first pitch of the game and stole second before crossing the plate on Sam Kulasingam's base hit through the right side.

The Falcons ultimately loaded the bases when Jake Greiving was hit by a pitch and Zach Peters walked after Kulasingam took third on a failed pickoff attempt. However, Cardenas prevented further damage when he caught Tripp Garrish looking on a called third strike.

Air Force plated an unearned run in the fourth when Zapp walked and later scored on a throwing error during Spencer's sacrifice bunt attempt. In the interim, Joe reached on a bunt single, while Jay Thomason was intentionally walked after Kulasingam struck out.

With the bases suddenly loaded, Cardenas escaped disaster once again after inducing a 5-3 double play by Jones.

In all, the Falcons stranded 10 runners for the game.

Prior to Sunday's contest, the Aztecs celebrated the accomplishments of their seven-player senior class in special on-field ceremony, honoring Jadon Bercovich, Tino Bethancourt, Xavier Gonzalez, Jonny Guzman, Brady Lavoie, Shaun Montoya and Jacob Riordan.

San Diego State wraps up its home schedule on Tuesday, May 14, when it plays hosts to UC San Diego in a non-conference clash at Tony Gwynn Stadium. First pitch is slated for an early 5 p.m. PT starting time.