Baseball

Aztecs Welcome Air Force for MW Weekend Series

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Derrick Tuskan/San Diego State

SAN DIEGO – San Diego State continues its homestand this weekend when it welcomes Air Force to "America's Finest City" for a three-game Mountain West series, May 10-12, at Tony Gwynn Stadium.

Both meetings on Friday and Saturday are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. PT, while Sunday's finale is slated for a 1 p.m. start.

In addition to live stats, all three games will air live on the Mountain West Network, with links available on GoAztecs.com. Fans can also catch all the action on their TVs or smartphones by downloading the MW app.

In a highly anticipated promotion, the first 500 fans in attendance for Friday's encounter with the Falcons will receive a free Stephen Strasburg bobblehead.

In addition, the first 100 patrons for Saturday's clash will be presented with the third set of Aztec Baseball trading cards.

Not to be outdone, the Aztecs will hold a special Senior Day ceremony prior to Sunday's series finale, celebrating the accomplishments of Jadon Bercovich, Tino Bethancourt, Xavier Gonzalez, Jonny Guzman, Brady Lavoie, Shaun Montoya and Jacob Riordan.

FRESNO STATE SERIES REWIND
SDSU (14-33, 8-16 MW) is coming off a weekend sweep of Fresno State, May 3-5, edging the first-place Bulldogs in the opener by a 9-8 count to snap a 10-game losing streak, before posting triumphant scores of 3-1 and 5-2 in the final two matchups.

With their victories, the Aztecs completed their first-ever sweep of Fresno State as members of the Mountain West and first since 1968.

Following the series, SDSU earned two conference weekly honors, as Omar Serrano was named Mountain West Pitcher of the Week, while Zane Kelly was tabbed the league's Freshman of the Week.

Serrano was the winning pitcher in the Aztecs' 3-1 victory last Saturday, allowing just one run on four hits and three walks in seven-plus innings. During his stint, the SDSU right-hander limited the Bulldogs to a .160 batting average (4-25) after they entered the series with a .294 clip, which ranked third in the MW at the time.

In addition, Serrano held Fresno State to a .143 average (1-7) with runners aboard and tied his second-highest total of the season with seven strikeouts. With his performance, the Aztec junior has recorded at least five strikeouts in five of his last six starts.
 
Serrano displayed tremendous control throughout his appearance, retiring the side in order in the three different innings (1st, 4th, 7th) and did not issue his third walk until facing the leadoff batter in the eighth.

Meanwhile, Kelly was the hero of Friday's 9-8 triumph, ripping a pinch-hit three-run double in the bottom of the seventh inning, which ultimately provided the winning margin.

With San Diego State trailing 7-6, the bases were loaded for Kelly, who stepped to the plate and drilled a 3-1 pitch with two outs into the gap in right center, plating all three runners to give the Scarlet and Black a 9-7 advantage.

In addition, Shaun Montoya and Irvin Weems hit .417 for the series (5-12) with three runs scored apiece.

In Friday's win, Montoya went 3-for-5 with two runs scored, highlighted by his first homer of the season, a two-run blast in the first inning.

In the outfield, Montoya made six putouts on both Saturday and Sunday, cutting off numerous fly balls in the gap with his speed, including a crucial catch in the series finale on a line drive by Fresno State's Cam Schneider with two outs and the bases loaded in the eighth, helping the Aztecs hang on for the 5-2 victory.

Earlier in the first inning of that contest, Tino Bethancourt smacked his sixth homer of the year, a three-run bomb, which ultimately provided the winning margin.

Not to be outdone, Xavier Cardenas III pitched a gem, tossing six scoreless innings for this second victory of the season. The SDSU sophomore offset three hits and two walks with five strikeouts, including two in both the first and third frames.

PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS
For the ninth time in the last 10 weekends, San Diego State is scheduled to employ the starting rotation of Jacob Riordan (3-4), Omar Serrano (4-5) and Xavier Cardenas III (2-5), while Air Force is expected to pitch Seungmin Shim (6-2) and Dylan Rogers (4-5) on Friday and Saturday, respectively, with Sunday's starter to be determined.

A graduate transfer from Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Riordan has gone winless in his last five starts after tossing the program's ninth no-hitter in SDSU's 13-0 victory over UNM in the nightcap of a doubleheader on March 29. The Aztec right-hander offset six walks and a hit batter against the Lobos by matching his season-best with eight strikeouts, giving San Diego State no-hitters in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

In his last start against Fresno State on May 3, Riordan struck out six batters in 6 1/3 innings but did not factor in the decision after yielding seven runs (five earned) on six hits and three walks before the Aztecs rallied with three runs in the bottom of the seventh and hung on for a 9-8 triumph.

Riordan also pitched against Air Force in March but was plagued by nine walks, giving up seven runs (four earned) in 4 2/3 innings, despite allowing just one hit and posting four strikeouts.

Saturday's projected starter Serrano captured MW Pitcher of the Week honors for the first time in his career after yielding just one run on four hits and three walks with six strikeouts in seven-plus innings vs. Fresno State on May 4, as the Scarlet and Black posted a 3-1 victory.

Serrano tied his career high with nine strikeouts in seven innings of work against UC Irvine on April 20, but did not factor in the decision after giving up three runs on eight hits and a pair of walks, as the Anteaters pulled off a comeback victory in the ninth.

The Downey, California, native picked up the win in the Aztecs' 7-5 home triumph over UNLV on April 13, after allowing just one run on eight hits and two walks to go with five strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.

Serrano was saddled with the hard-luck loss in his previous start against Air Force on March 16, when he gave up just one earned run on seven hits and three walks with strikeouts in five innings, as the Falcons erupted for five runs in the sixth and hung on for a 7-5 decision.
 
Two weeks earlier, Serrano tossed his first career complete game in the Aztecs' 7-1 triumph at Fresno State in game one of a doubleheader. The SDSU right-hander recorded six strikeouts while yielding just one run on five hits without a walk for his first victory of the year.

Cardenas is slated for his 12th start of the year on Sunday after recording one out in a relief appearance against New Mexico during seventh inning of a doubleheader on March 29.

The SDSU sophomore is coming off a sparkling performance in the series finale vs. Fresno State on May 5, when he tossed six scoreless innings, offsetting three hits and two walks with five strikeouts to pick up his second victory of the season.

Cardenas pitched a career-long seven-plus innings at Hawai'i on March 24, allowing three runs (two earned) on two hits and seven walks but did not factor in the decision after the Rainbow Warriors rallied for a walk-off 6-5 victory in 10 innings.

Cardenas set a career high with eight strikeouts against Air Force on March 17 but was tagged with the defeat after giving up seven runs in 5 2/3 innings.

SDSU IN MW RANKINGS
Entering the week, SDSU pitchers lead the Mountain West in opposing batting average (.265) while ranking second in strikeouts (420), fewest hits allowed (415) and sixth in ERA (7.18).

The Scarlet and Black also tops the conference with 9.30 strikeouts and 9.20 hits allowed per nine innings, which is good for 62nd and 78th in the nation as of May 9, respectively.

Individually, Jacob Riordan leads the league in opponent batting average (.237) and occupies the fourth spot in fewest hits allowed (53) while ranking fifth in strikeouts (65) and seventh in innings pitched (61.1).

Omar Serrano is also listed among the conference's top 10 in several categories, ranking fourth in innings pitched (67.2) and fifth in ERA (4.39) while sharing the sixth spot in strikeouts (61). The reigning MW Pitcher of the Week is also slotted eighth in opponent batting average (.275).

Elsewhere, Xavier Cardenas III occupies the third position in fewest hits allowed (51) and is slotted fourth in opponent batting average (.246).

Additionally, relievers Garvey Rumary, Evan Miranda and Jadon Bercovich are tied for the top spot in the MW in games pitched (20), with Bercovich sharing the third position in saves (4).

Miranda is also tied for third in the conference with 13 games finished, while Bercovich is slotted seventh in that category with 10.

Offensively, SDSU is slotted fifth in the MW this week in doubles (93) while occupying the sixth position in hits (428) and batting average (.265).

Despite missing the last four weeks, freshman Colby Turner still shares the top spot in the conference with four triples, which is tied for 26th in the nation as of May 9.

In addition, Shaun Montoya is tied for fourth in the MW with 63 hits and 10 stolen bases.

Evan Sipe and David Whittle are also knotted in the fourth position with eight runners caught stealing.

AZTEC ODDS & ENDS
Shaun Montoya is the lone Aztec to start all 47 games this season, playing exclusively in right field. The SDSU junior has made 52 consecutive starts dating back to last season and has started 97 of the last 99 contests he has appeared in.

Since March 22, a span of 28 games, Montoya has hit .400 (46-115) with one homer, seven doubles, two triples and 28 runs scored, raising his batting average from .215 to .325.

Additionally, Montoya leads the team with multiple hits in 19 games, followed by Finley Bates, who has accomplished the feat in 14 different contests.

Bates has seen action in 46 games thus far, earning 26 starts at shortstop and 19 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 occupies the second spot on the team with 71 total bases, 50 hits and 10 doubles while ranking third with a .272 batting average and fourth with 26 runs scored.

Meanwhile, Tino Bethancourt, Brady Lavoie and Jake Jackson are tied for second on the Aztecs with multiple RBIs in six games trailing freshman Colby Turner, who has accomplished the feat in seven contests.

Bethancourt has reached base safely in six straight outings, while Montoya and Jackson are tied for the team's longest current hitting streak at five games.

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 (2nd, .289), runs scored (T-2nd, 27), RBIs (4th, 24), on-base percentage (4th, .342), hits (5th, 39) and slugging percentage (5th, .400).

Over the past 14 games, Jackson has posted a slash line of .415/.458/.604 with six 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).

SERIES RECORD VS. AIR FORCE
The Aztecs maintain a sizable 121-39 lead against Air Force in the all-time series that dates back to 1961.

The Falcons are one of four teams which San Diego State has recorded 100 wins against, while the other three are New Mexico (134), Fresno State (113), Utah (104) and UNLV (102).

SDSU is 67-13 vs. Air Force in San Diego, 47-25 in Colorado and 7-1 at a neutral site.

The Aztecs suffered a three-game sweep at the hands of the Falcons in mid-March, falling by scores of 10-3, 7-5 and 13-3. The series was played at Rawlings Field in Pueblo, Colorado, due to heavy snowfall at the USAF Academy.

Colby Turner led the Scarlet and Black in that series with a .625 batting average (5-8) with two homers, three runs scored and five RBIs, while Finley Bates hit .357 (5-14) for the weekend.

In nine career games against Air Force, Tino Bethancourt is batting .391 (9-23) with eight doubles, seven runs scored and three RBIs.

Weems has also faced the Falcons 12 times as a collegian, hitting .364 (16-44) with eight doubles, one triple, 10 runs scored and 12 RBIs.

AIR FORCE AT A GLANCE
The Falcons (21-25, 13-11 MW) are coming off a series victory at home over San José State last weekend, posting a pair of three-run victories by scores of 8-5 and 9-6 sandwiched around a 17-8 loss.

With the results, Air Force finds itself in a tie for third with Nevada in the Mountain West standings at 13-11 heading into its series with San Diego State.

In addition, the Falcons improve to 11-6 at home this season but still maintain a combined 10-19 record in road/neutral games.

Sophomore first baseman Charlie Jones was named Mountain West Player of the Week after batting .412 in four starts vs. Nevada and SJSU with seven hits, 12 RBIs and seven runs scored.

All seven of Jones' hits went for extra-base hits, including five home runs. He also posted a 1.412 slugging percentage and registered multi-hit games in three of four outings.

Entering the weekend, Air Force ranks third in the conference in on-base percentage (.385) and fourth in runs scored (305) while occupying the fifth spot in batting average (.286), hits (445), RBIs (274) and slugging percentage (.455).

Individually, Jay Thomason tops the MW in home runs (16), runs scored (57) and total bases (129) while ranking second in slugging percentage (.721) and seventh in batting average (.321). The Falcon third baseman also shares the fourth position in hits (63) and is slotted sixth in both RBIs (45) and on-base percentage (.452).

Along with Thomason and Jones (.360), Air Force boasts three additional regulars with batting averages over .300, including outfielder Chase Spencer (.320), designated hitter Jake Greiving (.315) and second baseman Sam Kulasingam (.304).

On the basepaths, the Falcons lead the league in stolen bases (83), which is tied for 33rd in the nation as of May 9. Air Force has four players occupying the MW top 10 in that category, including Spencer's league-leading 23 thefts, followed by Thomason (3rd, 12), Aerik Joe (T-4th, 10), outfielder Chris Stallings (T-7th, 8) and Kulasingam (9th, 7).

In addition, Spencer is tied for third in the conference with five sacrifice bunts, while Joe is slotted seventh in that category with four.

On the mound, Falcon pitchers occupy the fifth position in the MW in ERA (6.66) and fewest hits allowed (418) while ranking sixth in opponent batting average (.302) and strikeouts (313).

Friday's projected starter Seungmin Shim earned the victory in his last outing against the Aztecs on March 16, after pitching seven scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts to offset three hits and three walks.

Entering the weekend, Shim finds himself among the MW leaders in several categories, tying for the top spot in victories (6) while ranking second in innings pitched (76.1), third in ERA (3.30), third in strikeouts (74) and sixth in opponent batting average (.264).

Meanwhile, Saturday's expected starter Dylan Rogers was also triumphant against the Scarlet and Black in March, allowing one run on six hits without a walk while striking out eight in eight innings of work.

Elsewhere, Doyle Gehring leads the Air Force bullpen with seven saves, which ranks second in the league. He also occupies the fifth position in opponent batting average (.258) and is slotted sixth in ERA (4.40).

LOCAL HEROES
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).

AZTECS IN MLB DRAFT
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).

MOUNTAIN WEST TOURNAMENT RETURNS TO SAN DIEGO
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.

UP NEXT
Following this weekend's action, San Diego State closes out its homestand when it battles UC San Diego on Tuesday, May 14, in the final non-conference game of the regular season for both squads at Tony Gwynn Stadium. First pitch is slated for an early 5 p.m. PT start, and the contest will air live on the Mountain West Network.