UNLV was hoping for a little déjà vu in the bottom of the ninth inning of Sunday afternoon’s Mountain West Tournament title decider with San Diego State.
The No. 1 seeded Rebels trailed, 4-3, and were facing the Aztecs’ hard-throwing closer, Michael Cederoth. Only two nights earlier UNLV had rallied from a three-run deficit against Cederoth, who has registered 101 mph on the speed gun and is a potential first round MLB draft pick, to pull out a dramatic 5-4 victory.
But this time Cederoth nailed down the final two outs, the last one coming on a line drive to the gap in right-center by second baseman Justin Jones that Spencer Thornton ran down to strand T.J. White at third, and No. 3 seed San Diego State held on for the win and its second consecutive tournament championship.
“I thought (the comeback) was going to happen but it came up a little short,” White, who opened the final frame with a pinch-hit single after not starting with a sore left hand, said. “Jonesy hits the ball well in the right-center gap and the kid runs it down. It was close to spinning our way and us being out there (for the trophy ceremony) instead of them.”
“I’m proud of our guys,” UNLV coach Tim Chambers said. “Hats off to (San Diego State), they’re a good team. They have really good pitching and they play good defense. Obviously we’re disappointed with not getting the win but you’ve got to move forward. We’ve still got a shot to do something special.”
San Diego State (42-19) garnered the Mountain West’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid with the victory. The Rebels (35-22), who have a solid RPI of 31, will gather at the Mendenhall Center on Monday morning and watch the NCAA Tournament selection show which begins at 9 a.m. on ESPNU.
“I feel like we’re in,” Chambers said. “We did win the league and we had a good showing today so I feel like we’re in. … I’m pretty sure (the Mountain West) is getting two teams and we’re one of them.”
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There are 16 regionals comprised of four teams each. All 16 regionals are scheduled to begin Friday and conclude on Monday.
On Sunday night, the NCAA announced the 16 regional sites. They are Baton Rouge, La.; Bloomington, Ind.; Charlottesville, Va.; Coral Gables, Fla.; Corvallis, Ore.; Columbia, S.C.; Fort Worth, Tex.; Gainesville, Fla.; Houston; Lafayette, La.; Louisville, Ky. Nashville, Tenn.; Oxford, Miss.; San Luis Obispo, Cal.; Stillwater, Okla.; and Tallahassee, Fla.
With the game tied at 3-3 in the top of the sixth, the Aztecs loaded the bases with one out. San Diego State senior shortstop Evan Potter came through with a sacrifice fly to center field that was just deep enough to bring home left fielder Seby Zavala for what proved to be the game-winning run.
Aztec assistant coach Mark Martinez gave all the credit to his players while stating the championship was for head coach Tony Gwynn who was back in San Diego watching while on a medical leave of absence.
“We knew this wasn’t going to be easy and our hats off to the Rebels, that’s an unbelievable program. This is an unbelievable group of guys that has made our job as coaches easy, we’ll be bringing this back to Coach Gwynn,” Martinez said.
Sophomore third baseman Ty France went 3-for-5 with an RBI to lead the Aztecs offensively, while junior catcher Brad Haynal finished 1-for-3 on the day and 14-for-22 in the tournament to lead all batters for the week. Haynal also scored the most runs in the tournament with nine to help him garner MVP honors.
“I was just trying to give myself good counts,” Haynal said. “This is sweet because we went back-to-back. Not one guy can do it alone, but I try to pick my team up whenever I can. It was a collective effort and I love my team.”
Cederoth finished the game to earn his 20st save, putting him atop the record books for both SDSU and the Mountain West for saves in a season.
2014 MOUNTAIN WEST ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
Brad Haynal, Jr., C, San Diego State; Trenton Brooks, Fr., OF/P, Nevada; Scott Kaplan, Sr., 2B, Nevada; Greg Allen, Jr., OF, San Diego State; Evan Potter, Sr., SS, San Diego State; Brett Seeburger, Fr., P, San Diego State; Kyle Gallegos, Sr., C, San José State; John Richy, Jr., P, UNLV; T.J. White, Jr., 3B, UNLV; Designated Hitter: Steven Pallares, Jr., San Diego State; Relief Pitcher: Brayden Torres, So. UNLV.
(VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS COURTESY MOUNTAIN WEST NETWORK)