FORT WORTH, Tex. -- For now at least, the championship dreams of the San Diego State baseball team have been put on hold.
That's because the Aztec bats were held down Friday night by two All-Conference pitchers from the University of Utah.
Right-hander Jordan Whatcott, pitching with just two days rest, allowed only three hits in six innings. Another righty, Brian Budrow, pitching with just one day of rest, allowed only two hits in three innings of relief.
Thus, despite a gutty seven-inning effort from Tyler Lavigne -- also pitching on two days rest --the Aztecs fell, 4-1, spoiling their first opportunity to claim the Mountain West Conference title at TCU's Lupton Stadium.
SDSU will get another chance today (11 a.m. PDT, coverage on goaztecs.com) when it meets the upstart Utes again -- this time in a winner-take-all championship final.
The Aztecs (40-20) will hand the ball to freshman right-hander Ryan O'Sullivan with All-American Stephen Strasburg -- who pitched 7 2/3 innings Wednesday afternoon against New Mexico -- looming as a possibility in relief.
Utah, which came into the tournament as the No. 6-seed after an 8-16 conference finish, will try to complete a remarkable run, which has already included two victories over top-seeded TCU and now one over SDSU. The Utes (25-29 overall) eliminated the three-time defending champion and tournament hosts, 6-4, Friday afternoon.
Whatcott finished off that victory, retiring the final two TCU hitters with the tying runs on base in the bottom of the ninth inning. Then after a one-hour rest between games, Whatcott went back to the hill to start against the Aztecs and struck out five of the first nine batters he faced to set the tone.
The Utes provided him a 2-0 lead in the third when, after Lavigne hit back-to-back batters, left fielder Tyler Yagi grounded a ball up the middle for a two-run single. Lavigne, who had thrown 116 pitches on Tuesday night in a tournament-opening victory over UNLV, held his ground from there, pitching on guts and fumes into the 8th.
But the Aztecs, who had scored 72 runs in their previous eight games, were unable to get their offense untracked, scoring only in the 4th on an Eric Castro double, a wild pitch that sent him to third, and an RBI ground-out by Cory Vaughn.
SDSU had other chances to score, but left nine runners on base and went 0-for-7 batting with runners in scoring position. Meanwhile, Utah put the game away with single runs in the eighth and ninth off reliever Andrew Leary.
That San Diego State and Utah are meeting for a Mountain West championship should surprise no one, despite the two teams' seedings. SDSU and Utah played in both the women's and men's basketball championship games in March.
Utah won both of those encounters. Now it's up to Tony Gwynn's baseball nine to reverse those fortunes -- and the fortunes of Friday night -- this afternoon.
Game notes: Whereas the Aztecs will have a fresh Ryan O'Sullivan -- who hasn't pitched in the tournament -- available to start today's finale, it's anybody's guess as to whom Utah will turn. All four of the Utes starting pitchers -- Andrew Wilding, Bryn Card, Whatcott and Budrow -- have pitched in the last 24 hours....Aztecs CF Pat Colwell had two hits Friday night to extend his hitting streak to 10 games. Castro's double in the 4th extended his hit streak to nine games....Utah's Corey Shimada hit a solo homer in the ninth, the first allowed by SDSU pitching in the tournament. The Aztecs have yet to hit a homer.....If SDSU wins today, it will claim an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, clinching its first post-season appearance since 1991....Most feel the Aztecs would still be in line for an at-large berth should they lose, but they'd have to wait until Monday's bracket unveiling to be sure.
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