Photos courtesy of author, Luke Ramirez
San Diego State has found a groove at the plate in the 2018 season and continue to assert themselves as an offensive juggernaut coming out of Southern California. The Aztecs wrapped up a non-conference series win over Cal State Fullerton last weekend after scoring 26 runs over three games thanks to a lineup hitting .310 this season.
SDSU (23-13) has had four NCAA regional appearances since 2010 including last season. A Mountain West Conference championship earned them an automatic bid into the playoffs, though a 42-win season kept them in the mix for an at-large selection as well. The program has come to fruition recently and is primed for another shot at playing games in June.
“We’re an ‘all hands on deck’ type of team,” junior first baseman Jordan Verdon said. “We take at-bats one pitch at a time and when you’re able to keep that mentality, it’s kind of hard to lose.”
Verdon hits in the four spot for the Aztecs and launched his fifth home run of the season in the series. Along with the power numbers (sluggling .624), he’s the team leading hitter at a an impressive .361 clip. He leads the team in six offensive categories and looks primed to continuing a monster year in his draft season.
It’s not just the numbers that Verdon provides for his team. Facing a 3-0 first inning deficit in game two on Saturday, he crushed a 2-0 offering over the wall in right field. The blow sparked a four run rally with two outs in the inning that got the Aztecs back into the game.
Protecting Verdon is senior outfielder Chase Calabuig, who isn’t letting his teammate have all the fun on offense by any means. He’s currently slashing .331/.378/.554 while just one home run shy of Verdon with four so far. In the series opener on Friday, Calabuig pulled a flyball way out of Tony Gwynn Stadium in San Diego off of Fullerton junior ace Colton Eastman.
Those are merely two hitters out of a full lineup of Aztecs that can put up double digit hits on any given night. The most interesting aspect about the potent San Diego State offense is that six of the nine starters are from San Diego county.
“That was my dream when I came here,” Verdon said. “We’ve added more local guys each year that I have been here. I’ve grown up playing with and against these guys and now to be here together is just awesome.”
Freshman Matt Rudick (Scripps Ranch), senior David Hensley (Patrick Henry), Verdon (Granite Hills), junior Dean Nevarez (Eastlake), sophomore Julian Escobedo (Eastlake) and freshman Casey Schmitt (Eastlake) were all kept at home thanks in part to four-year head coach Mark Martinez and staff. He assumed the duty after Tony Gwynn’s passing in 2015, and has done a great job in going after the surplus of talent right in his backyard.
“We want to win San Diego every year in recruiting,” Martinez said. “Because of the success we’ve had in the past, we’ve been able to keep the good guys here in San Diego.”
The Aztecs boast a solid pitching staff as well with a team ERA at 3.93. Eight different pitchers have gotten starts on the mound in 2018, but anyone who toes the slab shouldn’t have to worry about a lack of run support.
San Diego State’s hasn’t had the hottest start to conference play (8-6), but the advantage of the Mountain West is that the automatic bid goes to the winner of the tournament that closes out the regular season. Even better new for the Aztecs is that they will host the event May 24-27. If they can manage to get hot over that week and carry momentum into a regional, the offense may be able to lead the team to the programs first Super Regional appearance.
“It’s been a process that’s for sure,” Martinez said. “Our guys are starting to grow more comfortable at the plate but we still have a lot of work to be done.”