© Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports


Chris Ello
May 31, 2018 - 5:28 am

In 1984, the San Diego State baseball team was one bad bounce away from making it to the College World Series. It hasn't been anywhere near that close since.

The Aztecs, winners of the Mountain West Conference championship in five of the last six years, embark on another quest for that elusive trip to Omaha this Friday against last year's NCAA runner-up L.S.U. in the Corvallis, Oreg., regional. The host Oregon State is a recent two-time national champ, ranked as high as No. 2 in the country this season. L.S.U. has won six national titles since 1991.

San Diego State, breeding ground for Hall of Famers like Tony Gwynn and All-Stars like Stephen Strasburg, frankly has won nothing. Perhaps the time has come.

Mark Martinez, who took over for the late, great Gwynn a handful of seasons ago, has produced a recent culture of winning. He said last week that his team "expected" to win the Mountain West Conference tournament over this past weekend at Tony Gwynn Stadium. Then his team went out and did exactly that.

The Aztecs (39-19) squeaked out a pair of one-run victories over San Jose State (2-1) and U.N.L.V. (4-3) before their bats awoke in the championship finale last Saturday and squashed U.N.L.V., 14-5. The SDSU bullpen was the key to the tournament, pitching 15-plus innings and allowing just two hits (no runs).

And so it is that the Aztecs are in a familiar spot. In an NCAA regional where the odds are stacked against them. Last season, they beat U.C.L.A. in the NCAA's but ultimately fell to pitching-rich Long Beach State. Three seasons ago, they upset top-seed UC Santa Barbara, but couldn't get past Virginia -- which eventually went on to win the whole thing. 

Other disappointments preceeded that. Like in '84 against Cal State Fullerton. The Aztecs and Titans were tied in the bottom of the ninth inning in a winner-take-all game for a trip to Omaha. SDSU had the winning run at second base and a base hit seemed sure to bring in thewinning run. But (and perhaps legend takes over a bit here) the throw -- which was headed wide of the plate -- hit the mound and caromed into the waiting glove of the Fullerton catcher who tagged the unsuspecting Aztec baserunner for the out.

Of course, Fullerton won in extra innings, then took the NCAA crown a couple of weeks later.

"We have proven that we can get to a regional," Martinez has been saying for several years now. "But in order to put ourselves on the map, we have to win a regional. Not just a game, but the whole thing."

No time like the present.