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San Diego State finished third in the Mountain West Conference and, headed into the MWC Tournament in Las Vegas unsure whether or not they had a berth secured in the NCAA Regionals.  But the Aztecs put an end to the speculation by defeating regular season champion UNLV twice to earn the automatic bid.

The Aztecs have faced their share of adversity.  Their head coach,  Tony Gwynn, left the team during the season to get treatment for mouth cancer.  He had fought cancer back in 2010.

The Aztecs have shown some fight of their own.  Here’s a look at the #3 seed in the Lafayette Regional.

OFFENSE—This team can swing it a little.  Like so many teams from the state of California, most of SDSU’s power is gap power.  There is one notable exception.  Catcher Brad Haynal can swing it with the best of the power hitters in this tournament.  His twelve homers lead the club; in fact, he’s hit half of the team’s total.  He also can hit for average (.313).  Infielders Ty France and Tim Zier have combined for  78 RBI and hit .358 and .325 respectively.  They’ve got 149 extra base hits, most of them gappers.  Five regulars hit .300 or better.  They average just under six runs  per game.  But you can bet every coach will have Haynal’s name circled on the lineup card.  You don’t want to give that guy a chance to beat you.  There hasn’t been a ton of depth, with only ten players having 100 or more at bats.  And, it’s a very right-handed hitting lineup.  Allen is a switch hitter, DH Spencer Thornton hits from the left side.  That’s it.

SMALL BALL?  They don’t sacrifice bunt a ton (36) but they move runners.  The Aztecs have stolen 77 bases on the season.  Three players have the bulk of the steals, with Greg Allen leading the way with 25.  San Diego State isn’t afraid to start runners with the hit and run, either.

PITCHING—John Pawlowski, the former head coach at Auburn took over as pitching coach this year.  He and Mark Martinez are running the club in Gwynn’s absence.  It’s pretty obvious who the Aztecs rely on as their ace.  Bubba Derby (8-3, 2.69) has thrown over 100 innings this year.  He averages nearly one strikeout per inning.  Derby has done the job for the Aztecs on Friday night all season.  He may walk a few (a little over three per nine innings) and hit a few, but he gets people out.  Mark Seyler (8-5, 3.99)  and lefty Mike Robards (5-4, 4.59) round out the top three.  Michael Cederoth (6-2, 2.28, 20 saves) averages more than a strikeout per inning, and he’s the guy SDSU looks to with the game on the line.  Like their offense, the Aztecs are predominantly a right handed staff.  This is not a particularly deep group like Mississippi State’s bunch, but they have some guys who can get you out.  They might have an issue if they fall into the loser’s bracket.

DEFENSE—The good news is, Haynal is very tough to run against.  He has thrown out 25 of 46 would be base stealers.  The word has gotten out and opponents don’t try to run much against him.  Overall their defense is good, though not in the class of Mississippi State or Louisiana.  Their infield (2B, SS, 3b) have combined for 34 errors and that’s more than the coaching staff would like.

OVERVIEW—This is a pretty good hitting club.  Haynal is a guy everyone in the tournament wishes they had.  They can run at the top of the lineup and can find the gaps.  The biggest issue for me is the quality depth of the pitching staff.  There’s a fall off after Derby in the starting rotation and they’ve relied on two main guys in the bullpen all year.  That doesn’t normally make for a deep run in a tournament.  Yet, SDSU did it the hard way in Las Vegas, having to play six games.  And, with exception of Louisiana, this isn’t a tournament that’s going to strike fear into a pitching staff.  It’s said in the tournament, everybody has a #1 guy.  Derby is the guy and he’s a good matchup against a Mississippi State team that is by no means an offensive juggernaut.  California baseball is very good baseball.  This team will not be an opening day pushover.