San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

Baseball builds ‘connection’ on and off-field to compete in Mountain West

First-year head coach Shaun Cole and the Aztecs are establishing culture to grow from last year’s regular season conference championship
Olivia Vargo
Junior outfielder Irvin Weems dives back to first base as redshirt junior first baseman Brady Lavoie covers during the Red-Black exhibition game during fall 2023 at Tony Gwynn Stadium.

There’s a different energy around Tony Gwynn Stadium this season.

It’s not just because the Aztecs won a share of the Mountain West Conference regular season championship for the first time since 2004 last season, or because the roster has 20 new freshmen and additional transfers.

After two seasons of coaching SDSU to one of the top pitching staffs in the conference, Shaun Cole has taken over as head coach of the Aztecs and is emphasizing the team being fully connected.

“It’s all a consistent theme and message about preparation, mind and body — how are you doing that?” Cole said during a preseason interview. “When we get a group of guys that start thinking that way and working that way, now we’re gonna get them to free up and compete at a high level and you’ll see that aggressive style of baseball.”

The Scarlet and Black were picked to finish fourth in the Mountain West Preseason Poll, as voted on by the league’s coaches. Junior pitchers Chris Canada and Omar Serrano were named to the Preseason All-Mountain West team.

“Thank you for the motivation,” Cole said at a season-opening press conference on Wednesday. “To pick us fourth… I appreciate that, it definitely went up in our locker room.”

The Aztecs return 48.7% of their at bats from last season and 39.3% of their RBI production, so building chemistry throughout the lineup and in the field has been critical.

Amongst the starters returning from last season are senior shortstop Xavier Gonzalez, and the outfield duo of redshirt junior right fielder Shaun Montoya and junior center fielder Irvin Weems.

Montoya led the team in hits (56), doubles (15) and runs scored (36) last season, while Weems is second amongst returners with 11 stolen bases. Gonzalez was the only player to start all 53 games and had the most assists (118) fielding.

“That’s a big stepping stone to having success in this program,” said junior outfielder Irvin Weems. “We also talked a lot about having leadership and older guys taking over big roles, and even freshmen coming in and having big roles… just playing as a team and being more connected as a whole.”

Amongst other returners, redshirt junior Brady Lavoie, in his second year with the program after transferring from NC State, is expected to start at first base and Junior Evan Sipe will start at catcher.

“We’re strong up the middle and I really believe the rest of the group will come along as long as they do their part, being strong up the middle and being good leaders,” Cole said.

The freshmen expected to start in the field are Madison High’s Jake Jackson in left field, who was named Mountain West Preseason Freshman of the Year by Perfect Game, and Colby Turner at third base.

San Diego State pitcher Chris Canada on the mound against Central Arizona College during a fall ball game in 2023. Canada was one of two Aztecs named to the Preseason All-Mountain West team. (Michael Hayes)

After leading the conference in nine categories — including ERA, opponent batting average, strikeouts and fewest hits and runs allowed — SDSU gets back 41.2% of their innings pitched from last season and 60.4% of their starts on the pitching staff.

“On paper right now, this may sound crazy because our pitching staff year was really, really good, but on paper, I think we have more depth and more pieces this year,” Cole said.

Canada threw the most innings (61.2) last season of all returning pitchers. He is the expected Friday night starter, after starting 13 games and striking out the fifth-most batters (55) in the conference.

Serrano, whose .237 opponent batting average was the second-lowest in the conference, is the Saturday starter. After making 13 of his 15 appearances out of the bullpen with a 3.31 ERA, sophomore Xavier Cardenas will start on Sundays.

“We’re all just really looking forward to pulling on the same rope,” Canada said. “Now there’s no division (between pitchers and hitters), everyone’s just getting in work and we feel as one team.”

It’s all part of building the connection and culture heading into the 2024 season.

“There’s a different vision, there’s a different energy to it and people like to grab on to that,” Cole said. “Now it’s up to us to continue that momentum — we need to play and we need to win games, but I think right now there’s a good buzz and I think people are excited.”

The Aztecs open the season against the Portland Pilots at 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 16 at Tony Gwynn Stadium.

“We want to play as hard as we can,” Canada said. “Every single game, Tuesday included, every single game is an opportunity to showcase what we have.

About the Contributors
Eric Evelhoch
Eric Evelhoch, '23-24 Sports Editor
Eric Evelhoch (he/him/his) is a senior media studies major who was born outside of Detroit, Michigan, and lived in Ventura County, California, for a decade-plus. He is a returning college student and transfer from Santa Barbara City College, where he served as Sports Editor for The Channels. Evelhoch is also a Sports Director for KCR College Radio, where he restarted play-by-play coverage post-pandemic. Currently, he serves as the play-by-play broadcaster for the SDSU ACHA DI hockey team and has filled in on the call for Aztecs sports on the Mountain West Network. His prior freelance experience includes print, digital, online video and audio-only, and broadcast radio formats covering football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer and volleyball.
Olivia Vargo
Olivia Vargo, '24-25 Photo Editor
Olivia Vargo (she/her/hers) is a first-year Television, Film, and New Media production major from Camas, WA. She loves photography and is excited to see what her future at SDSU holds. She was the team photographer for her local equestrian team all four years of high school and the photographer/student manager for her school’s varsity baseball team in the spring of her senior year. She loves music, art, animals, baseball (specifically the Dodgers), and California’s sunny weather. As a first-year Olivia hopes to gain lots of experiences with the Daily Aztec and explore what they have to offer.