When the words “transition” and “rebuilding” appear in a media guide, the team that put it out doesn’t expect to have only one loss six games into conference play.
Yet, there the Aztecs are, perched atop the Western Athletic Conference at 5-1 following Friday night’s doubleheader split with Brigham Young. The Aztecs won the opener, 5-1, and dropped the second, 8-5, ending their five-game winning streak.
Because of the doubleheader, each game was shortened to seven innings.
The Aztecs moved to 21-11 overall and the Cougars went to 15-13, 1-1 in the WAC.
“This is the right time to be on a roll,” Coach Jim Dietz said between games. “But we’re not out of the woods yet. I hate these seven-inning games.”
Especially after BYU scored four runs in an inning twice in the second game, the first time erasing a 2-0 Aztec lead and the second time turning a 4-4 tie into an 8-4 advantage.
The runs were especially damaging considering they came from the bottom of the order.
In the fourth, Burt Call, the No. 8 batter, drove in one run with a single to center and No. 9 hitter, Brian Simpson, drove in two with a home run to left.
Another run scored on a throwing error by catcher Eric Christopherson, who was trying to catch Call stealing second base when he threw into center.
When the third out was finally recorded by starter Eric Plantenberg, BYU held a 4-2 lead.
In the fifth, Christopherson evened it up with a two-run home run that sailed well over the fence in left-center.
It was Christopherson’s fourth home run of the year.
It was also his second run of the game. In the third, Christopherson, a junior, tripled to center then scored when Brad Gennaro hit a grounder back to the mound.
The throw from pitcher Kendall Bennett went to the plate, but Christopherson’s hook slide bypassed the tag of catcher Brian Banks.
But BYU came back in the sixth with four more. All four came across after two were out.
Again, it was the bottom of the order that got things going. With runners at the corners, Simpson, the No. 9 hitter, came through with a run-scoring single to center off reliever Rusty Filter.
The No. 1 and No. 2 batters, Gary Daniels and Matt Norman, then came through with singles, and when it was all over, BYU held an 8-4 advantage and SDSU held no hopes of taking its winning streak to six games.
In the first game the Aztecs seemed to do everything right.
In that first one, SDSU drew three bases on balls from pitcher Mike Switzer (5-2). All three runners scored and two came home on sacrifice flies, one off the bat of Eric Christopherson and the other from Brian Grebeck.
Little things? The two other Aztec runs came after runners were bunted along.
Anthony Johnson, who was seven for 17 last week with four RBIs, layed down the first sacrifice in the second, moving Grebeck to second base. Grebeck later scored on Steve Boucher’s single to left.
Boucher layed down the other bunt, pushing over Johnson from second to third. Johnson came in on Bill Dunckel’s fielder’s choice grounder to shortstop.
The Cougars scored their lone run in the fourth. Randy Wilstead came across on Blaine Milne’s sacrifice to right. Noteworthy only because it was the first earned run given up by starter Kurt Archer (2-0) since he was moved into the rotation.
Archer, a transfer from Lassen Community College in Susanville where he posted an 8-1 record and a 1.93 ERA last year, shut out Sacramento State in his first start and gained a 4-3 victory over Utah last weekend in which all Ute runs came unearned.
Early on Archer was having trouble in the bullpen, but before his transition to a starting role, pitching coach Gary Kondratek repaired his delivery. Archer was throwing almost sidearm. Now he’s coming from over the top.
“It added four to five m.p.h. of velocity to my fastball and now my slurve breaks downward more,” Archer said of the adjustment.
He struck out four Cougars and gave up only one walk in allowing six hits.