All Kevin Larson could do was yell in excitement.
Clinging to a 5-3 eighth-inning lead in the second game of Fresno State’s doubleheader with San Diego State Saturday, Larson faced the bases loaded with two outs.
But the Bulldog reliever escaped the jam by forcing a weak ground ball to third base, igniting a roar from the lanky 6-foot-9 Larson and cheers from fans on hand to watch the Diamond Dogs in person for the first time this season.
Larson’s pivotal out helped the Bulldogs top the Aztecs in the second game of the doubleheader, 5-3, after they dropped the first game, 12-11.
Assistant coach Greg Gonzalez said the Bulldogs put the first game loss behind them quickly, which helped them emerge victorious in the second game and secure the doubleheader split.
“You just don’t think about it,” Gonzalez said. “We knew that after you lose the first one, you got to get on to the second one… you just have to focus on the task at hand.”
Gonzalez helped head coach Mike Batesole achieve win No. 602 at Fresno State, surpassing Pete Beiden for the second spot on the all-time career wins list for a baseball head coach. Bob Bennett remains atop the list with 1,302 wins.
The doubleheader split kept Fresno State (10-17, 7-10 MW) in fifth place in the conference standings, five-and-a-half games back from Mountain West leaders San Diego State (18-9, 13-7 MW).
In the opening game of the doubleheader, San Diego State jumped to a 1-0 lead in the first inning on three hits.
Fresno State responded and took a 2-1 lead in the bottom half of the frame on a two-run home run from Dylan Johnson, the first of his collegiate career.
The Bulldogs scored another run in the third with Andrew Kachel’s RBI single into center field, but San Diego State got the run back in the fourth. Aztec third baseman Cole Carrigg led the inning off with a double and scored on Caden Miller’s RBI single.
The hits didn’t stop there for San Diego State.
After designated hitter Brian Leonhardt tied the game at 3 with a sacrifice fly, Jaden Fein lined a two-run double that landed just in front of Bulldog center fielder EJ Andrews, Jr.’s glove.
That added to Fein’s Mountain West-leading RBI total (38) and batting average (.457 entering Saturday). It was also the second two-out RBI for the sophomore and fourth two-out hit of the game for the Aztecs.
In the bottom of the sixth, Fresno State tied the game at 5 apiece with an RBI triple from Kachel and a sacrifice fly from Vinny Bologna.
The Bulldogs carried the offensive momentum into a four-run seventh inning. Josh Lauck led off with a walk and scored the go-ahead run on Ryan Higgins’ RBI single. Andrew Kachel was intentionally walked to load the bases, before pinch hitter Ivan Luna hit an RBI groundout to first base.
Zach Presno laced a two-out, two-run single to push the Bulldogs’ lead to 9-5. But it wasn’t large enough against the Aztecs, who boast the highest-scoring offense in the conference.
SDSU pinch hitter Poncho Ruiz launched a three-run home run off the top of the left field scoreboard, cutting Fresno State’s lead to 9-8.
The Aztecs scored seven runs in the top of the eighth inning, all of them coming with two outs. They led 12-9.
“When you got a team on the ropes and you got a chance to finish innings, you gotta do it,” Gonzalez said. “When you keep giving other teams chances repeatedly, it’s just more and more chances that they’re going to end up getting a big hit and pushing some runs across.”
Fresno State got within a run in the ninth inning, after Ivan Luna hit an RBI triple down the right-field line and scored on Presno’s sacrifice fly. Nate Thimjon could have swung for the tying run, but struck out swinging to finish San Diego State’s 12-11 comeback victory.
In the second game, both teams traded two-run home runs in the second inning — Aztec first baseman Jacob Cruce sent one over the center field wall that Andrews, Jr. nearly robbed, and Bulldog shortstop Blake Wink went deep to right field, his first hit of the season.
The Aztecs took a 3-2 lead in the top of the fifth on a Presno throwing error to first base. Andrews, Jr. picked his teammate up with an RBI double in the bottom half of the inning to tie the game at 3 apiece.
Fresno State struck again in the sixth to take the lead. Presno lined a two-out triple off the center field wall and scored on Johnson’s RBI single, putting the Bulldogs ahead 4-3.
On the mound, Fresno State starter Jake Dixon kept the Bulldogs’ momentum by pitching a 1-2-3 seventh inning on the mound.
The clean frame was his last of the night. The Sanger High product limited the Aztecs to three runs (two earned) over seven innings, striking out four batters while walking one.
When Dixon faced San Diego State on the road on March 6, he was tagged for 12 runs (eight earned) over 1.1 innings.
“[Dixon] has done a lot with his improvement,” Gonzalez said. “His breaking ball to start, and then also with a mechanical adjustment that we felt helped get him some deception from the hitter. He’s been more aggressive and he learned from losing a couple tough starts in the middle of the season.”
The Bulldogs added an insurance run in the seventh when Andrews, Jr. scored on an Aztec wild pitch, before Larson escaped the bases-loaded jam in the eighth.
Redshirt freshman Cooper Bergman entered the game in the ninth and recorded his first career save.
Fresno State will finish the three-game series against San Diego State on Sunday at 1:35 p.m.