USD made a trip to the Northwest three weeks ago for nothing.
This time it’s for everything.
The Toreros (31-11, 17-7 West Coast Conference) travel to Gonzaga (32-15, 19-5) on the final weekend of the regular season with the WCC championship and an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament at stake.
USD has no margin for error, needing to sweep the series in order to take the title.
“It’s great to be playing games of consequence the last weekend in May,” USD head coach Rich Hill said. “It feels like the old WCC Championship Series format. I’m so happy for this group to get this opportunity.”
The WCC used to play a best-of-three series between its top two teams to determine its NCAA entrant. That changed in 2013 when it went to a four-team, double-elimination tournament to crown a champion.
The tourney was eliminated this year because of COVID-19 considerations, so the postseason berth goes to the regular-season winner.
The Toreros, with an 88 RPI entering the series, have little chance of reaching the postseason without winning the title.
Teams typically need an RPI in the 40s, or better, in order to have a chance at an at-large berth.
USD and Gonzaga were originally scheduled to play three weeks ago, but Gonzaga had COVID-19 issues within the Bulldogs program that forced postponement of the series.
Word of the postponement reached the Toreros when they were virtually taking off from Lindbergh Field, so they flew all the way to the Seattle and spent the afternoon sitting in the airport before turning right around and coming home.
USD substituted Pepperdine for Gonzaga that weekend and swept the Waves, but the Toreros went 3-3 over the next two series against BYU and Portland.
Gonzaga followed a two-week pause by going 5-1 against Portland and USF to put the Bulldogs in the driver’s seat.
This weekend: Today-Saturday at Gonzaga, 6 p.m./6 p.m./noon.
San Diego State (28-15, 20-13 Mountain West) has had some improbable finishes in the Mountain West Tournament in recent years that have vaulted the Aztecs into the NCAA Tournament.
SDSU will need such craziness in the final weekend of the regular season if it is to participate in postseason play this season.
With no conference tournament this season because of COVID-19 considerations, the MW’s automatic berth to the NCAA Regionals will go to the regular season winner.
First-place Nevada (21-18, 18-9) can clinch the conference title — the champion will be determined by winning percentage — this weekend and there’s nothing SDSU can do about it.
Here’s what would need to transpire in order for the Aztecs to come away with the title:
SDSU needs to sweep New Mexico (14-23, 8-15) and Nevada needs to lose at least three games to last-place San Jose State (to give SDSU a .639 winning percentage to Nevada’s .613), or SDSU can win two games against the Lobos while Nevada gets swept (to give SDSU a .611 winning percentage to Nevada’s .580).
SDSU enters the weekend with a 76 RPI, which makes an at-large berth all but impossible.
SDSU catcher Wyatt Hendrie comes into the series after earning Mountain West Player of the Week for the third time this season. Hendrie was 8-for-13 with seven RBIs and seven runs scored in last week’s sweep at Air Force.
This weekend: Friday-Saturday at New Mexico, noon (DH)/11 a.m.
UC San Diego (21-27, 18-18 Big West) concludes the season with a four-game series against Cal State Northridge (20-16, 20-16) that provides UCSD with an opportunity to complete its first year of Division I play with a winning record in the challenging Big West.
The Tritons were 9-16 against Big West competition before winning nine of their past 11 games to get to .500 in conference.
Crucial to the turnaround is a pitching staff that has limited its past three opponents to fewer the three earned runs a game after allowing more than twice that amount through the first nine weeks of the season.
This weekend: Today-Saturday vs. Cal State Northridge, 5 p.m./1 p.m. (DH)/1 p.m.