SAN DIEGO - Finally, Tony Gwynn could exhale.
After enduring two long nights and spending hour after hour on his computer keeping track of college baseball tournaments across the country, Gwynn and his San Diego State Aztecs got the news Monday morning that they were indeed going to the NCAA regionals.
"The fact that we got in - big relief," the Hall of Famer said after watching the selection show with his team. "It was like, 'All right, we're in, so let's focus in on the baseball now.'
"We're very excited about being in."
SDSU and its ace right-hander, Stephen Strasburg, will play ACC champion Virginia on Friday at Irvine, followed by defending national champion Fresno State against UC Irvine, which is ranked No. 1 in most polls.
Gwynn had already been through emotional extremes in the previous 72 hours. The former Padres star was thrilled to be able to break the news to his son, Tony Jr., that he'd been acquired by San Diego on Thursday. Hours later, the Aztecs rallied for eight runs in the eighth inning to beat Utah 9-8 and reach the championship round of the Mountain West Conference tournament.
Then came a double bummer, losses to Utah on Friday and Saturday that forced the Aztecs to wait until Monday morning to find out if they would play on.
Gwynn figured SDSU (40-21) had a chance of getting a postseason berth but also knew that the Mountain West had never gotten more than one team in. It ended up getting three - TCU, which is hosting a regional; Utah, which won the conference tournament as the No. 6 seed; and SDSU.
It's taken Gwynn seven seasons in his dream job to get his alma mater back to the NCAA regionals. Their last postseason appearance was in 1991, when he was halfway through his 20-season career with the Padres.
Gwynn got the SDSU job even before he was finished with his Padres career. The school announced in September 2001 that Gwynn - who was a baseball and basketball star during his SDSU career - would replace retiring Jim Dietz starting with the 2003 season. Gwynn showed up on campus the morning after his last game in the big leagues and spent the 2002 season as a volunteer assistant.
Gwynn doesn't necessarily think this berth validates what he's done.
"I don't know about validation, it's just about time," Gwynn said. "I think people are saying, 'Yeah, it's about time, you've been there seven years.' We finally got here. This is where we've wanted to go the whole time.
"I said that at the beginning of the year - we've got to climb this mountain. We've been climbing, climbing, climbing; almost get to the top and slide back down. This year we've finally gotten to it, and so now, let's keep going. Let's see how far we can go."
Gwynn admitted the previous two nights were rough. All the Aztecs needed was one win against Utah to clinch the Mountain West's automatic berth.
Gwynn said he spent more time on his computer during the weekend than ever before, trying to figure out how the NCAA bracket would sketch out.
"I still felt like we were going to get in," he said.
Gwynn said the Aztecs probably will start Strasburg in the opener on Friday. Strasburg, the likely No. 1 overall draft pick, is 13-0 with a 1.24 ERA. He no-hit Air Force in his last home start.
There was no question Strasburg was a factor in the Aztecs getting the berth, Gwynn said.
"Best player in the country, people want to see him," the coach said. "That's kind of like our ace in the hole. You want it to be on merit. We won 40 games. There aren't many teams in this field that won 40 games. We felt like we were worthy. Having the best player in the country didn't hurt. It worked out. We're in."
Gwynn is OK with a No. 3 seed in a tough bracket.
"It's another opportunity," he said. "It's a very competitive bracket. We've got the defending national champion, the ACC tournament champion, UC Irvine, and us. We're getting a lot of pub, too. It should be good. It should be interesting. It's close enough where our fans can come watch us play, too. So we're excited."
Gwynn's phone rang while he was talking to reporters at Tony Gwynn Stadium. It was his pitching coach, Rusty Filter.
"Between the eight-run eighth and Anthony getting traded to the Padres, and now making it to the regionals, I've never gotten as many text messages and phone calls as I have in the last week," Gwynn said. "It's been a great week."
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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