LA JOLLA, Calif. - The UC San Diego baseball team had little trouble with visiting Vanguard University and posted its third shutout victory in as many exhibition contests for this preseason, 13-0, on a foggy Tuesday night at Triton Ballpark.
It was UCSD’s final exhibition ahead of its 2014 opener this Sunday, Feb. 2. The Tritons are ranked No. 39 in Collegiate Baseball Newspaper’s NCAA Division II preseason poll. Vanguard had already began its season, at a perfect 4-0, including a three-game series sweep of non-conference foe Cal State San Marcos this past weekend. CSUSM is rated 16th in the NAIA, and UCSD throttled the Cougars 19-0 exactly one week ago. UCSD previously blanked San Diego Christian, No. 22 in the NAIA, 4-0 in its first warm-up tilt back on Jan. 17.
All told, UCSD pitching allowed just 13 total hits and three walks against 35 strikeouts over 27 shutout frames in the three games.
Sophomore right-handers Justin Donatella and Troy Cruz (Chula Vista/Bonita Vista HS) split mound duties against Vanguard. Donatella went the first five innings and struck out eight while surrendering just three singles. Cruz took over for the remainder, giving up a pair of hits with five strikeouts.
Donatella, who saw just 13.2 innings of work as a freshman in 2013 (11.20 ERA), wrapped up his preseason with nine complete frames over two starts with six hits allowed, all singles, no walks, and 14 strikeouts.
Donatella put first-pitch strikes over on each of the first six batters he faced, and faced the minimum nine through three innings. Fourteen of the 15 outs he registered came on the infield, with 1-2-3 frames in the second, third and fifth. The 6-foot-6 product of Saugus struck out the side in the fourth and fifth, getting out of a huge jam in the fourth after Vanguard had loaded the bases with no outs on two singles and an outfield error.
“Justin (Donatella) did a great job,” said third-year Triton head coach Eric Newman. “All night long, he was really pounding the strike zone. He was down in the zone and throwing two to three pitches for a strike when he needed to.
“(Vanguard) didn’t really hit him hard when he got into that bases-loaded, nobody-out situation. There were just a couple of plays that we probably should have made in the outfield, but he didn’t try to do anything more than what he had been doing. He has really good stuff. When he just goes out there and pitches and takes care of his execution, that’s what he can do. He can get himself and his team out of those situations by creating strikeouts when he needs them.”
Cruz subsequently wriggled out of back-to-back situations in the sixth and seventh, his first two after replacing Donatella, in which the Lions produced leadoff doubles. In the latter, freshman Tyler Howsley started an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
Beginning the game in the designated hitter spot atop Newman’s batting order, Cruz ignited the Triton offense in the first, seeing seven pitches before lacing a 2-2 offering up the middle for a single. He then stole second, advanced to third on a groundout and trotted home for the game’s first run on a wild pitch.
Cruz wound up 2-for-5 on the night with two runs, one RBI, a sacrifice and a stolen base. Erik Lewis and Michael Mann, both junior newcomers on the right side of the UCSD infield, each went 2-for-3 with a double, with Lewis scoring twice. Leftfielder Justin Rahn was 1-for-2 with a walk, two hit-by-pitches, two runs, two RBI and a steal. Fellow senior Spencer Frazier was 1-for-3 with two walks, two runs and one RBI. Redshirt sophomore Corbin Wirta entered the game in right field to start the sixth and drew two four-pitch walks, ultimately crossing home plate both times.
UCSD collected 12 hits and benefitted from eight walks, five hit-by-pitches, two wild pitches and two passed balls by the Lions, who used nine arms.
“I like what our pitching staff has done,” concluded Newman about the three exhibitions. “That’s been going on now for a couple of weeks, in practice as we’ve been seeing a lot of the same type of stuff. Our offense and our pitching, they make each other better. When they have to practice against each other like they have been, they’ve really been competing hard.
“It’s been fun to watch our practices. They are now carrying over into games, where our pitching has been made better by our offensive approach, and our hitters have been made better by seeing the type of pitching that they’re facing. A lot of good things are going on in practice, and I love that. It bodes well for our team moving forward into the season.”
UCSD hosts Holy Names University in a doubleheader on Opening Day this Sunday, Feb. 2. First pitch at Triton Ballpark is slated for 11 a.m. Both contests are scheduled for the regulation nine innings.