LA JOLLA, Calif. - Gradeigh Sanchez poked a two-out, pinch-hit RBI single through the left side of the infield on an 0-2 pitch to drive in Brett Levy from second base in the ninth inning and give the UC San Diego baseball team a walk-off 4-3 triumph over Cal State Monterey Bay Sunday at Triton Ballpark.
The result earned the Tritons a split of the four-game weekend series between the teams that have combined for the past five California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) regular-season banners. The Otters are defending champions after UCSD won four in a row from 2009-12. In fact, CSUMB clinched the 2013 title outright against the Tritons in Seaside on the final day of the regular season on May 5.
This weekend, UCSD earned a 10-2 decision in the Friday night opener, before the visitors swept Saturday’s doubleheader, 10-5 and 6-2 in seven innings.
With Sunday’s win, the Tritons improved to 13-8 overall and 10-6 in the CCAA. Cal State Monterey Bay fell to 11-16 overall and 8-12 in league play.
The game was a high-quality, entertaining, back-and-forth contest that was tied at 3-3 heading into the home half of the ninth. CSUMB reliever Avery Ortiz registered the first out, with some drama, when senior leftfielder Justin Rahn stung a ball that Otter rightfielder Ty Morris was able to catch against the wall. Ortiz then hit Levy, however, with the next pitch, and allowed freshman centerfielder Jack Larsen to work the count full and draw a clutch walk. Monterey Bay went to Christian Stubbs on the mound, with the junior right-hander retiring Garrett Tuck on a fly ball.
That’s when UCSD made the move to have Sanchez hit for Tyler Howsley. The sophomore took a called strike, then bounced a foul ball down the first base line, before sliding the decisive single through the hole on the left side.
The Otters scored first in the opening frame when leadoff man Brian Hamm singled up the middle, advanced to third on another base hit, and scored on a sacrifice fly.
UCSD leapfrogged its opponent in the fourth, courtesy of a sliced double into the gap in right center by Rahn to drive in two. One-out singles by Nick La Face and Michael Mann, both on two-strike counts, came in the lead-up.
CSUMB pulled even again in the fifth on a single up the middle after a leadoff walk.
The Tritons regained a 3-2 edge in the sixth when La Face dropped his league-best third triple down the line in right with one away, and scored when Mann showed good execution to take a 3-2 pitch toward the right side for an RBI groundout.
CSUMB achieved one final tie score in the eighth on Hamm two-out, RBI single through the right side.
That third Otter run was off of senior right-handed reliever Scott Zeman (2-1), who then registered a perfect ninth and was the beneficiary of the Sanchez walk-off. He got back-to-back called third strikeouts after an infield popout in the clean ninth.
Sophomore right-hander Troy Cruz (Chula Vista/Bonita Vista HS) gave the Tritons seven solid innings on the mound, allowing two runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out two. He needed just six pitches to get through the fourth on two groundouts and a strikeout. Cruz did, however, allow the leadoff batter to reach base in five of his seven frames. He cleaned up a single in the second by inducing a routine 6-4-3 double play. The outing matched the longest of his career.
Cruz did navigate his way through a legitimate score in the seventh, surrendering a leadoff double before a popped-up bunt attempt. Rahn then lost Mark Hurley’s fly ball in the sun in left, meaning a double that saw Brian Hamm only advance as far as third since he had to wait on whether the catch would be made. From there, Richie Johnson grounded into a fielder’s choice with Tuck coming home to knock out Hamm. After an intentional walk to load the bases, Cruz put two strikes on Blake Grant-Parks and set him down swinging.
La Face wound up 2-for-4 with the triple and two runs. Rahn had the two RBI.
Ortiz (0-1) took the loss for CSUMB. A.J. Quintero, along with Cruz, had helped insure a fast-paced match-up (2:15) as both starters worked quick and threw strikes. Quintero went 8.0 innings with three runs on six hits and two walks against him. He struck out three. Hamm was 4-for-5 with a double, run and two RBI. Senior leftfielder Mark Hurley had three hits to increase his CCAA-leading total to 38.
UCSD now takes a break for winter quarter final exams, and resumes its campaign with a non-conference pair at Azusa Pacific University, March 24-25.
Triton Notes: Troy Cruz is the only Triton to have started all 21 games, with four of those starts coming on the mound ... Cruz has now gone 7.0 innings in three separate pitching starts for his career ... Justin Rahn is the only Triton to have reached base in all 21 games so far in 2014 ... Nick La Face began the year with one career triple, and now has three this season ... Through games played on March 16, La Face leads the CCAA in on-base percentage (.571), slugging percentage (.657), triples and walks (20), and moved from first to second on the day in batting average (.418), now just behind Skippy Ferreria (.419) of Cal State Stanislaus ... Sunday’s result marked UCSD’s second walk-off win of the season, following a 6-5 victory over then-15th-ranked Cal Poly Pomona on Feb. 22, the decisive hit in that one an RBI single to center field by Garrett Tuck ... Third-year Triton assistant coach Rob Avila was in charge of the team on Sunday while head coach Eric Newman served a CCAA-mandated one-game suspension due to his being ejected from Saturday’s nightcap in the seventh inning.