LA JOLLA, Calif. - Freshman centerfielder Jack Larsen’s two-run single up the middle in the ninth inning gave No. 29 UC San Diego a walk-off 4-3 victory over Cal State L.A. in a California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) baseball game at Triton Ballpark on Friday.
It marked a second straight night in which the Tritons overturned a 3-0 deficit to defeat the visiting Golden Eagles, having scored six unanswered runs on Thursday for a 6-3 triumph.
In matching its longest win streak of the season at five straight, UCSD improved to 19-10 overall and 15-7 in the CCAA. Cal State L.A. fell to 14-17 overall and 12-13 in league play.
The result meant a great deal in the Tritons’ quest for a postseason return after missing out a year ago. The top four teams in the CCAA standings all won on Friday to gain further separation from the rest of the pack, namely fifth-place Cal State L.A., with four squads heading to the CCAA Championship in Stockton, May 8-11. UCSD remains in fourth, half a game back of 10th-ranked Cal Poly Pomona.
The Tritons entered the last half trailing 3-1 and largely baffled by Golden Eagle starter Brandon Quintero, having managed just a pair of singles, two walks and two hit-by-pitches over the first eight frames, while the sophomore right-hander had fanned 10.
Nick La Face stepped up and roped a leadoff single to left, with rightfielder Kyle Peralta then unable to squeeze a fly ball toward the gap by counterpart Justin Rahn. Michael Mann was then unsuccessful in putting down the sacrifice, ultimately popping up to Quintero for the first out of the frame.
Quintero remained in the game to face Troy Cruz, who was 0-for-2 with a groundout, strikeout and hit-by-pitch to that point. Quickly facing an 0-2 count, the sophomore third baseman out of nearby Chula Vista fought off the next two offerings before going opposite field with an RBI single and winding up in scoring position himself at second base as the winning run on a poor cut-off by the visitors.
Brandon Shirley took Rahn’s place at third as a pinch-runner, and Adan Cabrales finally relieved Quintero on the mound. Up against another two-strike count, the left-handed Larsen sent his decisive single straight up the middle to send Cruz sprinting home behind Shirley for UCSD’s third walk-off win of 2014.
Larsen also made a winner of junior reliever Dan Kolodin (2-1), who retired all four batters he faced. The right-hander got Drew Vanisi to ground out with the bags full of Golden Eagles to end the eighth, moments after Vanisi’s bid for a bases-clearing, and likely game-clinching, extra-base hit had pushed narrowly foul to right field.
Trevor Scott tossed another effective seven frames for UCSD, allowing three runs on five hits without a walk, while striking out a season-high seven.
Quintero (4-5) was the tough-luck loser, with two of the four runs against him over 8.1 frames unearned due to the ninth-inning miscue.
Both Scott and Quintero were dealing through three, with Scott perfect with three strikeouts and four groundouts, and Quintero only issuing a leadoff walk to Larsen in the third. Scott needed just four pitches in the second, benefitting from a nice grab at shortstop by freshman Tyler Howsley of a hard-hit Cody Doyle liner on his first offering. Howsley and Larsen were teammates at Capistrano Valley High School.
Cal State L.A. finally got to Scott for all three of its runs in the fourth, as Manny Acosta led off with the first of his two doubles on the night. Casey Ryan immediately cued the next pitch just inside the right field line for an RBI triple into the corner. With one away, Doyle singled up the middle on an 0-2 pitch to send in Ryan, moved to second on a wild pitch, and scored himself on Vanisi’s single to center.
UCSD both ended Quintero’s no-hit bid, and got itself on the scoreboard, in the home sixth. Brett Levy was hit by a 3-2 offering, and on the next pitch, Howsley dropped a single into center. A perfect bunt by Gradeigh Sanchez loaded the bases still with nobody out. The Tritons were only to cut one run into their deficit on Erik Lewis’ RBI fielder’s choice grounder. A strikeout and a flyout ended the inning.
Two Tritons reached base in the seventh on a one-out hit-by-pitch by Cruz and ensuing walk to Larsen, but the Golden Eagles turned a 6-4-3 double play to end it.
Larsen finished 1-for-2 with the two RBI and the only two walks for UCSD on the night. Mann ranged into foul territory to make a tough, sliding catch in the seventh.
Acosta and Ryan each had two hits and a run scored for CSULA.
With UCSD leading two games to none, the four-game series between the Tritons and Golden Eagles now shifts to Los Angeles and Reeder Field, concluding with a 1 p.m. doubleheader on Saturday.
Triton Notes: Troy Cruz is the only Triton to start all 29 games, with six coming on the mound ... Trevor Scott made the 22nd start of his career on the mound and sixth of the season ... Nick La Face’s leadoff ninth-inning single extended his reached-base streak to 26 games, the longest by a Triton in 2014 ... Javier Carrillo, Jr. made his fourth appearance on the mound in relief, in between Scott and Dan Kolodin ... UCSD’s previous walk-off victories both also came in league play, against Cal Poly Pomona on Feb. 22 and against Cal State Monterey Bay, also 4-3, on March 16.