TURLOCK, Calif. - The 24th-ranked UC San Diego baseball team rallied from a three-run deficit for the fourth time in its last nine outings and held on to edge Cal State Stanislaus, 4-3, and complete a second straight four-game California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) series sweep Sunday at Warrior Baseball Field.
UCSD thus improved to 25-11 overall and 21-7 in the CCAA. Last-place Stanislaus dropped to 11-25 overall and 5-22 in league play. UCSD had taken Friday night’s opener of the set, 13-4, and swept Saturday’s doubleheader, 5-4 in 10 innings and 10-1 in seven, to clinch its third series victory in a row. The first game of that twin ball saw the Tritons strike for three in the ninth before winning in extras.
UCSD has now won 11 straight CCAA contests in all, the program’s longest such streak since completing the 2011 season with 15 straight league triumphs. The third-place Tritons moved a full two games clear of seventh-ranked Cal Poly Pomona in fourth. The Broncos were idle Sunday. On the other side, No. 11 Chico State earned its third walk-off triumph of the weekend Sunday to complete its own four-game sweep, at home over Cal State Dominguez Hills, to stay a game ahead of UCSD in second. Sonoma State remains in first on percentage points.
The Tritons have extended out to a firm seven-game cushion in playoff positioning for the four-team CCAA Championship, to be held in Stockton, May 8-11.
Erik Lewis took the game’s first pitch into center for a single, but Nick Ippolito retired the next three Tritons on a flyout, three-pitch strikeout and first-pitch flyout.
Shaky Triton defense led to a two-run home first. Skippy Ferreria reached on an infield error to lead off, and Colton Beatty drew a five-pitch walk from sophomore right-hander Troy Cruz. A fielder’s choice grounder put Warriors at the corners with one away as UCSD was unable to turn the double play. A second successive fielder’s choice ground ball by Dayton Mellor sent Ferreria home. Mellor’s steal of second then put him in position to score on a two-out, two-strike RBI single by James Heller.
Tanner Negrette’s leadoff triple and an RBI groundout to the right side by Stevie Robinson quickly padded the Warrior advantage within the first three pitches in the third. It would turn out to be just a five-pitch frame for Cruz.
Cruz then helped himself and started the fight-back by poking a leadoff single to right to begin the sixth. Nick La Face then drew the first walk of the day by Ippolito, his league-best 35th free pass of the year. UCSD had drawn 26 walks over 26 innings over the first three games of the series. The Tritons lead the CCAA by a wide margin.
Following a mound visit, Justin Rahn put down the perfect bunt and beat out the throw to load the bases. Michael Mann worked the count full and drew a walk to force Cruz in with UCSD’s first run of the afternoon.
Larsen’s infield popout preceded an incredible 11-pitch at-bat out of freshman leftfielder Christian Leung, who even fouled off six two-strike offerings from Ippolito before managing a right-sided ground ball that Robinson picked up and threw past his first baseman, Mellor. The play went down as an infield single with one RBI to Leung, as Rahn chased La Face home on the miscue to knot the score at 3-3. Mann wound up at third, and scored the go-ahead run on senior third baseman Garrett Tuck’s RBI groundout to short on the very next pitch.
Cruz came right back out and set Stanislaus down in order for the first time, notching a key shutdown inning with a flyout, strikeout and groundout.
UCSD threatened to add insurance off of reliever Ryan McDaniel in the seventh as Lewis led off with another single and Rahn walked with two away, but Mann flied out deep down the right field line.
In the home half, Cruz was in command again, getting consecutive strikeouts, the latter one called, before a Ferreria single and a foulout to Tuck by third.
The eighth featured a second straight veteran plate appearance by Leung, as with one out, he saw 10 more pitches and fought off four 3-2 offerings before dropping a single in between several Warrior fielders into center. Leung had fanned in each of his first two at-bats on the day, looking the latter time, on nine total pitches.
David Hart came on for Cruz in the home half and needed 10 pitches to get three ground balls out of the heart of the Stanislaus order, ranging to the bag take Mann’s toss to send away Mellor for the second out.
Lewis worked the count full and walked to begin the ninth. Cruz then laid down the sacrifice before McDaniel plunked La Face and Rahn to load the bases. Mann grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, however, to send it into the last half.
Triton closer Scott Zeman replaced Hart and duplicated his fellow senior right-hander’s perfect frame, with a little help. Brandon Shirley, who had run for Leung in the eighth and took over in right field, made a diving catch of a hard-hit liner on Zeman’s first pitch to deny Matt Chaidez. Zeman then himself snatched Negrette’s shot, and wrapped up his fifth save by freezing pinch-hitter Cameron Irinaga.
Cruz (5-2) went 7.0 innings and allowed three runs, just one of them earned, on six hits, one walk and a hit-by-pitch. He struck out five, including Colt McLaughlin to end the second with Ferreria at second after a two-out single and steal. Cruz had tossed complete games in his two previous outings.
Lewis went 3-for-4 with a walk. Leung was 2-for-4 with an RBI, notching his second straight two-hit game. His first three RBI of his career all came this weekend.
Ippolito (2-4), a freshman right-hander, gave up four runs, two of them earned, on six hits and two walks over 6.0 frames, striking out four. He set the Tritons down in order in the second and eight in a row in all in between Lewis singles. Ippolito induced a trio of groundouts around a two-out Lewis hit in the third.
Ferreria was 2-for-4 with a run scored and stolen base.
UCSD concludes a season-long 11-game road stretch in the week ahead, heading right back up to Northern California for another CCAA series at San Francisco State. That set will go Thursday through Saturday, April 17-19, due to the Easter holiday.
Triton Notes: Troy Cruz is the only Triton to start all 36 games, with eight coming on the mound ... Sunday he served as the pitcher/designated hitter for the third time in 2014 ... UCSD is 6-1 in his league starts ... Cruz has now made 14 pitching starts in his career ... Nick La Face extended his reached-base streak to 33 games, the longest by a Triton in 2014 ... Michael Mann’s sixth-inning RBI gave him 30 ... The Tritons walked 30 times during the series to up their league-best total to 188 ... The four runs today increased UCSD’s CCAA-leading total to 229 ... The Tritons (21-7) have now surpassed their number of league wins from a year ago (20-20) ... UCSD has swept back-to-back CCAA sets for the first time since completing three sweeps in a row to conclude the 2011 league slate.