LA JOLLA, Calif. - Brandon Shirley lifted a two-run double into the gap in left center as No. 24 University of California San Diego scored three times with two outs in the ninth inning to steal a 9-8 walk-off decision and clinch a 3-1 season-opening series victory over Concordia University Sunday afternoon at Triton Ballpark.
The not-all-that-pretty but dramatic, come-from-behind win improved UC San Diego to 3-1. Concordia, from Portland, Ore., dropped to 1-3.
A redshirt senior centerfielder from Compton, Shirley came up with Tritons at first and second, down 8-7 after redshirt junior catcher Steven Coe (Valley Center/Valley Center HS) had just poked an RBI single through the left side. Shirley belted a 2-1 pitch deep to left center, with neither sprinting Cavalier outfielder able to reach it as the ball landed around the base of the wall. Coe followed true freshman pinch-runner Chad Crosbie into home plate to overturn UCSD's fortunes.
Shirley's double made a winner out of fellow fifth-year Triton senior Troy Cruz (Chula Vista/Bonita Vista HS). The 2014 All-American made just three total appearances, two on the mound, during an injury-marred 2016 season by the end of which he was officially shut down. The local product made his return to the diamond for head coach Eric Newman on the mound to begin the ninth, and promptly struck out the side to fire his dugout up heading into its final turn at-bat. Cruz threw just 12 pitches, nine of them in the zone, with two swinging punchouts sandwiched around a called third strike.
Shirley finished 3-for-6 with his first double, a run scored and three RBI in all.
A third redshirt senior, Adrian Orozco, himself a Chula Vista product (Otay Ranch HS), was another highlight on the day. The right-hander was a reliever at UCSD as a freshman in 2013 and sophomore in 2014, before spending the 2015 season at Southwestern College and the 2016 campaign as a midweek starter at San Diego State. Back in La Jolla for his final year of eligibility, Orozco drew the Sunday start and went 5.0 frames, allowing two unearned runs on seven hits without a walk, with three strikeouts.
After his initial batter, Orozco started the next six Cavaliers off with strikes, but the visitors managed a pair of unearned runs via the first of five Triton infield errors.
UCSD then scored two in the second and two in the third, and added single tallies in the fourth and fifth. The Tritons levelled matters through a perfect safety squeeze put on by shortstop Tyler Howsley, followed by an opposite-field RBI single through the right side by Shirley. All three hits in the frame were on two-strike counts.
The home third began with a five-pitch walk to senior third baseman JD Hearn. The next three pitches saw a Jack Larsen bunt single, a Christian Leung sacrifice, and a two-run single up the middle by Nick Kitzmann to give UCSD its first lead of the afternoon. The redshirt freshman, in his first collegiate start as the designated hitter, had provided his first career hit in the second, chopping a 1-2 pitch over the first baseman's head before coming around for his first run to the game.
Shirley beat out an infield single on the first pitch he saw to open the home fourth. Redshirt freshman infielder Keenan Brigman duplicated that result, with the speedy Shirley expertly taking third on the play. Hearn's sacrifice fly scored him from there. The run in the fifth was also from a sacrifice fly, this time by Howsley, to plate Kitzmann after a leadoff double down the left field line and a right-sided groundout.
Holding a seemingly-safe 6-2 advantage at that point, UCSD suffered through a nightmare seventh that saw it suddenly trailing 8-6. Three errors in the frame amounted to five unearned runs. In fact, only one CU run was earned on the day.
Leung led off the last half with a sharp single to right. Two flyouts came around a five-pitch walk drawn by another redshirt freshman, Steven Schuknecht. With Crosbie running for Schuknecht, Coe found the hole on the left side, and set the stage for Shirley's final heroics.
Out of the bullpen, Kyle Lucke worked around a leadoff double in the sixth in relief of Orozco. Fellow sophomore right-hander Jonah Dipoto turned CU away in order in the eighth with a strikeout and two flyouts.
Kitzmann finished a perfect 3-for-3 with his double, two runs and two RBI. Coe was 2-for-4 with a walk and his key run scored and RBI. Howsley drove in two.
In addition to his offensive performance, Shirley made a sliding catch sprinting into right center to begin the lengthy seventh. For the weekend, he hit .429 (6-for-14) with a team-best six RBI and made 13 clean putouts without a mistake.
Justin Taylor (0-1) was the tough-luck loser for Concordia after a stellar relief effort of 3.2 shutout innings.
UC San Diego next spends a second straight weekend with a four-game series against a Concordia, this time Concordia of Irvine, as the sides contest a split-venue affair beginning Friday night, Feb. 10, at Triton Ballpark. The primetime first pitch is set for 6 p.m. All home games can be viewed in high definition on UCSDtritons.tv.
Triton Notes: Tyler Howsley ran his consecutive games played streak to 113 ... UCSD's five errors were its most since being charged with 11 in a 21-10 loss at Cal State East Bay on March 1, 2015 ... Sunday's start was Adrian Orozco's first ever at Triton Ballpark, with his only previous assignment for UCSD coming at Point Loma on Tuesday, April 2, 2013 ... Troy Cruz had last appeared on the Triton Ballpark mound in a regular-season game last April 3 ... Jack Larsen's bunt single in the third was his second already of 2017 ... Keenan Brigman's fourth-inning stolen base was the first of his career ... Steven Coe now has three walk-off runs and two walk-off hits for his college career ... Brandon Shirley's walk-off hit was his first as a Triton.