LOS ANGELES - The 39th-ranked UC San Diego baseball team had its furious rally come up just short against Cal State L.A., falling 9-8 in the rubber game of a weekend non-conference series between California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) foes Sunday at Reeder Field.
With the loss, UCSD dropped to 3-2 on the young season. Cal State L.A. improved to 2-4. The sides had split a Saturday doubleheader in La Jolla, with the Golden Eagles taking a 2-0 decision in game one and the host Tritons responding with a 9-3 victory in the nightcap.
UCSD put runners at the corners with two gone in the first on an infield error and a two-out single by junior first baseman Michael Mann, but senior leftfielder Justin Rahn lined out to shortstop to end the threat.
To begin the second, junior catcher Brett Levy overturned an 0-2 count to work it full before slapping a single to right, and freshman rightfielder Christian Leung drew a four-pitch walk from David Armas. Senior shortstop Garrett Tuck then flied into a double play, however, as CSULA centerfielder Trent Zaks fired to third base to cut Levy down.
UCSD put men at first and second in the fourth on another Golden Eagle miscue on the infield and a Leung single, but a strikeout and a flyout got Armas out of trouble.
Cal State L.A. then broke open an early pitchers’ duel with seven runs on six hits in the fourth. The Golden Eagles loaded the bases with one out and generated the afternoon’s first run on a sharp single to right by Zaks. What followed was an RBI single by Manny Acosta through the right side, a two-run single by David Trejo through the left side, and an RBI double down the right field line by Drew Vanisi. Casey Ryan, who was hit with the first pitch of the inning, drove a single just over Tuck’s head for a two-run single before the Tritons finally stopped the bleeding.
UCSD used back-to-back one-out walks and a single through the right side by Mann to produce its first run of the contest in the fifth. The Tritons later filled the bags, but Armas got Leung to foul out to keep the damage minimal.
After CSULA tacked on a pair in the home fifth that ultimately proved critical, the Tritons got one back in the sixth when redshirt freshman Brandon Shirley poked a pinch-hit single to right center and eventually scored on a third CSULA error.
The rally came in the eighth as UCSD loaded the bases through two walks and a hit-by-pitch. Following a pitching change, junior second baseman Erik Lewis drew another base on balls to force in a run. With one away, Mann was hit to make it a 9-4 game and bring on another new Golden Eagle hurler, who promptly contacted Rahn with his second offering for 9-5. Facing an 0-2 count, Spencer Frazier produced an infield single to cut the gap further to three runs.
With two away, freshman Tyler Howsley, who had ignited the comeback with a four-pitch walk as a pinch-hitter to lead things off, put together a veteran at-bat, advancing the count to full before sending a two-run single up the middle to pull UCSD to within just one at 9-8. It marked his first college hit and runs batted in.
“He did a great job,” said UCSD head coach Eric Newman of Howsley. “He really trusted the plan that we had and believed in it. He fought hard, fouled off a couple of tough pitches, and got an off-speed pitch up that he could handle, which is what we talk about a lot. He did a great job and for a freshman to do that and not let the moment get too big for him, was cool to see.”
The bases were again loaded as Shirley reached on a fourth CSULA error. Troy Cruz (Chula Vista/Bonita Vista HS), who began the game at third base before moving to the mound, saw eight pitches, fouling off three two-strike offerings, before hitting into a fielder’s choice to finally end the half-inning. The Tritons sent 12 men to the plate in all and had just two hits with three walks and three hit-by-pitches.
With one out in the ninth, Nick La Face lifted a single to right center, before Mann crushed a ball deep to left that was caught right in front of the wall by Ryan. Rahn singled through the right side, but CSULA closer Marcos Casillas got Frazier to fly out to wrap up his second save of the weekend.
La Face finished 2-for-4 with two walks. Mann was 2-for-5 with a run and two RBI. Despite no hits, Lewis wound up with two runs, one RBI and two walks. Howsley knocked in a pair and Shirley scored twice. UCSD left 16 runners on base.
“We did a pretty good job offensively the whole game,” remarked Newman. “We created a lot of opportunities to score runs all throughout the afternoon. We just didn’t come up with the hits we needed to come up with early in the game to bring it home. We kept telling ourselves if we keep creating these opportunities, sooner or later we’re going to start cashing them in. We did, and the funny thing is that on one of the lesser hard-hit balls of the day, we get a ball to get through the infield with a couple of guys on with Tyler’s (Howsley). It ends up bringing us back into it, and then unfortunately, Mike Mann puts a great swing on a ball and it looks like we have a chance to tie the thing up or maybe take the lead, but it didn’t quite get there.”
Junior right-hander Dan Kolodin (1-1) allowed seven runs on five hits over 3.1 innings. He walked two and struck out two. He worked a 1-2-3 second with two groundouts to Tuck around a strikeout, and also set down the Golden Eagles in order in the third, on three groundouts. Lewis dove to his right and came up throwing to rob Andrew Montanari of a single to end the latter frame. Kolodin had faced the minimum nine Golden Eagles through three with every out recorded on the infield, retiring seven straight before plunking leadoff man Ryan.
In relief, Cruz turned in a perfect sixth with two groundouts around a strikeout. He benefitted from a 6-4-3 twin killing in the seventh after a leadoff single. Cruz tossed 4.0 shutout frames in all with three singles against and two strikeouts. Sophomore lefty Eric Moersen fanned the only batter he faced in the fourth.
“With the exception of one inning, I thought even pitching-wise we were pretty good,” added Newman. “If we can get that kind of effort on a consistent basis, we’re going to be just fine.”
Armas (1-1) went 5.0 innings and gave up one run on five hits. The senior right-hander issued three walks and struck out three.
UCSD begins the CCAA portion of its 2014 schedule next weekend, with 12th-ranked preseason league favorite and 2013 West Region runner-up Chico State (4-1) heading to La Jolla for a marquee four-game series between big rivals. The opener is a primetime affair under the lights at Triton Ballpark on Friday, Feb. 14, at 6 p.m.
“We’re looking to build on what we’re doing,” concluded Newman. “Our goal right now is to keep getting better. I really like the way we played the last two games. We’re going to be just fine. We have to have a good week of practice, come out and keep putting our plan together, and put it out there on Chico and then whoever else comes in.”