CARSON, Calif. - It took a few extra hours of waiting and a few extra miles of driving, but UC San Diego ultimately swept a Saturday doubleheader from Cal State Dominguez Hills at Toro Field, and the four-game California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) series.
UCSD let a 6-1 lead evaporate but showed some road grit in coming away with a narrow 9-7 victory over the Toros in the opening game. The seven-inning nightcap was initially suspended by darkness with the Tritons leading comfortably at 12-4 after six frames. It was said at the time that CCAA rules required the game to be completed. UCSD returned to La Jolla Saturday evening and in fact got back on the road Sunday morning for a 12 p.m. resumption, only to be turned back by a phone call in the San Clemente area. With a clear winner beyond the regulation five innings, and as the last game of a series, the contest’s status went from being halted, to being declared in favor of the Tritons, 12-4 in six.
UCSD thus moved to 11-6 overall and 8-4 in the CCAA with four straight wins. Cal State Dominguez Hills fell to an even 9-9 overall and 4-7 in league play, having now lost six in a row. The Tritons had taken each of the first two games of the series at home in La Jolla, both in shutout fashion, 1-0 on Thursday night and 7-0 on Friday night. Saturday’s result to begin the doubleheader assured UCSD of its first series victory of the 2014 season.
UCSD hosts defending CCAA regular-season champion Cal State Monterey Bay for four games all next weekend, beginning with a primetime opener on Friday night, March 14. First pitch at Triton Ballpark is set for 6 p.m.
The Toros struck early with back-to-back singles by David Steininger and Danny Haley to begin the home first and a Peter Ives sacrifice moving both runners into scoring position off of UCSD starter Blake Fassler. An RBI groundout by Kamran Young and another groundout by Bubby Rossman limited the damage to one run, which still snapped a string of 18 consecutive shutout innings for Triton pitching to begin the series.
UCSD threatened to get that run right back in the second, alternating two singles with two flyouts before Garrett Tuck reached on an error by pitcher Jeffrey Gogue to load the bases. The junior left-hander got Brett Levy to hit into a fielder’s choice.
CSUDH put runners at the corners with one away in the second on a leadoff single, walk and fielder’s choice grounder, but Fassler wiped out that particular threat by inducing a 6-4-3 double play off the bat of catcher Rico Pena.
The Tritons knotted the score in the third as Nick La Face singled to right field to plate Erik Lewis from second. A walk and a hit-by-pitch had begun the promising half-inning ahead of a 5-3 twin killing that left Lewis at second. Another hit-by-pitch and walk then loaded the bases for Justin Rahn, who grounded out.
Fassler found trouble again in the home third due to a leadoff walk and Haley double, but expertly navigated his way through it, against the heart of the Toro order, no less. He produced the first two strikeouts of the game by either starting pitcher before getting Rossman to ground out.
That escape proved critical as UCSD surged ahead with a decent cushion in the aftermath of a five-run fourth in which it sent 11 batters to the plate. Tuck’s leadoff double ignited the rally. The senior shortstop scored the go-ahead run on a Gradeigh Sanchez sacrifice fly, before successive walks around a pitching change left the bases full of Tritons. La Face promptly deposited a two-run double down the right field line, with an RBI single by Troy Cruz (Chula Vista/Bonita Vista HS) and sacrifice fly by Michael Mann accounting for the other two runs in the frame.
Fassler continued to live dangerously in the home fourth via leadoff double and a walk. It almost looked like he may squirm out of another jam as the Toros followed with an infield popout and flyout, but an ensuing fielding error let two runs score.
CSUDH got two more runs back in the very next inning. For the fifth time in as many frames, the home side put each of its first two batters on base. Two ground balls allowed Toros to cross the plate to pull to within just one at 6-5.
A surreal sixth completed a run of three straight two-run innings to give Cal State Dominguez Hills the lead back. Unlike his predecessors, sophomore left-hander Eric Moersen registered outs on the first two Toros to come up, but then a walk, wild pitch, intentional walk, hit-by-pitch and two-run Rossman single made it 7-6.
The battle of attrition trudged on as Toro reliever Joseph Perez plunked Levy with his first pitch of the seventh, but UCSD grounded into a fourth double play to negate it.
The Tritons then jumped in front again in the wild affair with a two-run eighth as Christian Leung and La Face drew walks around another pitching change and Cruz bunted them into scoring position. Singles by Mann and Rahn knocked them in.
Singles by Haley and Ives to begin the eighth put CSUDH back on the offensive, but Scott Zeman got two strikeouts around a flyout to keep the 8-7 lead intact.
UCSD added an insurance run in the ninth on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Cruz.
Even the final half was not without drama, as CSUDH put the tying run at second through a one-out single and two-out double, but Zeman finally wrapped it up with a flyout. Neither team could muster a 1-2-3 inning in the game.
Fassler, a senior right-hander, allowed three runs, one earned, on five hits and three walks in 4.0 innings, with two strikeouts. Zeman (1-1) went a career-long 3.1 innings to earn the first winning decision of his senior year. He scattered five hits without a run scored and struck out four to equal his career high.
Gogue lasted 3.1 innings and gave up four runs on six hits. He walked three, struck out none and hit two. Nick Wagner (0-1) took the loss.
La Face maintained a strong start to his senior campaign, going 3-for-3 with a double, three walks, two runs and three RBI. Mann was 4-for-4 with two RBI. Leung went 1-for-2 with two walks and two runs off the bench. Lewis finished 3-for-4 with a walk and two runs. Rahn added two hits and Cruz a pair of RBI.
UCSD used two more big innings in the nightcap with five in the third and six in the sixth, and also got its first individual complete game on the mound this season from Cruz (2-1). The sophomore right-hander allowed four runs on seven hits and two walks over the six frames, with five strikeouts.
Cruz registered the only complete game by a Triton hurler in 2013, twirling a four-hit, seven-inning shutout in just his second collegiate pitching start in the doubleheader nightcap at home against Cal State East Bay on March 29.
The teams traded single runs in the first, with La Face again getting UCSD on the board, this time on a double to plate Leung after Leung had drawn a two-out walk.
Ten Tritons batted in the five-run third, getting four hits and four walks. Toro starter Aaron Gray (1-1) walked the bases full with one away around an unsuccessful sacrifice. After a pitching change, Cruz helped himself with a two-run single through the right side. Mann followed with a two-run double down the left field line, and Rahn with a run-scoring single to left center.
CSUDH’s three-run fifth made things a little too close for comfort at 6-4, but UCSD put the result out of doubt in the sixth, all six runs coming after two outs were made.
Once again, 10 Tritons came to the plate. Sanchez was hit with the first pitch of his at-bat after a strikeout and a flyout, and that opened the floodgates. With the bases loaded, the red-hot La Face worked the count full and poked a two-run single through the left side. The bags full again after Cruz was hit, Mann doubled and Rahn singled to each bring in two more runs.
The 4-5-6-7 hitters in the Triton order, La Face, Cruz, Mann and Rahn, combined to go 9-for-14 with three doubles, six runs scored and all 12 driven in.
Triton Notes: Troy Cruz is the only Triton to have started all 17 games, with three of those starts coming on the mound ... Justin Rahn is the only Triton to have reached base in all 17 games so far in 2014 ... Christian Leung’s turn as a pinch-hitter in the fourth inning of the first game marked the freshman’s first appearance since Feb. 15 ... UCSD’s 16 hits in game one and 12 runs in game two were new season highs ... UCSD has won four straight for the first time since 2012 (April 21-27) ... The CCAA series sweep marks the Tritons’ first since April 5-7, 2012, when they beat Sonoma State four times in La Jolla.