HAYWARD, Calif. - The 30th-ranked UC San Diego baseball team pounded out victories of 12-0 and 5-2 over Cal State East Bay to sweep a California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) doubleheader Sunday at Pioneer Baseball Field.
The two results clinched the key CCAA series win for the Tritons after surrendering three ninth-inning runs and dropping a tough, walk-off 5-4 decision in Friday’s opener. The teams had ultimately split that day’s twin bill to begin their weather-altered four-game set, with UCSD taking the seven-inning nightcap, 10-3. Both of Sunday’s contests went the regulation nine innings.
The Tritons improved to 17-10 overall and 13-7 in the CCAA, moving a full four games up on East Bay (15-13, 9-11 CCAA) in the league standings. UCSD still sits in fourth in the CCAA, just one game back now of third-place Cal Poly Pomona, with four teams making the CCAA Championship in Stockton, May 8-11.
UCSD matched its largest run total for the year on a season-high 17 hits in game one. The Tritons benefitted from eight Pioneer errors on the day to the tune of seven unearned runs, with five miscues leading to four unearned scores in the nightcap.
The Tritons play a split-venue, four-game series with 2013 CCAA tournament champion Cal State L.A. in the coming week. UCSD hosts the Golden Eagles at Triton Ballpark on Thursday, April 3, and Friday, April 4, with first pitch set for 6 p.m. for both contests, before the series shifts to Los Angeles for a Saturday doubleheader. CSULA (14-15, 12-11 CCAA) is right behind UCSD in fifth in the CCAA standings.
UCSD starter Blake Fassler (3-2) cleaned up a first-pitch leadoff single in the first with a pair of flyouts around junior catcher Brett Levy’s fifth caught stealing on 14 attempts. The senior right-hander was lights out from there, throwing six complete and giving up just three singles and one walk with five strikeouts.
Three pitches into the second, the Tritons had two base-runners through a Justin Rahn single and team-best ninth hit-by-pitch for junior first baseman Michael Mann. Troy Cruz then flied out to center, as both runners were able to advance, with Rahn in fact scoring the game’s first run on an errant throw. A walk and a single loaded the bases, ahead of an RBI fielder’s choice grounder by Tyler Howsley. An infield fielding error allowed fellow freshman Jack Larsen to score for a 3-0 lead.
Nick La Face opened the third with his team-leading 10th double into the gap in right center. Rahn’s right-sided groundout moved him to third, with Mann’s infield single to pitcher Michael Pope increasing the Triton advantage to 4-0.
UCSD was in business again in the fourth as Levy worked the count full on Pope and drew a leadoff walk, with two runners safely aboard after a third Pioneer error already on the day, this one by Pope himself, on Howsley’s sacrifice attempt. The two Tritons advanced on a Gradeigh Sanchez bunt, with Erik Lewis picking both of them up with a two-run double down the left field line on an 0-2 pitch. La Face followed with his second double to send in Lewis, moved to third on another right-sided groundout by Rahn, and scored on Mann’s second RBI single of the afternoon.
With John Tierney on for Pope in the fifth, the Tritons kept pouring it on, adding a ninth run on a leadoff Larsen single, one-out Howsley single and two-out RBI Lewis single. Tierney, a freshman, struck out the side otherwise, all on called third strikes.
Following the three-run second-inning rally, Fassler set the Pioneers down in order in the home half on a pair of swinging strikeouts around an infield popout. He turned in another perfect frame in the third, and again in the fifth. Fassler faced the minimum through 3.2 and retired 10 batters in a row between Kelly Starnes’ single on his very first pitch, and a two-out Jason Fletcher single in the fourth.
Fassler found some slight trouble in the sixth. He began the frame with two quick groundouts on just two pitches, before another Starnes single on an 0-2 offering and a four-pitch walk, his first, to Ryan Kochan. Fassler then shut the door, however, getting Fletcher to ground out unassisted to Mann.
UCSD went right back on the offensive in the seventh, loading the bases with nobody out on consecutive singles by Levy, Howsley and Sanchez. A sacrifice fly by Lewis pushed the margin to 10-0.
The Tritons tacked on a pair in the eighth through a leadoff infield Mann single, one-out walk to Larsen and two-run double by Levy to right center on a 1-2 count.
David Hart took over for Fassler in the seventh and after back-to-back two-out singles moved Pioneers to the corners, got a groundout to maintain the shutout. He tossed a perfect eighth, with Dean Friedberg putting the finishing touches on the combined shutout in the ninth.
Pope (1-3), a junior right-hander, allowed eight runs, five of them earned, on seven hits and two walks over 4.0 innings, striking out one. He retired the Tritons in order in the first, but UCSD had its leadoff man reach in each of the next seven frames.
The Tritons jumped on the scoreboard first in the second game on a one-out Lewis single and La Face’s third two-bagger of the day, of the RBI variety down the left field line. A two-out East Bay error and an RBI single by Larsen made it 2-0.
The Pioneers got that unearned run right back in the home half as Starnes reached and wound up on second on a dropped fly ball, and advanced home on another flyout and an RBI groundout by Fletcher.
Both teams drew leadoff walks and were unable to capitalize in the fourth, with UCSD grounding into a second double play in the contest, and sophomore right-hander Troy Cruz then getting a strikeout, popout and foulout to strand the runner.
UCSD added another unearned run in the fifth, as Lewis worked a two-out walk, stole second, took third on a passed ball and crossed the plate on a wild pitch.
It took East Bay just two pitches in the home half to respond, with a David Elzig single and RBI double by Chris Porter. Cruz then issued a four-pitch base on balls to Chacho Madrigal, but a second foulout caught by La Face behind the plate in as many innings, and a 4-6-3 double play off the bat of Starnes, kept UCSD on top, 3-2.
This time, it was the Tritons’ turn to answer, again taking advantage of shoddy defensive play, in the sixth. Larsen. With one away, Larsen reached on an infield error and stole second. He then scurried home as fellow freshman Christian Leung also reached on an error, East Bay’s fourth for the game and seventh on the day.
UCSD capped the scoring in the ninth with one more unearned run for good measure off of a fifth East Bay error, as Garrett Tuck reached, was bunted over by Howsley, moved to third on a Sanchez single and came home on Lewis’ sacrifice fly.
Cruz went the full nine innings, a new career long, allowing two runs, one of them earned, on five hits and three walks. He struck out a career-best six. Cruz retired East Bay in order in both the second and third, with a pair of groundouts around a strikeout in the latter frame. In fact, he set down nine straight Pioneers after Starnes reached via error to open the game. Cruz also tossed a perfect seventh.
The outing by Cruz marked the first nine-inning complete game by a Triton since former ace Ryan Goodbrand’s winning effort at Western Oregon on May 18, 2012. Cruz now has two complete games in 2014 and three for his career.
Julian Garcia struck out five of the seven Tritons he faced in relief of starter Ben O’Bryan (2-3), who went the first six and allowed four runs, just one of them earned.
“We showed great tenacity at the plate and competitive spirit,” commented UCSD head coach Eric Newman. “I’m really proud of the way the guys responded (after the way the series started). Blake (Fassler) pitched his best game of the year and gave us a chance to get the offense going. Troy (Cruz) really answered the bell for us and pitched one of his best games of the year as well. Erik Lewis did a great job this weekend at every aspect of the game and really gave our team great energy.”
Triton Notes: Troy Cruz is the only Triton to start all 27 games, with six coming on the mound ... UCSD reached double digits in runs for the sixth time in 2014 in Sunday’s first game, improving to 6-0 in such games ... The Tritons are in fact now a hefty 13-2 this season when scoring at least six runs in a contest ... Dean Friedberg made his second appearance as a Triton in the ninth inning of game one ... Brett Levy’s double in game one was his first extra-base hit of the year ... The game-one shutout marked UCSD’s fourth of 2014 ... Erik Lewis became the fourth Triton this season with a four-RBI game in the opener ... Nick La Face’s walk in the second contest was his league-leading 26th ... The 12-0 score signified UCSD’s largest margin of victory since a 14-2 rout at Cal State Dominguez Hills on April 15, 2012, and its most lopsided shutout since an identical 12-0 defeat of Hawai’i Pacific to open the 2010 NCAA Division II West Regional in Compton on May 13, 2010 ... UCSD has still not lost a CCAA series in 2014, with one sweep, now a 3-1 win and three splits.