Nightcap Redemption as No. 17 UCSD Takes Third Straight Series at East Bay After Inauspicious Start to Day
HAYWARD, Calif. - The 17th-ranked UC San Diego baseball team rallied nicely from a tough opener to cruise past Cal State East Bay, 10-2, in the seven-inning nightcap of a California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) doubleheader Sunday at Pioneer Field. Eight errors had led to 12 unearned runs in just the first three frames of a 21-10 defeat earlier.
The game-two victory clinched a third straight series win for the Tritons to begin the conference slate. They moved to 13-7 overall and 9-3 in the CCAA. East Bay is 4-8 overall and 1-7 with a first league victory for 2015 to begin the day. The Tritons had taken single meetings on Friday and Saturday by scores of 5-0 and 9-3. The teams were supposed to play a twin bill on Saturday with a finale on getaway day, but the doubleheader was shifted to Sunday due to inclement weather yesterday.
“The guys fought through what obviously was a very poor start in the first game,” remarked UCSD head coach Eric Newman. “We dug ourselves a rather large hole just by not playing catch, but the response from the players, across the board, was very good, which allowed us to continue to play hard through the first game, despite difficult circumstances. That carried into the second game, as we kept the quality of our at-bats and play at a high level. You never want to lose a game the way we lost the first one. Responding to it the right way was just as important.”
UCSD is now set for its annual regular-season showdown with archrival Chico State. The reigning West Region champion Wildcats are currently ranked No. 16, and will make the trip down to La Jolla for the second year in a row. The four-game set begins in primetime on Friday night, March 6, with first pitch set for 6 p.m. at Triton Ballpark. That contest is tentatively slated to feature a marquee mound match-up, to say the least, between UCSD ace Justin Donatella (3-1, 0.36 ERA) and Chico State All-American Luke Barker (1-0, 1.23). Donatella has yet to allow a run in CCAA action.
A mistake-filled third doomed the Tritons for good in this one. Already trailing 3-0 after two errors led to three unearned runs in the second, UCSD managed six more errors, three walks, a wild pitch, and allowed four stolen bases during a forgettable nine-run frame. The Pioneers needed just two hits to do the damage.
The first error put Dakota Conners on to lead things off, with the shortstop then stealing his third base in as many games this weekend. Trevor Scott walked the next batter, before Conners also swiped third, and came home on an awry throw. East Bay put down a fourth bunt for the game, and a fifth UCSD error brought the runner home from second. Peter Link followed with a one-out single, and made it all the way around to third on an outfield error, while Jason Fletcher scored for 6-0. A three-run home run later by Rudy Navarro capped the scoring, with Fletcher’s flyout mercifully ending the disastrous frame. Twelve Pioneers came to the plate.
What amounted to a poorly-played contest by both sides managed to continue with East Bay freshman left-hander Alex Vesia coming back out and walking the bases full on 17 pitches to open the fourth, before issuing another free pass to Justin Flatt to put UCSD on the board and end his day. The Tritons could get two more across.
The Tritons got solo home runs by Justin Flatt and Brian Choi in the sixth. Tyler Plantier, a true freshman out of Poway (Del Norte HS), turned on an 0-2 pitch and cranked a three-run shot to left center in the seventh for his first career long ball. UCSD loaded the bases in the eighth, and Plantier was hit to knock in his fourth run.
UCSD finished with 11 errors in all, with two more leading to another pair of unearned runs in the fifth. The Pioneers tallied their first earned scores during a five-run sixth. Chris Porter unloaded on his second home run of the series, a first-pitch grand slam, for the big blow in that frame, which still featured a Triton error. The catcher added a run-scoring double in the eighth for his sixth RBI.
Things had started out harmlessly enough, as both left-handed starters pitched perfect firsts, each with one strikeout. The Tritons drew back-to-back two-out walks in the second from Vesia, but a popout ended the threat.
East Bay turned right around and put two players in scoring position on consecutive infield errors and a sacrifice to begin the home half. A walk loaded the bases, before Ryan Kochan’s two-run single down the right field line and a successful squeeze made it 3-0. The Pioneers had three bunts in the frame, and five in the contest.
Scott (3-2) lasted just 2.1 innings and allowed a career-high 10 runs, all unearned, on only two hits and four walks. He struck out one. The fourth-year senior had entered the day having surrendered just three runs in 25.1 innings. Jack Rupe, Jr., worked a clean fourth, and Travis Roberts the seventh with his first career strikeout. The final ledger had 15 of the 21 East Bay runs as unearned.
Vesia gave up three runs on no hits and six walks in three-plus frames, striking out two. He worked a 1-2-3 third, all on the infield, in addition to the first, but wasn’t able to stick around long enough to parlay a 12-run cushion into a winning decision. Julian Garcia (1-0) was the beneficiary of Vesia’s control problems, picking up the win. The senior right-hander navigated through the fifth with a pair of strikeouts.
Redshirt freshmen Flatt and Steven Coe (Valley Center/Valley Center HS) worked back-to-back walks to begin the nightcap’s second inning, with Coe battling back from an 0-2 hole. After a sacrifice, a passed ball brought in the first run. Plantier, drawing his first collegiate start as the Triton third baseman after his effort in game one, then continued his big day by poking an RBI single up the middle for 2-0.
Triton starter Troy Cruz (Chula Vista/Bonita Vista HS) got back on the hill and put together his second straight 1-2-3 frame with three groundouts, two of them to Plantier at third, on just nine pitches.
UCSD padded its advantage in the third. Erik Lewis led off with a first-pitch double and scored on Michael Mann’s single up the middle. Jack Larsen’s ensuing single put Tritons at the corners. With runners at second and third and one away, Coe greeted the new pitcher by immediately lifting a sacrifice fly. An intentional walk and then an unintentional four-pitch free pass to Plantier loaded the bags, before Tyler Howsley and Gradeigh Sanchez each also drew bases on balls to make it 6-0.
East Bay threatened in the fourth via successive singles, but Cruz got a flyout and two swinging strikeouts from the heart of the order to leave both Pioneers stranded. The home side finally did score in the fifth on Kochan’s solo shot, his second home run of 2015, but left two more on base.
UCSD got that one right back, and then some, in the sixth, as Christian Leung beat out an infield RBI single and Plantier slid a two-run single through the left side. Mann’s run-scoring hit in the seventh sent in Lewis, who had doubled, and completed a perfect 5-for-5 showing for the senior first baseman.
Cruz (2-2) allowed the one run on six hits in five complete. The junior right-hander walked none and struck out five. He set the Pioneers down in order in the first on a groundout, called third strike and strikeout swinging. Cruz ultimately retired the first eight in a row before No. 9 hitter Wyatt Foreman’s double, but fanned the next batter. He had lost his previous two mound starts, both in CCAA series finales. Chad Rieser took over to get the final six outs. He, too, gave up a solo shot, to Rob Link.
“Troy is always going to come out, compete, and give us a chance to win,” said Newman. “He threw strikes, attacked hitters, and gave us a chance to get up there and hit. He did a good job of staying pretty even keel. It was good to see him get a win under his belt, too, after pitching pretty well the first two weekends in conference and not walking away with a win.”
All five of Mann’s hits were singles, with two runs, two RBI and a steal. Leung went 1-for-1 with two walks, two runs, one RBI, and his first career steal. UCSD benefitted from eight walks. Coe had two of them for his single-game high. Plantier wound up 2-for-3 with a walk and three RBI in game two and 3-for-5 with seven RBI on the day. Lewis turned in his first two-double game as a Triton, going 2-for-5 with a run.
Junior left-hander Angel Lara (0-2) gave up four runs on five hits in 2.1 innings for the Pioneers, with two walks and three strikeouts.
“Tyler Plantier did a great job today,” added Newman. “We put him in that first game early. Down as much as we were, we wanted Troy (Cruz) to rest. His at-bats were really good. Defensively, he struggled, along with a lot of the guys, but the at-bats gave him confidence. He came out for the second game and played good defense, and continued the good at-bats. Michael Mann had an unbelievable day at the plate for us, too, among plenty of bright spots. Winning a series on the road isn’t easy in this league. Doing that is something we can continue to build on, to look at the things we did in the game we lost, and try to get better from it.”
Triton Notes: UCSD’s 11 errors in the opener were easily its most in a single game of the Division II era ... The Tritons committed six errors in a 9-4 loss at Cal State L.A. in their first year of Division II on April 5, 2001 ... East Bay’s nine-run third was the largest inning against the Tritons in 2015, with that number previously at six in the seventh during a 9-8 home loss to Point Loma on Feb. 17 ... The walk by Troy Cruz in game one was his league-leading 22nd ... The sixth-inning home runs by Justin Flatt and Brian Choi were their third and second, respectively ... UCSD had its streak of five straight wins over East Bay snapped ... The Tritons blasted three home runs in a game for the second time and now have 10 on the season after hitting 11 in 2014 ... UCSD began the day having given up a total of 42 runs in its first 18 games, and surrendered exactly half that in the opener, with previous highs of nine overall and just four in the first 10 CCAA games ... The 21 runs given up were a Division II program record, with the previous high coming in an 18-1 loss at Cal State Stanislaus on March 31, 2006 ... East Bay hit two home runs in each game on the day and five for the series after the Tritons had allowed just one long ball entering the weekend ... Jack Larsen (4-for-4) and Michael Mann (3-for-3) remain perfect in steal attempts ... Game two marked Mann’s fourth in a Triton uniform with four or more hits, having gone 4-for-4 and 5-for-5 in a pair of contests a year ago, and 4-for-5 Saturday in Hayward.