LA JOLLA, Calif. - Redshirt freshman Keenan Brigman's pinch-hit, three-run triple capped a four-run fifth inning and led the No. 7 University of California San Diego baseball team to a dramatic 6-4 triumph over top-ranked California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) rival Chico State at Triton Ballpark on Sunday.
The result meant another series victory for UC San Diego, which remains unbeaten in sets with nine wins and a two-game split. It marked a fourth time in the last five weeks, in fact, in which the Tritons dropped the opener of a three-game CCAA matchup, only to win the next two and take the series. As opposed to Saturday's doubleheader tilts which wound up being borderline blowouts, Sunday's rubber game was tension-filled throughout as two of the top teams in the country went toe to toe in what presumably will not be the final time they meet this season.
Chico State had won game one by the final score of 13-5, before being shut out, 7-0, in the nine-inning nightcap Saturday. Sunday's defeat pinned the Wildcats with their first series loss of 2017, with seven prior wins and a four-game split at Point Loma.
Through the weekend, UCSD remains 3.5 games clear of two-time reigning West Region champion Cal Poly Pomona in the CCAA South. The Broncos are the Tritons' next opponent, in a four-game, split-venue series beginning this Thursday, April 13. UCSD is 3.5 games back of North leader Chico State in the race for the CCAA regular-season crown and subsequent CCAA Championship top seed.
UCSD began the home fifth trailing 3-1 following a three-run Wildcat rally in the top half. Chico State starter Steven Baker registered the first out via swinging strikeout, but walked Tim White on five pitches ahead of a sharp single to center by JD Hearn, necessitating a call to the bullpen. Grant Larson (0-1) got left-handed counterpart Jack Larsen to bounce out to third base as both runners advanced into scoring position. Larson then walked Tyler Durna on four pitches, and pinch-hitter Jesse Moore diligently worked an eight-pitch free pass, fouling off back-to-back 2-2 offerings, to force in White and make it 3-2.
Triton head coach Eric Newman sent Brigman, who spent his true freshman year at the University of the Pacific, up to bat, prompting Chico State manager Dave Taylor to go back to a right-hander, in Jae Wagner. All Brigman did was go opposite field just inside the foul line in right and into the corner, on a 2-1 toss, to clear the bags.
Though it certainly wasn't easy, the Tritons managed to hold the lead for the remainder, with Brigman's hit making a winner on the mound out of Adrian Orozco (Chula Vista/San Diego State/Southwestern College/Otay Ranch HS). The redshirt senior right-hander improved to 6-0, now with the winning decision in five straight starts, with UCSD a perfect 8-0 when he takes the ball from Newman. Orozco allowed three runs on seven hits and one walk over 5.0 innings. For the first time this season, the Triton strikeout leader did not have one.
The visitors halved their deficit in the seventh, but it could have been much worse for UCSD. Redshirt freshman right-handed reliever Blaine Jarvis saw the bases loaded against him on three successive singles, the last of which came about through some confusion on a bunt between himself and his third baseman, Hearn. Left-hander Travis Roberts entered the fray to do one thing and one thing only, and that was to retire the left-handed Cody Snider. The redshirt junior did his job, getting Snider swinging. On the second pitch of that at-bat, redshirt sophomore catcher Michael Palos at least momentarily saved a run with a tough block in the dirt.
Sophomore right-hander Jonah Dipoto took over, and after walking Cameron Santos on five throws to force in a run, maintained the precarious 5-4 edge by inducing a 6-4-3 double play off the bat of cleanup hitter Dillon Kelley.
Dipoto dodged a leadoff hit-by-pitch in the eighth with a swinging strikeout, popout and flyout.
That's when the Tritons, namely leadoff man Brandon Shirley, manufactured a huge insurance run. The fifth-year senior beat out a bunt attempt for a one-out infield single, stole second and then third ahead of White's walk, and after Hearn was plunked to fill the bags, came home on Larsen's right-sided RBI groundout.
Dipoto benefited from successive nice plays by White at second base, en route to a perfect ninth, as a third straight groundout netted him a second save on the year.
Durna stayed hot and finished his day 2-for-4 with a walk and run scored. Shirley was 1-for-3 with a walk, sacrifice, run and two steals from the leadoff spot. Brigman had just two hits in the series, one in each Triton win, and registered five RBI with those knocks. The triple was his second on the year.
The afternoon began with Orozco cleaning up a leadoff infield single by dialing up a 6-4-3 double play. The Tritons advanced Shirley to third in their initial turn, but no further. The 'Cats almost hit the scoreboard first in the second. With Josh Falco at first via one-out single, Casey Henderson belted a double to left, but Tyler Howsley's relay from leftfielder Justin Flatt to Palos behind the dish was perfect to cut down Falco at the plate for the third out.
Orozco was perfect in the third, the only other 1-2-3 frame by either side prior to Dipoto's ninth, with the Tritons getting one in the home half. Howsley led off with an opposite-field double over Snider's head in right. With one gone and men at the corners, Hearn laid down a successful safety squeeze to bring Howsley home. Baker actually booted the ball and could not register an out, but UCSD was unable to scratch across more than just the single tally.
Chico State began the fourth with a first-pitch single up the middle by Snider, but a mere three pitches later, Orozco was out of the inning, with a flyout and a 6-4-3 twin killing. He went to his first three-ball count of the day before Falco started the three-run fifth off with a double to right center. Jerrett Maas' pinch-hit double, Casey Bennett's RBI groundout and an RBI infield single by Cortez made it 3-2. That snapped a run of 13 consecutive scoreless innings for the 'Cats against the Tritons.
It could have been much worse for UCSD if not for yet another spectacular pickup at first by Durna, on Bennett's ball, as Howsley's throw had a tough in-between hop.
The primetime first pitch at Triton Ballpark in La Jolla for Thursday's opener with the CPP Broncos (18-17, 14-10 CCAA) is set for 6 p.m.
Triton Notes: Tyler Howsley extended his consecutive games played streak to 140 dating back to the 2015 opener ... Jack Larsen has appeared in 95 straight games, all of them starts ... Tyler Durna extended his team-best streaks to 22 straight games reaching base and 17 with a hit, while lifting his league-leading average to .429 ... Adrian Orozco made his eighth start of the year and ninth of his UCSD career ... Brandon Shirley's two stolen bases in the eighth increased his team-leading total to 12 in 15 attempts ... The Tritons matched their season high of three double plays turned, and produced eight twin killings in the series while being credited with a single error, their fielding percentage up to .973 ... UCSD has been charged with only four errors over the past 10 contests.