STOCKTON, Calif. - The No. 21 University of California San Diego baseball team was one strike away on three occasions, but ultimately dropped a gut-wrenching 9-8 decision in 11 innings to No. 29 Cal Poly Pomona in a wild one to wrap day two of the 2017 California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Championship at neutral-site Banner Island Ballpark on Thursday night.
Third-seeded UC San Diego, the designated visitor, fell to 33-16 overall. Second-seeded Cal Poly Pomona moved to 33-18. CPP had won the regular-season set, three games to one in mid-April, which marked the Tritons' first series loss of 2017.
UCSD will next face an elimination game against No. 6 seed Cal State LA on Friday at 3 p.m. CPP remains in the winner's bracket against top seed Chico State at 11 a.m. Should the Tritons defeat the Golden Eagles, they would have to turn right back around and meet the loser of the 11 a.m. contest, in another elimination tilt at 7 p.m.
The Tritons held leads of 4-0 and 6-1 over the first half, and even after relinquishing a tough two-run ninth that sent the game to extras, surged back in front with not one, but two tallies in the 10th. That still wasn't enough against the resilient Broncos, the two-time defending West Region champions, who managed two more in the 10th ahead of a walkoff single by Brennan McKenzie in the 11th.
Back at the start, senior rightfielder Jack Larsen took a first-pitch strike, two balls, and then launched a 2-1 fastball from junior right-hander Jeff Bain deep to right for a second no-doubter in as many tournament games for the early 1-0 Triton lead.
Chris Stratton produced an infield single to begin the bottom half. Cody Martin then lined one into shallow left center that Brandon Shirley sprinted in on and dove to grab, coming up narrowly short in attempting to double Stratton up at first. The CPP shortstop swiped second, and moved to third on a groundout, with Tyler Durna making the slick pickup of second baseman JD Hearn's throw in the dirt. Redshirt senior right-hander Adrian Orozco (Chula Vista/Otay Ranch HS) then froze senior third baseman Jason Padlo as the called third strike stranded Stratton at third.
Sophomore first baseman Nic Hernandez drove a double up against the wall in right center to lead off the second. Orozco came back to sit Frankie Nogales down swinging on three tosses. McKenzie, the CCAA Freshman of the Year, made good contact, but Keenan Brigman secured the tough catch in left, and Bryce Graddy popped up to Larsen in shallow right to leave another runner in scoring position.
UCSD struck for three in the third, ignited by a leadoff single up the middle by Tyler Howsley in the nine hole. Larsen showed bunt a couple of times, but didn't have to pull the trigger as two passed balls by Martin behind the dish moved Howsley exactly where CPP didn't want him with Larsen up. Larsen promptly laced an RBI double into the right field corner to score his longtime teammate from Capistrano Valley High School days. Shirley then dumped a single into right, and Durna roped a two-run double into the gap in right center to make it 4-0 in favor of the Tritons.
Alex Eliopulos' fly ball moved Durna to third with one away, and Hearn drew a walk, but CPP turned a 1-4-6-3 double play on a hard-hit ball by the speedy Brigman.
The Broncos got one of those runs back in the home half on a two-out RBI single up the middle by Daniel Pitts. That was after their own No. 9 hitter, Jacob Bernardy, got things going with a leadoff single. It looked like Orozco might escape unscathed again, after a flyout and a groundout that moved Bernardy to second, but Pitts got to him. Padlo then also actually singled, but a liner by Hernandez went right into Hearn's glove.
Orozco answered Bain's quick fourth with a perfect frame of his own, with further help from Durna, who made another difficult scoop of a low throw on the first out, this time from Eliopulos across the diamond at third.
Bain finally retired Larsen to begin the fifth, but Shirley went opposite field with an 0-2 and singled through the right side, which had added significance as moments later, Durna watched another tape-measure bomb go deep to right for a two-run shot and a 6-1 advantage. It was his seventh on the year.
The home fifth was similar to the third for the Broncos, charged by a leadoff double from Bernardy, with Pitts providing the big two-out, run-scoring jolt, this time in the form of a two-run home run to right center on a 3-2 fastball from Orozco, for 6-3.
CPP got another run closer in the sixth, putting the leadoff man on for the fifth time, and third on doubles alone, as Hernandez found the chalk down the right field line. A right-sided groundout and deep McKenzie sacrifice fly scored him.
Bain and Orozco traded 1-2-3 frames for a second time in the seventh, Orozco getting Martin swinging for his third out with the dangerous Pitts waiting on deck.
Orozco opened the home eighth by walking Pitts on four throws. His first pitch to Padlo was also a ball, before he induced the gigantic 4-6-3 double play. That was the end of his night, as sophomore right-hander Kyle Lucke took over to get Hernandez to fly out to Brigman to send it into the ninth.
Twice needing a single strike to win the game in the ninth, back-to-back RBI singles up the middle by Stratton and Martin knotted the score at 6-6 and took the game to extra innings. Lucke went strike-strike to start off both hitters before their singles. He got Pitts to ground out unassisted to Durna to extend the contest.
Peter Beattie threw six straight balls to begin the 10th, walking Eliopulos before Hearn got the sacrifice down and CPP went back to the bullpen. The first pitch from Wyatt Shackleford clanked off Martin's glove for a passed ball. On his second pitch, Brigman singled through the drawn-in infield on the left side to extend his hit streak to 12 games, but much more importantly, regain a 7-6 edge for the Tritons. Brigman swiped second, and with two gone, fellow redshirt freshman Nick Kitzmann hit a ball that kicked out of Padlo's glove and down the left field line for an RBI double.
The home 10th began 12-pitch walk to Padlo with six straight two-strike fouls, wild pitch, walk and bunt single to fill the bags. CPP held the runners on a shallow flyout to right to give UCSD renewed hope, but an immediate hit-by-pitch forced in a run. A strikeout again generated some excitement, but a 3-2 pitch to Stratton went over Kitzmann's head for a walk and 8-8. Martin followed with a looping liner over second, and the game would have ended right then and there if not for UCSD's shift and a leaping grab at the height of his jump by a well-placed Howsley for arguably his best effort in a career full of defensive gems.
Orozco went a season-long 7.2 innings and allowed four runs on eight hits and one walk, striking out three.
Larsen finished 2-for-5 with a double, home run, walk, two runs, two RBI and a steal. Durna was 2-for-5 with a double, home run, sacrifice, run scored and four RBI. Shirley wound up 4-for-6 with a pair of scores. Eliopulos went 2-for-4 with a double, two walks and a run.
Bain gave up six runs on nine hits, two walks and two hit-by-pitches, both to Justin Flatt, over 7.2 innings. He struck out six, including two after a groundout in a 1-2-3 second. Bain also registered a nine-pitch fourth on two groundouts around a called third strike, and a perfect seventh.
Triton Notes: UCSD is 26-17 at the CCAA Championship, making its 13th appearance and fourth straight ... The Tritons are 4-5 against CPP at the CCAA Championship, with three losses in a row in successive years ... Tyler Howsley extended his consecutive games played streak to 158 dating back to the 2015 opener ... Jack Larsen has appeared in 113 straight games, all of them starts ... JD Hearn has appeared in 80 games in a row, all of them starts ... Hearn, Howsley and Larsen are the only Tritons to appear in all 49 games this season, with only Hearn and Larsen starting each ... Brandon Shirley played in his 200th career game ... Adrian Orozco drew his 13th start of 2017 and 14th of his Triton career ... Larsen's leadoff home run extended his reached-base streak to 31 games, and was his team-best 11th on the year, 23rd of his career, and fourth at Banner Island Ballpark ... Larsen's home run was his second to lead off a game this season and subsequently of his career, and the third by a Triton this year, alongside one by fellow senior outfielder Shirley ... UCSD began the day second in the CCAA in home runs, one behind Cal State LA, with Larsen and Tyler Durna's shots vaulting them one ahead at 43 ... Alex Eliopulos' first-inning double was his 13th of the year, tying him with Larsen for the team lead ... But only momentarily, as Larsen hit his 14th double in the third ... Durna extended his reached-base streaks to 40 games with his two-run double in the third, which was his 10th double of the year ... Durna's is the second-longest in UCSD's NCAA Division II history (since 2001), behind only Jeff Riddle's 41-gamer from 2004 ... Larsen's two RBI increase his team-leading total to 50, now tied for first in the CCAA with CPP's Daniel Pitts, with 16 over his last six games ... UCSD is 2-3 in extra-inning games in 2017.