LA JOLLA, Calif. - Sophomore right-hander Justin Donatella struck out a career-high 13 over a career-long 8.1 innings and UC San Diego hung on in the ninth for a 1-0 victory over Cal State Dominguez Hills in the opener of a four-game California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) baseball series Thursday night at Triton Ballpark.
Donatella’s strikeout total was in fact a UCSD program record in the NCAA Division II era, since the 2001 campaign. Matt Rossman struck out 12 over a remarkable 11.0 innings against Central Missouri at the 2010 NCAA Division II Championship in Cary, N.C., on May 24, 2010, and Jeff Rauh set down 12 on strikes in six complete frames at home against Western Oregon on Opening Day in 2012 on Feb. 3.
With the win, the Tritons improved to 8-6 overall and 5-4 in the CCAA. Cal State Dominguez Hills fell to 9-6 overall and an even 4-4 in league play in losing its third in a row.
Cal State Dominguez Hills began the ninth with a single to right center by Hayden Maurice. Rico Pena then put down a bunt on a 1-2 pitch that junior Triton catcher Brett Levy picked up right in front of the plate and fired straight down the pipe to new shortstop Tyler Howsley, the freshman bravely hanging in despite a charging Maurice to narrowly register the out on the lead runner. Leadoff batter David Steininger then, like Maurice, lined a single toward the gap in right center, signaling the end of Donatella’s incredible night with Toros at the corners.
On came senior closer Scott Zeman, the right-hander deftly gathering Danny Haley’s attempt at a game-tying safety squeeze on an 0-1 offering and tossing underhand to Levy to cut down pinch-runner Alex Sixtos at the plate. A big threat still looming with a pair of Toros on the base paths, Zeman got Peter Ives to fly out to new rightfielder Corbin Wirta, notching his third save of the year on four pitches.
Donatella (3-1) tossed 6.2 no-hit innings before Ives dropped a double down the left field line with two gone in the seventh. He achieved a new career long for a fourth straight start, having gone seven complete frames in his previous outing on Feb. 20 at Cal Poly Pomona. The Saugus native is now a perfect 3-0 in his first three conference starts.
Donatella faced the minimum 20 Toros leading up to that Ives double. He struck out the side in the second, and also fanned a pair in the third, fourth, sixth and eighth. CSUDH went down in order in every frame but the third, seventh and ninth. Donatella retired 12 straight from the third to the sixth.
The only run of the game was an unearned one for UCSD in the home second. Toro ace David Haerle (3-1) actually walked the first three batters of the inning, but had the first one cleaned up as his catcher, Pena, got the pick-off at first. Freshman centerfielder Jack Larsen then hit a fielder’s choice grounder to Kamran Young at first base, with Young going immediately to second for the second out of the frame. Ives then tossed back in an effort to complete the inning-ending double play, but no Toro was yet present at the bag, the throw going through and allowing Troy Cruz (Chula Vista/Bonita Vista HS) to scurry around from second with the deciding run.
Ives later actually advanced to third following his seventh-inning double on a passed ball, but Donatella got Young to fly out to end that threat. Donatella finished with the three hits against and no walks. The teams wound up with three hits apiece.
Senior designated hitter Nick La Face went 1-for-2 with a two-out, first-pitch single in the fourth and a pair of walks to improve his CCAA-leading on-base percentage to .525. Redshirt freshman outfielder Brandon Shirley extended his team-best hit streak to seven games with an 0-2 infield single to begin the home sixth.
UCSD and Cal State Dominguez Hills continue this series with another 6 p.m. first pitch at Triton Ballpark on Friday night, March 7.
Triton Notes: With Justin Rahn not starting tonight’s contest, Troy Cruz is now the only Triton to have started all 14 games, with two of those starts coming on the mound ... Rahn is still the only Triton, however, to have reached base in all 14 games so far in 2014, with his fifth-inning single after entering the game as a pinch-runner for Jack Larsen in the second ... Gradeigh Sanchez earned his first start of the year in left field in place of Rahn ... Justin Donatella is the first Triton to reach a double-figure strikeout total in 2014 and first since Ryan Goodbrand fanned 11 in 7.0 innings in a 4-0 home win vs. Cal State Stanislaus on Feb. 15, 2013 ... Thursday’s result marked UCSD’s second shutout of 2014 after the 9-0 home win vs. Holy Names on Opening Day (Feb. 2) ... The Tritons were last involved in a 1-0 affair on April 15, 2012, on the wrong side of that seven-inning doubleheader nightcap at Cal State Dominguez Hills ... UCSD last won by the score of 1-0 vs. Cal State East Bay to open a twin bill at home on Feb. 19, 2011, with Tim Shibuya (7.0 IP) and Elias Tuma (2.0) combining ... Brandon Shirley’s eighth-inning steal gave him three on three attempts in 2014, tying him for the team lead with Cruz ... The Tritons were hit by pitches three more times to increase their league-best total to 34 ... Catcher Brett Levy caught a fourth opposing runner trying to steal now on 10 attempts ... At 2:13, Thursday marked UCSD’s shortest nine-inning contest thus far this season.