LA JOLLA, Calif. - The 15th-ranked UC San Diego baseball team saw its season come to an end in the final of the 2014 NCAA Division II Championship West Regional Sunday, following a heartbreaking loss to No. 9 Chico State, 3-1, at Triton Ballpark.
UCSD fought back to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth on a single from senior Garrett Tuck, but surrendered two unearned Wildcat runs in the seventh to make the difference. Chico State did not physically drive in any of its three scores.
UCSD, which would have needed a second victory Sunday night to earn its third West Region trophy, concluded the season at 38-16 overall as a record sixth-time California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) tournament champion.
Chico State improved to 43-13 and advances to the NCAA Division II Championship in Cary, N.C., May 24-31.
As expected in this rivalry, it was a taut and tense thriller from the very first pitch.
The Wildcats scored the game’s opening run in the third as Peter Miller followed a one-out Ruben Padilla single with a double to center, with Padilla rounding third and coming home on an outfield bobble.
After being unable to capitalize on numerous opportunities throughout the early going, the Tritons were finally able to level matters in the sixth when Tuck found the hole between third base and shortstop to plate Michael Mann from third. Mann had singled to lead off, moved to second on a one-out wild pitch and to third on a flyout.
Looking for a shutdown inning in the seventh, UCSD allowed the decisive tallies. Shortstop Cody Slader stood on second after a one-out hit-by-pitch and a fielder’s choice for the second out. A walk necessitated a pitching change, with senior closer Scott Zeman getting the ground ball he needed to escape the threat, only for an infield single to leave the ‘Cats up 2-1 with runners at the corners. A perfectly-executed rundown play then resulted in a double steal for Eric Angerer and Ryne Clark, the latter player swiping home for the insurance run.
Senior right-hander David Hart (1-1) was about as tough a losing pitcher as possible, having exited without allowing a single hit over his 3.2 innings, matching his longest outing in a Triton uniform. He came on to set down 10 batters in a row before hitting Danny Miller with one gone in the seventh. Hart walked one and struck out a career-high four, cruising through a perfect fourth, fifth and sixth with three strikeouts and four groundouts. Both runs off of him were unearned.
Ahead of Hart, junior left-hander Trevor Scott put forth a gutsy performance, with just the opening run against him over three complete innings on just two days’ rest following Thursday’s 3-0 shutout over Sonoma State in which he went 7.1 frames. He wiped out a single to open the game by picking Clark off of first base. Scott also benefitted from his catcher, Brett Levy, throwing out Connor Huesers at second after the junior outfielder had tried to advance on a pitch in the dirt.
On the other side, Chico State starter Alex Mistuloff was living dangerously throughout, walking one Triton batter in each of the first five innings before UCSD finally broke through on the Tuck single. The Tritons were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position prior to that at-bat.
In the home second, Levy worked a 3-1 count before hitting a sharp single up the middle, and freshman centerfielder Jack Larsen took a couple of close offerings to draw a free base with one away, but a called third strike and fielder’s choice got Mistuloff out of trouble. Robert Hook (8-2) relieved Mistuloff with Tritons on first and second in the fifth following a one-out Erik Lewis single and Nick La Face walk. Once again, a fielder’s choice and strikeout looking, in reverse order, doomed UCSD.
Star Chico State closer Luke Barker threw a perfect ninth for his school-record 18th save of 2014. He saved all four Wildcat victories in the regional, and earned Most Valuable Player distinction for his efforts.
Zeman tossed 2.1 scoreless frames with an infield single against him and two strikeouts.
Cruz traversed third-base foul territory to make a catch against the fence to end the third. Lewis made back-to-back nice plays to cap the eighth.
Mann went 2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored. La Face was 1-for-2 with two walks, giving the fifth-year senior a league-best 47 on the season and breaking the single-season program record previously set at 45 by Aaron Bauman in 2010.
Peter Miller and Huesers each had a couple of hits for the ‘Cats.
Cruz, La Face, Lewis, Justin Rahn and Brandon Shirley were chosen to the 12-player All-Tournament Team. The result marked the end of the careers of seven Triton seniors in Hart, La Face, Rahn, Tuck, Zeman, Blake Fassler and Spencer Frazier.
Triton Notes: Troy Cruz was the only Triton to start all 54 games in 2014, with 13 coming on the mound ... Erik Lewis extended his reached-base streak to 23 games and hit streak to 11, both current team bests which he will take into his senior campaign in 2015 ... Garrett Tuck completed his year and career hitting .367 (29-for-79) with 15 runs, two doubles, one triple and 18 RBI since April 1 ... The Tritons were 18-9 at home in 2014 and 24-6 over their last 30 ... The Tritons moved to 18-14 all-time at the NCAA Division II Championship in their seventh appearance ... UCSD was an even 4-4 against Chico State this season, and is 0-4 versus the Wildcats all-time in NCAA Championship play, with two prior losses in Chico in 2008.
NCAA West Regional All-Tournament Team
Catcher - Peter Miller (Chico State)
First Base - Eric Angerer (Chico State)
Second Base - Erik Lewis (UC San Diego)
Third Base - Troy Cruz (UC San Diego)
Shortstop - Cody Slader (Chico State)
Outfield - Justin Rahn (UC San Diego)
Outfield - Connor Huesers (Chico State)
Outfield - Danny Miller (Chico State)
Designated Hitter - Nick La Face (UC San Diego)
Pitcher - Robert Hook (Chico State)
Pitcher - Luke Barker (Chico State)
At-Large - Brandon Shirley (UC San Diego)
Most Valuable Player - Luke Barker (Chico State)