AZUSA, Calif. - Coming off of a seven-day hiatus from competition for final exams, UC San Diego began its busy Spring Break with a 3-1 non-conference loss to Azusa Pacific University at Cougar Baseball Field on Monday night.
With the defeat, the Tritons dropped to 13-9 overall on the year. Azusa Pacific, playing its 19th home game (17-2), improved to 17-6 following a fifth straight win. The teams will meet again at Cougar Baseball Field on Tuesday, March 25, with first pitch set for 5 p.m. UCSD faces six road contests over seven days in all this week.
UCSD threatened in each of the first two frames, only to come up empty against Josh Staumont as the vaunted APU ace used the strikeout to turn the Tritons away. Senior catcher Nick La Face provided the two-out double in the first and was left there. An infield single by Troy Cruz (Chula Vista/Bonita Vista HS) led things off in the second, with freshman centerfielder Jack Larsen hitting a one-out double, but back-to-back strikeouts left both of them stranded in scoring position.
Meanwhile, Cruz, like Staumont a sophomore right-hander, cruised through two perfect innings, with five outs coming on the infield, including a pair of strikeouts of his own to end the home second.
Joel Belk came on for Staumont as the home side staffed the contest looking toward a four-game PacWest conference weekend coming up, with UCSD putting a man in scoring position for the third straight inning. After a flyout, Brandon Shirley reached first and sprinted all the way to second on a throwing error when the third strike got away from the Cougar catcher, but the redshirt freshman rightfielder was picked off of second by Belk a short time later.
Azusa Pacific then dented the scoreboard first on junior second baseman Blake James’ first home run of the year to open the bottom of the third. Cruz came back with consecutive strikeouts, and after successive two-out singles put Cougars at second and third, a flyout limited the damage to the one run.
The lack of a clutch hit continued to plague UCSD in the fourth as senior leftfielder Justin Rahn singled with one out and moved up two more bases on a wild pitch, but a called third strike and lineout kept him from advancing home.
A leadoff Jordan Brower double and a walk put the Cougars in business in the home half. After Cruz got Ryan Santana looking at strike three and ran over to take Michael Mann’s toss at first base on a James grounder for the second out, a flyout kept the Tritons’ deficit at a still-manageable one.
The home side added a run in the sixth as Matt Kimmel was hit by a pitch, moved to second on a bunt, stole third and scored on a Joe Huthsing single.
UCSD finally scratched across a run in the seventh, putting runners at the corners with nobody out as Rahn was plunked to begin the inning before Larsen singled through the left side. After APU went to a sixth pitcher on the night, a double-play ground ball plated Rahn, and a foulout ended the rally.
Azusa Pacific got that run right back, however, when Brower’s RBI single brought in Mitch Dergazarian in the home half. Dergazarian had tripled with two away. The Cougars eventually loaded the bases, but senior right-hander David Hart shut the door by inducing a flyout.
Cruz (2-2) went 4.0 innings in his fifth mound start of the season, allowing one run on four hits and one walk. He struck out five to match his career high, while going 1-for-4 at the plate. Fellow sophomore right-hander Justin Donatella took over in relief, also surrendering a single run, on two hits with two strikeouts in two innings.
La Face and Larsen each finished with a pair of hits, including a double. La Face also drew his league-leading 21st walk.
Staumont gave up three hits and fanned four over his short two-inning stint. He was tabbed the Division II Pitcher of the Year in Baseball America’s preseason prognostications, and is rated by the national publication as Division II’s top prospect for the 2014-15 drafts, projected as a potential first-round selection with a fastball touching 98-99 mph. He led the Golden State Athletic Conference in strikeouts as a freshman at Biola University a year ago before transferring to APU.
Azusa Pacific used eight arms in all. Belk (3-1) earned credit for the win with 1.1 one-hit, shutout frames. Luis Martinez threw a perfect ninth and picked up his fourth save. Dergazarian, Brower and James wound up with two hits apiece.
Triton Notes: Troy Cruz is the only Triton to have started all 22 games, with five of those starts coming on the mound ... With his fourth-inning single, Justin Rahn is the only Triton to have reached base in all 22 games so far in 2014 ... Over the last seven games, Nick La Face is 14-for-23 (.609) with five doubles, one triple, eight walks, seven runs and 10 RBI ... The doubles by La Face, Jack Larsen and Brandon Shirley were their team-leading eighth, second and fourth on the year, respectively ... Azusa Pacific’s home run in the third marked just the second allowed by a Triton pitcher in 2014 and first by Cruz for his college career after 84.2 innings thrown ... Junior right-hander Javier Carrillo, Jr. made his third appearance and threw just one pitch, getting a foulout to begin the home seventh.