LA JOLLA, Calif. - The 29th-ranked UC San Diego baseball team overturned a 3-0 deficit, produced a four-run seventh and defeated Cal State L.A., 6-3, in the opener of a key California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) series Thursday night at Triton Ballpark.
UCSD improved to 18-10 overall with its fourth straight victory and 14-7 in the CCAA. Cal State L.A. dropped to 14-16 overall and an even 12-12 in league play. The Tritons thus widened their lead over the Golden Eagles for the all-important fourth and final qualifying spot for the CCAA Championship in Stockton, May 8-11. UCSD is also now just a half-game back of 10th-ranked Cal Poly Pomona for third place.
Justin Donatella (5-1) settled down after surrendering a two-out, two-run double in the first inning, and went 8.0 innings for the winning decision. He allowed three runs, two of them earned, on four hits and one walk, striking out five. Scott Zeman tossed a perfect ninth for his fourth save.
Senior Cal State L.A. left-hander Ryan Santhon gave up three runs on just two hits, though he walked four, over six-plus frames. He struck out a pair and did not figure in the decision. David Armas (1-4) took the loss.
Down 3-1, UCSD’s big seventh began with a Justin Rahn single up the middle after the senior outfielder worked the count full against Santhon. Troy Cruz (Chula Vista/Bonita Vista HS) then drew a four-pitch walk and forced the change to Armas. Freshman centerfielder Jack Larsen put a successful sacrifice down on Armas’ first offering to move the tying run into scoring position at second.
Junior catcher Brett Levy then came through with his second sacrifice fly of the contest, both times on two-strike counts to plate Rahn from third after the Rahn had reached to open a frame. Levy went to the opposite field on this occasion. With Cruz at third following a passed ball, Tyler Howsley poked an RBI single through the left side of the infield to level the score.
Howsley advanced to second on an Armas wild pitch and redshirt freshman rightfielder Brandon Shirley walked to trigger a second pitching change. Junior second baseman Erik Lewis then provided what proved to be the game-winning hit in the form of a clutch, opposite-field RBI single to left center. Three pitches later, Nick La Face’s sharp single through the right side brought Shirley across for 5-3.
UCSD tacked on an insurance run in the eighth as Cruz cracked a first-pitch, RBI triple over the rightfielder’s head after a leadoff, four-pitch walk to Michael Mann.
Howsley, a true freshman shortstop making his 15th start, also made two impressive plays in the field on a clean night all around for the Tritons defensively. He first scooped up Casey Ryan’s slow roller and made the throw for the second out in the third, and later made it look easy in gathering a ball behind the mound and firing to Mann at first base to deny Rodrigo Martinez an infield single.
Donatella labored through a 34-pitch first. A one-out single and subsequent walk got him into trouble. Cal State L.A.’s standout catcher Cody Doyle, the reigning CCAA and West Region Player of the Week, then hit one on the nose, but right to Larsen in center for out number two. That’s when Trent Zaks lifted a fly ball down the left field line that Gradeigh Sanchez made a diving attempt for, only for the ball to skip out of his grasp, being judged to be fair by the umpiring crew for a two-run double.
Donatella got out of the second on a 4-6-3 double play started by Lewis. He found his groove and retired the Golden Eagles in each of the next two frames.
CSULA added an unearned run in the fifth as Drew Vanisi singled to lead off, moved to second on a groundout, to third on a sacrifice bunt, and home on a passed ball.
UCSD got that run right back in the home half, loading the bases with nobody out on walks to Rahn and Larsen around a Cruz single. Levy’s flyout plated Rahn.
Following Vanisi’s single in the fifth, Donatella ended his night by setting down the last 12 Golden Eagles he faced, striking out leadoff hitter Manny Acosta for a third time with his final pitch.
Santhon had largely cruised through the beginning portion of the game, turning back the first eight Tritons to come to the plate prior to an infield error, and taking a no-hitter into the fifth when Cruz drove an 0-2 offering into left for UCSD’s first hit.
Cruz finished 2-for-3 with a walk, triple, run and RBI. Rahn scored twice and Levy knocked in two. Zaks was 1-for-3 with his double and two RBI for the visitors.
UCSD and CSULA continue their four-game, split-venue set on Friday night, April 4, with another 6 p.m. first pitch at Triton Ballpark in La Jolla. The series then shifts to Los Angeles for a 1 p.m. Saturday doubleheader at Reeder Field.
Triton Notes: Troy Cruz is the only Triton to start all 28 games, with six coming on the mound ... Cruz's eighth-inning triple was his second of the season ... Justin Donatella made his eighth career start and seventh of the year on the mound, improving to 5-0 with a no-decision in his six CCAA outings ... Nick La Face’s RBI single in the seventh inning extended his reached-base streak to 25 games, the longest by a Triton in 2014 ... UCSD improved to 14-2 this season when scoring at least six runs, and remained an undefeated 15-0 when collecting at least as many hits as its opponent.