Having just produced its second successive four-game sweep of a California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) series, No. 18 UC San Diego concludes its season-long 11-game road stretch with another four-game set at San Francisco State this week. The Tritons will head back to Northern California for the second week in a row on Wednesday evening, this time by air, for a Thursday through Saturday series ahead of the Easter holiday on Sunday. First pitch at Maloney Field for the Thursday opener is at 3 p.m. The teams will play a Friday doubleheader beginning at 12 p.m., with Saturday's single finale slated for an 11 a.m. start.
The series will pit the CCAA's highest-scoring team, UCSD (229 runs), against its lowest in SF State (127). The Tritons are 18-5 over their last 23 games, 11-1 over the last 12, and 13-5 on the road in 2014. The Gators are 12-6 at Maloney Field in 2014.
At 25-11 overall and 21-7 in the CCAA, UCSD is now all alone in third place in the league standings. The Tritons remain one game back of No. 8 Chico State (22-6), which also swept its series last weekend, at home over Cal State Dominguez Hills with three walk-off victories. They are a full two games ahead of No. 12 Cal Poly Pomona (19-9). Sonoma State (16-4), idle from CCAA play last week, sits on top on percentage points, with a four-game series against Chico State looming to close out the regular season. UCSD heads into the weekend a winner of 11 straight CCAA contests, its longest such streak since the Tritons rattled off 15 consecutive league triumphs to complete the 2011 regular season. They have put together back-to-back CCAA sweeps, also for the first time since that 2011 run, which featured three sweeps in a row. UCSD holds a sizeable seven-game cushion for the league's fourth and final playoff spot. The top four teams in the final standings will once again make up the field for the CCAA Championship, to be held for a second straight year at Stockton's Banner Island Ballpark, May 8-11. Follow all of the action down the stretch through the live CCAA baseball scoreboard here.
All UCSD home games at Triton Ballpark feature a live online video stream and live stats. Weeknight CCAA contests additionally have audio commentary, provided again by former Triton pitcher Tim Strombel (2007-08). The audio/video is free, but does require registration and a login. Some road contests will also have video, including all four games in San Francisco this week, free of charge. Fans can access all live coverage for home and away dates from the Schedule/Results page. Finally, starting lineups, live between-inning updates and other in-game news and notes can be found during home contests and some road games by following Triton Baseball all season long on the UCSD Athletics Twitter handle (@UCSDtritons).
UCSD appeared at No. 39 in the preseason edition of Collegiate Baseball Newspaper's NCAA Division II top-40 poll released back on Dec. 24. The Tritons returned to the top 30 at No. 30 on March 17, and moved up one spot to No. 29 on March 31. Last week, UCSD advanced another five positions to No. 24, and another six to No. 18 in Monday's latest edition. The Tritons are also now up to No. 14 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) poll, and have gradually moved up from No. 10 (preseason) to No. 2 in the NCBWA West Region listing. The first release of the all-important NCAA regional poll is due out next week, with the top six teams in the final version of that ranking headed to the NCAA Division II Championship West Regional.
ABOUT THE GATORS
San Francisco State (17-21, 12-16 CCAA) is coming off of a four-game sweep at home over Cal State L.A. last weekend. Scores in the closely-contested set were 5-4, 4-3 (11), 11-6 (7) and 5-4. Two of the wins were of the walk-off variety. The Gators, currently tied for sixth in the league standings, conclude their eight-game homestand against the Tritons. Matt Vera is the reigning CCAA Player of the Week after going 5-for-10 with three doubles and three RBI against CSULA. The junior infielder played a role in both walk-offs, driving in the 11th-inning decider in Saturday's 4-3 result before scoring in the ninth to win Sunday's finale. Junior right-hander Cory Davis (3-2, 2.65 ERA) is second in the conference with his nine saves among a team-high 20 appearances. He had a save and a win against CSULA. Senior outfielder Grady Espinosa is the only SFSU player to start all 38 games, and is hitting .275 with a team-best 20 runs and 13 RBI. He has accounted for the team's lone home run. Junior catcher Mark Lindsay, the 2012 CCAA Freshman of the Year, has started 36 games and is batting .281 with 16 RBI. Mike Cummins is in his fifth season in charge at SF State.
UCSD is 36-14 against SF State since joining the CCAA for the 2001 season, and 19-5 over the past 24 meetings. This includes an 18-6 mark in San Francisco and an 18-8 record in La Jolla, with four-game sweeps in 2007 and 2009. The teams split their four games at Triton Ballpark last April, with UCSD sweeping a Saturday doubleheader, 9-6 and 7-5 in seven innings, in between Gator victories of 4-1 and 11-3. UCSD took the previous series in the Bay Area in March of 2012, three games to one, sweeping one doubleheader, 4-3 and 20-2, before splitting another twin bill the next day (2-5, 4-0). The only time that SF State has bested the Tritons in a series was in UCSD’s first year in the league, 2001, sweeping a shortened two-game set in La Jolla.
LAST TIME OUT
UCSD went 4-1 away from home last week. The Tritons first fell 8-4 against then-No. 27 California Baptist in Riverside on Wednesday night, April 9, in a primetime non-conference tilt between nationally-ranked West Region foes. They then travelled to Turlock to inflict a four-game sweep on the Cal State Stanislaus Warriors over the weekend. UCSD cruised to comfortable 13-4 and 10-1 decisions in the Friday night opener and seven-inning Saturday nightcap, around a pair of dramatic comebacks. In game one of the Saturday twin bill, the Tritons scored three times in the ninth to send it into extras before Garrett Tuck's 10th-inning RBI single proved to be the winner. Sunday's finale saw UCSD again trailing by three runs before staging another furious rally, with a four-run sixth leading to a 4-3 victory to wrap up the sweep.
STANISLAUS SERIES SUPERLATIVES
UCSD drew 30 walks in 35 innings played in its four-game sweep at Cal State Stanislaus last weekend ... The Triton bullpen threw 11 complete innings of shutout baseball (6 H, 1 BB, 12 SO) over the four contests, courtesy of Javier Carrillo, Jr. (1.0), Dean Friedberg (1.0), David Hart (4.0), Dan Kolodin (1.0), Chad Rieser (1.0) and Scott Zeman (3.0) ... Most impressive among that group was Hart, who retired 12 of 13 batters faced in his three appearances, with five on strikes and six more on ground balls ... Blake Fassler needed just 54 pitches to get through five effective innings in his victorious start in the nightcap of the Saturday doubleheader (4/12).
In four of its last nine games, UCSD has overturned a three-run deficit to come from behind and win. In each of the first two games of their split-venue series with Cal State L.A., on April 3 and April 4, the Tritons trailed 3-0 before scoring six and four unanswered runs, respectively. They posted a four-run seventh to take a 5-3 lead in the first meeting, before striking for three runs to walk off in the ninth inning the following night. At Cal State Stanislaus last week, UCSD opened the April 12 doubleheader with a 5-4 triumph after trailing 4-1 heading into the ninth. The Tritons fell behind 3-0 after four innings in Sunday's finale before a four-run sixth spurred them on to a 4-3 victory.
FACE ON FIRE
Nick La Face is having an incredible final year in a Triton uniform. He has played in 35 of 36 games, starting all 35, and is hitting .347, eighth-best in the CCAA. La Face leads the league in doubles (13-tied), walks (35) and on-base percentage (.509), is second in triples (3) and RBI (32), and third in slugging percentage (.529). He also paces UCSD in home runs (1-tied) and total bases (64). La Face has reached base in 33 straight contests, the longest such streak by a Triton in 2014. He had one career triple before belting a pair in the series with Chico State and adding a third in the finale with Cal State Monterey Bay (3/16). His only home run of 2014 so far came at home against Chico State (2/15). La Face reached base in six straight plate appearances prior to a strikeout in the third inning of the doubleheader opener with CSUMB (3/15). Read a Triton Q&A with La Face here.
UCSD LEADING LEAGUE IN RUNS
UCSD is the No. 1 offensive team in the CCAA, having scored 229 times. That is an average of 6.4 runs per game over 36 contests. The Tritons have reached double figures in runs nine times, with five coming during this current stretch of 11 wins in their last 12. UCSD is 17-2 this year when it produces six runs or more in a game.
LA FACE APPROACHING WALKS MARK
With a league-best 35 walks thus far on the year, Nick La Face has increased his career total to 122. He is now just 20 away from tying the program record for career walks of 142, set by Matt Cantele between 2006-09. La Face has matched his single-season best from a year ago. In order to catch Cantele, he will have at least 10 more regular-season games in which he would need to average two walks per contest, but the Tritons are closing in on a first postseason return since 2012. La Face ranks second in the entire nation in the NCAA Division II in walks per game, at an even 1.0, and is fourth in total walks. He drew at least one walk (15 total) in 11 straight games prior to the finale with CSUMB, and has walked in seven contests in a row entering the SF State series. La Face has earned a free pass a career-high three times on two occasions in 2014.
UCSD's .977 fielding percentage (924-380-31) ranks second in the CCAA, behind only Chico State (.980), and third now in the entire country in Division II. Holy Names is second at .979. Seven times over the last 12 games in which the Tritons are 11-1, they have played error-free baseball. In the last 16 games, UCSD has committed more than one error just once, in a 5-4 come-from-behind win in 10 innings at Cal State Stanislaus (4/12). The program record for single-season fielding percentage is .984 from 2010.
Justin Donatella (6-1) has won six of his seven conference starts, only taking a no-decision at Cal State East Bay (3/28). He has the sixth-best ERA in the CCAA at 1.96, and is tied for third with 48 strikeouts. The sophomore right-hander put together a shutout stretch of 17.1 innings from Feb. 20 to a March 24 relief stint at Azusa Pacific. Donatella allowed two runs on four hits and three walks over 7.0 innings at No. 15 Cal Poly Pomona, retiring 11 straight Broncos at one point. He gave up one hit over six shutout innings in an 8-1 victory over No. 12 Chico State (2/14), walking two with six strikeouts while outdueling Chico State ace and then-reigning CCAA Pitcher of the Week Nick Baker. Donatella set down 10 batters in a row during one stretch. That win was his second as a college pitcher and first as a starter. At home on March 6, Donatella put it all together for 6.2 no-hit frames and 8.1 shutout innings in all, setting a new program record for the Division II era with 13 strikeouts while scattering three hits without a walk. He achieved a new career long in each of his first four appearances of 2014. The big 6-foot-6 product of Saugus who saw just 13.2 innings of work as a freshman in 2013 (11.20 ERA), wrapped up the exhibition season with nine shutout frames over two starts with six hits allowed, all singles, no walks, and 14 strikeouts.
GET ON BASE THE TRITON WAY
UCSD ranks first in the CCAA in walks (188) and second in hit-by-pitches (57), behind only Chico State (60) in the latter category. Sonoma State is closest in walks, way behind with 129. Tritons Nick La Face (35) and Erik Lewis (30) are 1-2 in the league individually in bases on balls, with Justin Rahn tied for fourth (21). UCSD ranks 11th nationally in the category. Thirteen different Tritons have been hit at least once, led by Michael Mann with 11 and Brett Levy with nine. Mann is tied for second in the conference, with Levy tied for fifth.
Triton sophomore Troy Cruz has been a jack of all trades once again this season. The 2013 All-CCAA First Team selection at utility is the only Triton who has started all 36 games, at either third base (24), pitcher (eight) or designated hitter (four). In his first mound start of the season on Feb. 16, Cruz went 7.0 innings (6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K) to earn the win and the series split for UCSD against Chico State. He threw seven more innings without a decision against Cal State Monterey Bay (3/16) to help the Tritons gain another series split. Cruz tossed the first complete game by a UCSD pitcher in 2014, going 6.0 innings in a 12-4 win at CSUDH (3/8). He then twirled the first nine-inning complete game by a Triton since Ryan Goodbrand on May 18, 2012, to clinch the series victory at Cal State East Bay (3/30). The nine innings and six strikeouts that day both marked career bests. Most recently, Cruz produced his second career seven-inning shutout at Cal State L.A. (4/5), and threw another seven effective frames in a victory at Cal State Stanislaus (4/13). He accounted for the Tritons' lone complete game in 2013, and has four for his career. Cruz hit in the leadoff position in each of the first eight games, and is now batting .297 with 29 RBI. He has also made two relief appearances.
E-LEW PROVIDING A BIG SPARK
Erik Lewis has been a revelation in his first season at UCSD. The former Long Beach State (2011-12) and Fullerton College (2013) player has appeared in all 36 games, starting 35 at second base. He is hitting .344 and ranks first in the CCAA in runs (37) and second in walks (30) and on-base percentage (.476) behind teammate Nick La Face. Lewis has a team-best 15 multi-hit games, including one four-hit effort. Defensively, he has been charged with just a single error in 204 defensive chances for a .995 fielding percentage, and has had a hand in 29 double plays.
UCSD has three walk-off wins in 2014. In the first game of a Feb. 22 doubleheader with Cal Poly Pomona, UCSD produced its first such triumph, 6-5, as Garrett Tuck's single to center drove in Troy Cruz from second base. Gradeigh Sanchez had stolen home as a pinch-runner to level the score just moments before as the Tritons erased the 5-4 ninth-inning deficit. Then in the March 16 series finale with Cal State Monterey Bay, Sanchez provided the pinch-hit, two-out single through the left side of the infield on an 0-2 pitch to plate Brett Levy from second base in the 4-3 triumph. Watch it here. Most recently, freshman centerfielder Jack Larsen's two-run single up the middle with one away completed a three-run ninth and comeback from a 3-0 deficit as UCSD edged Cal State L.A., 4-3. Watch that hit here.
DOUBLE DIP CYCLE FOR SANCHEZ
Sophomore outfielder Gradeigh Sanchez hit for the cycle during the March 28 doubleheader at Cal State East Bay. He led off the opener with an inside-the-park home run, marking the first round-tripper of his college career. Sanchez then added a leadoff triple in the seven-inning nightcap and a fourth-inning double to complete the feat, with a single in each contest. Having entered that series with one career extra-base hit in the form of a double on March 15, Sanchez now has four. During his career-best six-game hit streak from March 16-30, Sanchez was 9-for-21 (.429) with eight runs, three RBI, a double, a triple, a home run, five walks and a stolen base. He also played a key role in the first two walk-off victories for the Tritons in 2014.
HE'S THE MANN
In his first season at UCSD following a transfer from Diablo Valley College, junior Michael Mann has made an immediate impact on the program, starting 35 of 36 games at first base. He is second on the team and third in the league with 32 RBI. Mann is hitting .292 with 22 runs, seven doubles, one home run and a team-best 11 hit-by-pitches. He missed just the series opener at Cal Poly Pomona (2/20). Mann has both a four-hit game, coming in the opener of a doubleheader at Cal State Dominguez Hills on March 8, and a pair of four-RBI performances. The first was in the nightcap of that same twin bill, with the latter more recently to open the double dip at Cal State L.A. (4/5). His first home run in a Triton uniform came in the series opener at Cal State East Bay (3/28).
UCSD entered its series with Cal Poly Pomona Feb. 20-22 with six double plays over its first nine games. The Tritons turned nine during the four-game weekend split, with four in the opener and three the next day. Four different CPP batters hit into the four double plays in that first game, with the first two started by Tyler Howsley, a true freshman making just his fourth start at shortstop. The last two came in the eighth and ninth, with a pair of Broncos on base each time as UCSD held on for a 4-2 victory. The Tritons had last turned four double plays at San Francisco State on April 30, 2010. That 2010 squad that went 54-8 and lost in the national championship game, set a school record with 68 twin killings on the year. The Tritons have now turned 35 double plays through 36 games in 2014, ranking 28th nationally in Division II. They are 21st in double plays per game.
GOLDEN EAGLES SWEPT ASIDE
UCSD swept a split-venue, four-game series from Cal State L.A., April 3-5. The Tritons overturned 3-0 deficits in each of the first two primetime meetings in La Jolla, winning 6-3 and then 4-3 in walk-off fashion. They scored three in the ninth in the latter affair, capped by a two-run single by Jack Larsen. UCSD then took both ends of the Saturday doubleheader in Los Angeles. A season-high 19 hits led to a season-high run total in a 13-2 demolition in the opener. Troy Cruz then tossed his second career seven-inning shutout in the nightcap as the Tritons won, 2-0. It marked UCSD's second CCAA sweep of 2014.
LA FACE NAMED CCAA PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Nick La Face was selected on March 10 as the CCAA Baseball Player of the Week for the week of March 3-9. La Face, a native of North Hollywood (Notre Dame HS), continued his hot start to his fifth and final season as a Triton, leading UCSD to a four-game, split-venue CCAA series sweep over Cal State Dominguez Hills. He hit .545 (6-for-11) with eight walks for a .737 on-base percentage and two doubles for a .727 slugging percentage. La Face started all four games, scored four runs and drove in seven. He was the second Triton to earn a weekly conference honor after Justin Rahn on Feb. 3.
DIVISION II ERA SINGLE-GAME STRIKEOUT KING
Sophomore right-hander Justin Donatella struck out a career-high 13 over a career-long 8.1 innings (3 H, 0 BB) in a 1-0 home victory against Cal State Dominguez Hills on Thursday, March 6. The strikeout total was a UCSD program record in the NCAA Division II era (since 2001). 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 vs. Western Oregon on 2012 Opening Day (2/3). Donatella tossed 6.2 no-hit innings before allowing a double.
UCSD put together a five-run second inning and benefitted from four errors in posting a second successive shutout victory against Cal State Dominguez Hills, 7-0, at Triton Ballpark on March 7. The Tritons thus produced back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1995, having blanked the Toros in the opener of their four-game CCAA series the previous night, 1-0. In 1995, UCSD had shutout wins on the road at Concordia, 5-0, on April 3, and Southern California College (now Vanguard), 6-0, on April 5. UCSD now has five shutouts in 2014, the others a 9-0 decision vs. Holy Names on Opening Day (2/2), a 12-0 road rout of Cal State East Bay (3/30) and a 2-0 success in seven innings at Cal State L.A. (4/5).
WEEKLY AWARD FOR RAHN
Justin Rahn's stellar Opening Day netted him the season's first CCAA Baseball Player of the Week award on Feb. 3. It was the first of his career. Rahn put UCSD on the scoreboard in both victories over Holy Names, clearing the bases with a three-run double to left in the first inning of game one and adding the first home run by a Triton in 2014, a two-run shot to center, in the second inning of the nightcap.
UCSD has five shutouts this season, its most since 2010 ... The Tritons are a perfect 20-0 when producing at least as many hits in a game as their opponent ... UCSD has yet to lose a league series in 2014, with three sweeps, a 3-1 win, and three splits ... Justin Rahn reached base in each of the first 23 games prior to the series opener at East Bay (3/28) ... Senior right-hander Blake Fassler, who walked just nine in 64.2 innings against 50 strikeouts for a stellar strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.56 in 2013, has gone at least 5.0 innings in 15 of his 18 starting assignments as a Triton, including seven of nine in 2014 ... Junior left-hander Trevor Scott threw his first career complete game in the March 28 doubleheader nightcap at Cal State East Bay, tossing the full seven frames ... Redshirt freshman outfielder Brandon Shirley laced a 2-2 pitch down the left field line for a double in the eighth inning of game one of the Opening Day doubleheader with Holy Names (2/1) to punctuate the first at-bat of his Triton career ... UCSD ended then-15th-ranked and previously undefeated Cal Poly Pomona's perfect 10-0 start to the campaign with a 4-2 victory behind seven strong innings from Justin Donatella and four clutch double plays defensively in Pomona (2/20) ... UCSD is 2-1 in season openers under Eric Newman and 11-3 since moving to Division II status for 2001 ... UCSD is 2-1 in CCAA openers with Newman in charge, with back-to-back wins after a 4-1 loss to Chico State in La Jolla on Feb. 17, 2012 ... The Tritons are an even 7-7 in CCAA openers all-time (since 2001), and 7-1 with six splits in sets to begin the league season ... Having earned a third straight split with a 7-3 win in the Sunday finale on Feb. 16, UCSD still has not lost its regular-season four-game series with rival Chico State since 2007, when it dropped three of four in Chico ... Troy Cruz was named on Jan. 29 to the utility position on the 15-player NCBWA Preseason All-West Region First Team ... UCSD was picked to place sixth in the 2014 CCAA regular-season race by the league's 11 head coaches, also as announced on Jan. 29, with 2013 West Region runner-up Chico State favored for the third time in as many years to finish first, and reigning CCAA regular-season champion Cal State Monterey Bay projected for second ... All but two players on the 37-man 2014 roster, junior pitcher Alon Leichman (Kibbutz Gezer, Israel) and redshirt outfielder Tim White (Stratford, CT), are California natives ... Besides Cruz (Chula Vista/Bonita Vista HS), the four remaining San Diego products are fellow sophomore Adrian Orozco (Chula Vista/Otay Ranch HS), redshirt freshman Austin Hensley (San Diego/Valhalla HS) and redshirts Steven Coe (Valley Center/Valley Center HS) and Gabe Simpson (Encinitas/Cathedral Catholic HS).
UCSD's 2014 schedule consists of 46 regular-season games (following four rain cancellations with Sonoma State), including 22 at home within the friendly confines of Triton Ballpark. The Tritons have the luxury of facing the two projected favorites in the CCAA, Chico State and Cal State Monterey Bay, a combined eight times in La Jolla. UCSD plays 16 of its first 21 at home, but closes with 19 of 25 on the road. For the second year in a row, the CCAA Championship will be held at Stockton's neutral-site Banner Island Ballpark, home of the Stockton Ports, the Class A Advanced affiliate of Major League Baseball's Oakland Athletics. The four-team tournament takes place May 8-11, with UCSD a five-time champion (2005, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012).
PLENTY OF TALENT BACK
UCSD's 36-player 2014 roster features 17 letterwinners, two returning redshirts and 17 newcomers. The Tritons bring back six of nine position starters, as well as three of four starting pitchers from a year ago. Troy Cruz was the 2013 CCAA Freshman of the Year and an All-CCAA First Team honoree after a standout rookie campaign as a multiple threat on the mound, in the field and at the plate. The senior tandem of fifth-year catcher Nick La Face and fourth-year left-sided infielder Garrett Tuck were both All-West Region selections in 2012, and are each former All-CCAA First Team picks in their own right, with Tuck in 2012 and La Face in 2011. Tuck earned that distinction at shortstop, and looks to be back at that position after spending 2013 at third base. Spencer Frazier and Justin Rahn are two more senior veterans who garnered All-CCAA honorable mention in 2012. On the mound, right-handers Cruz, Blake Fassler and Dan Kolodin were in the rotation in 2013. Senior right-hander Scott Zeman and junior left-hander Chad Rieser are again available out of the bullpen.
NEWS ON NEWCOMERS
There are 17 players new to the Triton roster. Junior transfers Erik Lewis and Michael Mann are everyday starters at second and first base, respectively. Lewis spent the 2013 season at Fullerton College after beginning his college career at Division I Big West Conference power Long Beach State. Mann is from Diablo Valley College. Tyler Howsley, Jack Larsen and Christian Leung are three true freshmen who have earned their college debuts and started several games. Larsen and Howsley were teammates at Capistrano Valley High School. Three new arms to see the mound this season have been Eric Moersen, a sophomore left-handed specialist who transferred from the University of Utah, and junior right-handers Javier Carrillo Jr., and Dean Friedberg. Moersen, who redshirted at Utah in 2012, needed 12 pitches to retire the first three batters he faced over three appearances, with two on strikes. Eight newcomers are slated to redshirt.
HEAD COACH ERIC NEWMAN
Eric Newman is in his third season as the UCSD head coach. The 2012 CCAA Coach of the Year has an 84-59 record (67-41 CCAA) in charge of the Tritons and 179-131 overall in his five seasons as a head coach. Newman guided UCSD to the 2012 CCAA regular-season and tournament titles in his first go-around in La Jolla, and a subsequent berth in the NCAA Division II West Regional. He previously spent three years at the helm of Dallas Baptist University from 2004-07.
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Following the series in San Francisco, UCSD dips out of CCAA play one final time for the 2014 season while finally returning home following this 11-game road stretch. Azusa Pacific will pay Triton Ballpark a visit for a non-conference doubleheader on Saturday, April 26, beginning at 2 p.m. The teams split two meetings in Azusa, March 24-25.