SAN FRANCISCO - The 18th-ranked UC San Diego baseball team scored five times in the first four innings and made the lead stand up to top San Francisco State University, 6-4, in the finale of a four-game California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) series Saturday at Maloney Field.
The victory moved UCSD to 27-13 overall and 23-9 in the CCAA, gaining the Tritons a road split. SF State dropped to 19-23 overall and 14-18 in league play. The Tritons had lost Thursday’s opener, 7-6, before the sides split Friday’s doubleheader, with UCSD taking a 17-3 rout in game one and dropping a 3-1 decision in the seven-inning nightcap.
Almost simultaneously to when senior closer Scott Zeman wrapped up his sixth save of the season in San Francisco, Cal State Dominguez Hills put the finishing touches on a 7-0 shutout of Cal State East Bay at home in Carson. The two results combined clinched UCSD’s first postseason return since 2012, as the Tritons are assured of a top-four regular-season finish in the league standings, and thus a trip to Stockton for the 2014 CCAA Championship, May 8-11.
Five of UCSD’s six runs came with two outs.
The Tritons struck first early as redshirt freshman rightfielder Brandon Shirley took Nolan Sheridan’s very first pitch up the middle for a leadoff single, and moved all the way to third on a failed pickoff attempt by the Gators’ sophomore right-hander. Shirley scored on Erik Lewis’ RBI single to right.
In the home third, it was Gators at the corners, with a pair of singles wrapped around a sacrifice bunt. A Bryce Cherry single through the right side on a 1-2 pitch by Troy Cruz, followed by a successful squeeze play by Carter Loud, tied the game. An infield single and Triton throwing error enabled Cherry to score the go-ahead run. A play at the plate moments later, with Shirley firing accurately direct to Levy, prevented any further damage as Cruz finally got out of the inning.
UCSD then prevented the shutdown inning by Sheridan and also retook the lead with a two-out rally in the fourth, duplicating SF State’s three-run effort. The Tritons got consecutive singles by Tyler Howsley and Shirley before Lewis worked the count full and poked a ground ball that second baseman Danny Souza booted for an error that leveled the score again. Nick La Face and fellow senior Justin Rahn then came through in the clutch with RBI singles for a 5-3 edge. All three runs were unearned.
Cruz cleaned up a leadoff single in the home fourth with the help of his catcher, as he struck out Matt Vera and Levy threw out Garrett Heisinger trying to steal. The Gators still threatened through a Souza single and a hit-by-pitch, but Cruz got leadoff man Dillon Meyer to pop up.
With Taylor Wade on for Sheridan in the sixth, UCSD opened with Shirley reaching base on a fourth Gator error, and Lewis hitting a single to right center. Wade kept the SF State deficit manageable, however, with a called third strike and two flyouts.
The hosts turned that escape right into offense, as Heisinger doubled to begin the home half, moved to third on Vera’s bunt and scored on Souza’s RBI groundout.
David Hart relieved Cruz to start the bottom of the seventh and was greeted by a single up the middle from Meyer, but Levy again threw across to Lewis for the caught stealing. Consecutive groundouts to Lewis made it a quick frame after all.
After Wade fanned Howsley and got Shirley to pop out to start the eighth, the Gators were again victimized by their inability to close out a frame. Lewis singled on a 1-2 pitch and came flying around with an insurance run on La Face’s double to the same gap in right center on the very next offering.
Though Grady Espinosa found his way to first base on an infield error to open the home half, Hart got junior catcher Mark Lindsay to ground into a 6-4-3 double play.
Zeman notched the last four outs. In the ninth, pinch-hitter Joe Chedid wedged a one-out base hit up the middle facing an 0-2 count, but with the potential tying run coming to bat in the form of Meyer at the top of the Gator order, Zeman induced a tailor-made 6-3 double play, Howsley gathering, stepping on the bag and relaying to Michael Mann at first to send UCSD to Stockton next month. It was a third Triton twin killing for the afternoon. The save was the 10th of Zeman’s UCSD career.
Cruz (6-2) gave up four runs, three of them earned, on 10 hits, one hit-by-pitch and no walks over 6.0 innings, striking out two. The sophomore right-hander needed 12 pitches to get through a 1-2-3 second, and registered six straight ground-ball outs around a one-out Loud single in the fifth and Heisinger’s leadoff double in the sixth.
Shirley and Lewis, hitting 1-2, each went 3-for-5 with two runs scored and an RBI. Shirley’s double was his eighth. La Face finished 2-for-5 with a double and two RBI.
Sheridan (2-7) went 5.0 innings and allowed five runs, one earned, on 11 hits and no walks. He struck out one. Wade tossed a perfect seventh with a strikeout, with Trevor Diskin doing the same in the ninth. Heisinger had three hits, with Meyer, Loud and Souza adding two apiece.
UCSD has a bye week in conference play next, and will host Azusa Pacific in a doubleheader on Saturday, April 26. First pitch at Triton Ballpark is set for 2 p.m.
Triton Notes: Troy Cruz is the only Triton to start all 40 games, with nine coming on the mound ... UCSD is 7-1 in his league starts ... Cruz has now made 15 pitching starts in his career ... Erik Lewis was charged with just his second error of the year in the third, snapping a string of 111 straight defensive chances handled cleanly by the junior ... Brandon Shirley produced his second three-hit game of the season ... Brett Levy caught his ninth and 10th would-be base-stealers, now on 26 attempts, and had four in his three games this weekend ... Saturday marked the first time this season that a Triton catcher threw out two runners on the bases in a game ... The Tritons improved to 19-3 when tallying at least six runs in a game ... Every batter in UCSD's lineup had at least one hit ... The two runs by Lewis and two RBI by Nick La Face on the day increased their team-leading totals to 44 and 36, respectively ... La Face’s two RBI gave him 128 for his career and moved him into the No. 10 position all-time in program history … La Face also now has a team-best 14 doubles for 2014 ... UCSD, which leads the CCAA with 200 walks as a team, failed to draw one for just the second time this season ... The Tritons eclipsed their 2013 win total of 26.