STOCKTON, Calif. - Nick La Face sent a two-out RBI double into the left field corner in the 11th inning to put his 18th-ranked Tritons into the 2014 California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Championship title game. UC San Diego edged past No. 19 Cal Poly Pomona, 5-4, in the winner’s bracket to cap a lengthy day two of the four-team, double-elimination conference tournament at Banner Island Ballpark late Friday night.
The Tritons await Saturday’s survivor of an elimination game between CPP and No. 2 seed Chico State, a 10-4 winner of Friday’s initial elimination tilt with top-seeded regular-season champion Sonoma State. The first of two potential championship games is slated for a 7:05 p.m. first pitch. Should UCSD lose, whomever the opponent may end up being, the two teams will play again at 12 p.m. on Sunday.
Third-seeded UCSD moved to 34-14 overall, while the fourth-seeded Broncos are 32-14. The teams had split their four-game regular-season series in February. UCSD was the designated home team on Friday night by way of a coin flip.
With two away in the bottom of the 11th, junior second baseman Erik Lewis drew his third walk of the night and 40th of his first season in the Triton program. He went behind in the count, 1-2, before taking three balls. La Face, UCSD’s designated hitter in his fifth year, had gone down looking against CPP closer J.J. Franklin to begin the ninth. The second time around, all that he saw were two pitches outside the strike zone before depositing his walk-off double just inside the left field line.
After Lewis singled sharply to right on the first pitch he saw from Bronco starter Cody Ponce with one away, the Tritons executed a perfect hit-and-run play, clearing out the right side for La Face to slide a single through and leave men at the corners. Ponce got Justin Rahn to bounce into a 3-6 double play, however, to keep it scoreless after one.
Chris Carlson worked the count full during a lengthy at-bat before smoking a double to the wall in right to lead off the second. Senior right-hander Blake Fassler expertly side-stepped the leadoff two-bagger with a flyout and successive called third strikes.
Dan Kolodin, on for Fassler to begin the third, erased back-to-back one-out singles by getting arguably the Broncos’ hottest hitter, All-CCAA outfielder Joseph Eusebio, to roll into a 4-6-3 double play to Lewis to end the frame.
In the home half of the third, Garrett Tuck and Lewis alternated singles, Lewis’ with two strikes, around a pair of outs. La Face then dumped a 2-2 pitch in front of CPP leftfielder David Armendariz for the clutch two-out RBI single as Tuck sprinted around third with the game’s first run. Ponce walked Rahn to load the bases, but a groundout kept the damage at one.
Kolodin returned to the hill and registered the 11-pitch, 1-2-3 shutdown frame on two meek grounders and a flyout.
That enabled UCSD to get back to business, but the Tritons squandered a legitimate opportunity to add to their slim edge. Andrew Hobson walked and Brett Levy was hit by a pitch ahead of two strikeouts around a base-running miscue to keep it 1-0.
The Tritons would rue that missed chance, as CPP began the fifth with a single to right center followed by a mishandled sacrifice attempt to leave runners at second and third with nobody out. An RBI groundout by Trevor Magno knotted the score. A strikeout and a walk to later, Eusebio went down 0-2 before sending the go-ahead RBI single to right center.
The home fifth went strikeout, walk, strikeout, walk, until Ponce got the inning-ending groundout to maintain the Broncos’ one-run advantage.
With Nick Cooksey standing on third after a one-out walk, steal and groundout in the sixth, Chad Rieser came back from falling behind 3-1 in the count to get Christian Kelley waving at strike three.
UCSD used four walks toward regaining the upper hand in the seventh. Gradeigh Sanchez drew the first one of the six-pitch, pinch-hit leadoff variety to bring up the heart of the order. Lewis then followed suit with a five-pitch base on balls, finally chasing Ponce in favor of senior right-hander Andy Amaro. Amaro promptly got La Face chasing a slider off the plate, but then gave up the free pass to Rahn on five pitches to load the bases for Troy Cruz. The sophomore third baseman out of Chula Vista (Bonita Vista HS) carefully manipulated the count to 3-1 before watching another offering on the outside to force in Sanchez as the tying run.
RJ Shanks relieved Amaro and got the punchout, but Levy roped a 2-1 pitch for a two-out, two-run single and a 4-2 UCSD lead.
Tuck made two incredible throws across the diamond to Hobson at first to turn back Eusebio and Bo Walter in the eighth. An outfield error only momentarily prolonged the inning.
Scott Zeman came on to close and looked dominant in getting Steven Andrade looking, but what followed was a pinch-hit single poked through the right side, a first-pitch flare that fell in center and an immediate first-pitch double to the wall in right center to tie the game for Matt Munoz. An infield error put Broncos at the corners. Zeman then jammed Eusebio, striking him out swinging before Levy fired to Tuck, who ran Armendariz all the way back to first and tagged him for the third out.
Rahn wedged a single straight up the middle with one gone in the UCSD ninth, but CPP closer J.J. Franklin dialed up a tailor-made 6-4-3 double play to wipe it out. Zeman and Franklin both stayed on for 1-2-3 frames in the 10th. Zeman navigated around a two-out single by Magno in the 11th, with Tuck making a nice play with the flip to Lewis behind the bag on a fielder’s choice for out number three. The senior right-hander would ultimately earn the winning decision and improve to 4-2.
Fassler allowed two hits over two clean frames, striking out three. Kolodin went the next 3.0 innings, giving up two unearned runs on four hits and a walk with one strikeout. After Rieser’s stint in the sixth, David Hart needed just seven pitches for a perfect seventh with a strikeout looking in the middle of groundout and a flyout.
Lewis reached base all four times against Ponce, a fellow Upland native out of Damien High School and former Little League teammate. He was 2-for-3 with a season-high three walks and two runs scored. La Face went 3-for-6 with a double and two RBI. Levy was 2-for-4 with two RBI, while Rahn was 1-for-2 with a run scored and a career-high three walks of his own.
Ponce, a sophomore right-hander, went 6.0 frames for CPP. He gave up one run on six hits and six walks, and struck out seven. Ponce retired the Tritons in order in the second, as did Chris Powell in the eighth. Franklin (2-2) took the loss.
Eusebio was 2-for-5 with an RBI. Armendariz, the CCAA Most Valuable Player, extended his hit streak to 10 games, but was held to 1-for-4 with a walk.
The CCAA Championship is being held at the neutral-site facility of the minor-league Stockton Ports for the second straight year.
Triton Notes: Troy Cruz is the only Triton to start all 48 games, with 11 coming on the mound ... Cruz saw his career-best hit streak ended at 10 games ... Blake Fassler drew his team-leading 12th start of the year and 21st of his Triton career ... Erik Lewis extended his reached-base streak to 17 games with his first-inning single ... Since the start of April, Garrett Tuck is hitting .385 (20-for-52) with nine runs, a double, triple and 11 RBI ... Brett Levy’s fourth-inning hit-by-pitch was his 12th of 2014 ... The Tritons are 19-7 away from home in 2014 ... In its 10th appearance, UCSD is 22-12 all-time at the CCAA Championship, and 5-1 under third-year head coach Eric Newman ... The Tritons have eclipsed their top overall win total under Newman from his first season in 2012 (33-24) ... UCSD is 4-2 against CPP at the CCAA Championship, including a 9-2 win in the 2011 final at Klein Family Field in Stockton in the prior meeting between the teams at the tournament ... Friday’s walk-off win was the Tritons’ fourth of 2014 ... UCSD added nine walks to increase its CCAA-leading team total to 245 ... The Tritons are 20-4 over their last 24.