LA JOLLA, Calif. - No. 12 University of California San Diego defeated Cal State Dominguez Hills, 10-8, to begin a California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) baseball doubleheader at Triton Ballpark on Saturday. UC San Diego then got clutch two-out RBI singles from seniors Brandon Shirley and Jack Larsen in the sixth to rally for a 6-5 triumph in the seven-inning nightcap.
UCSD thus came back from having dropped the opener, to take the four-game division series, three games to one. This is the fifth time this season that the Tritons have lost the first game of a league series, only to turn things around and win it. UCSD is 10-1-1 in sets in 2017.
UC San Diego improved to 28-11 overall and 20-9 in the CCAA. Cal State Dominguez Hills fell to 14-28 overall and 12-20 in league play. The teams had split two meetings up in Carson, with the Tritons falling 12-6 on Thursday before Friday's 20-4 drubbing to even things up. With Cal Poly Pomona winning 7-6 and 16-0 at Cal State San Marcos on Saturday, UCSD remains one full game ahead of the Broncos (20-11) atop the CCAA South. The day's results clinch a fourth successive CCAA Championship berth for the Tritons. The tournament is May 10-13 in Stockton.
The top highlight of game one Saturday came from a third veteran senior in Tyler Howsley. The fourth-year shortstop stalwart, playing in his 192nd game in a UCSD uniform, picked a fine time to connect on his first collegiate home run, with the bases full and the Tritons trailing 3-0 in the fourth. Howsley had struck out swinging against Toro reliever Joe Mercado with three on to end the second. The setup repeated itself in that fourth, this time with one out.
The outcome, was much different.
The Mission Viejo product took one pitch outside the zone before sending a line-drive shot that cleared the wall in left and cleared the bases.
Though Cal State Dominguez Hills went back ahead momentarily, 6-4, with a three-run fifth, UCSD surged ahead through a five-run sixth and held on from there.
UCSD will contest another four-game, split-venue series against a CCAA South opponent in the week ahead, first playing a pair of primetime affairs at Cal State LA's Reeder Field on Thursday, April 27, and Friday, April 28, both at 6 p.m. That set will also conclude at Triton Ballpark with a 1 p.m. doubleheader, on Saturday, April 29.
Game One - UCSD 10, CSUDH 8
Cal State Dominguez Hills opened the scoring for the day with a three-run third. All three came home after two outs were made, with an outfield error charged to UCSD.
The Tritons loaded the bases for Howsley's redemption against Mercado on a Shirley walk, Keenan Brigman single, Chad Crosbie sacrifice and Nick Kitzmann hit-by-pitch, all three of those players redshirt or true freshmen in the lineup.
The Toros' fifth had a second costly Triton error, this one on the infield, which led to all three runs being unearned. Shawn Sweeney's two-run single broke a 4-4 tie.
Jack Rupe, Jr. (San Marcos/Mission Hills HS), came on to register the final out of that frame, and settled things down for his side. Including that first batter, he needed just five pitches to notch his first four outs, breezing through the sixth on three tosses despite a leadoff infield single as he immediately dialed up the double play.
The home sixth began with Crosbie fouling off a pair of 3-2 offerings from Mercado (2-3) before accepting a huge, eight-pitch, leadoff walk. Kitzmann's infield single paved the way for Howsley to lay down his 32nd career sacrifice, but Mercado both booted the bunt to allow Howsley to reach first, but also then compounded the matter with a second error as he throw the ball down the right field line. When all was said and done, Crosbie had scored with both teammates in scoring position.
After a pitching change, Alex Eliopulos' (La Jolla/La Jolla HS) pinch-hit, infield single knocked Kitzmann in as the redshirt sophomore chopped one to Toro second baseman John Soteropulos, who was unable to come up with the tough play. With one away, JD Hearn lifted a sacrifice fly into foul territory in right field. The league's leading hitter, sophomore first baseman Tyler Durna, was walked intentionally, as Eliopulos had taken second on a third Toro miscue in the frame. Jacob Musial didn't help himself any by hitting Shirley with his very next pitch. Brigman then sent the first pitch he saw from the right-hander into right for a two-run single and 9-6.
It was one of three opposite-field singles on the day for Brigman, a first-year Triton who redshirted at the University of the Pacific as a true freshman in 2016. He had a pair of two-out, two-run, opposite-field singles on the day, one in each game. Three of his four hits Saturday, all singles, were with two strikes against him.
UCSD sent 10 men to the plate in the sixth, and added an insurance tally in the seventh, with long-time teammates going back to Capistrano Valley High School, Howsley and Larsen, combining. Howsley reached on a fielder's choice after Kitzmann's leadoff single, and with two away, similar to his blast earlier, chose the right moment for his first stolen base of 2017, just ahead of Larsen's RBI single up the middle. Larsen was subsequently caught stealing, albeit on a dubious call, for just the second time in his entire four-year career, out of 25 attempts.
Rupe, Jr., continued to cruise in the meantime, producing back-to-back 1-2-3 frames in the seventh and eighth. He retired nine straight Toros between the leadoff single in the sixth and a one-out single in the ninth, having faced the minimum 11 to that point. With two gone in that ninth, Soteropulos' team-leading eighth home run made the final score 10-8.
Rupe's (2-2) final line read two runs on three hits and no walks over 4.1 innings, with one strikeout and the winning decision. Sophomore left-handed starter Preston Mott allowed six runs, just two of them earned, on nine hits and one walk in 4.2 frames.
Howsley finished 1-for-3 with the grand slam, sacrifice, steal, career-high-tying four RBI and career-best three runs scored. Brigman was 3-for-5 with a run and two RBI. Kitzmann went a perfect 2-for-2 with a walk, hit-by-pitch, and two runs.
Game Two - UCSD 6, CSUDH 5 (7)
UCSD struck first in the nightcap's opening frame, to the tune of three runs. Shirley worked a seven-pitch leadoff walk, and advanced to third on two wild pitches from sophomore left-hander Rigo Hernandez. Larsen's sacrifice fly scored him easily. With two outs, Durna singled through the left side, with his hit too hot to handle for Toro shortstop Adrian Guzman. It meant an early extension for the second straight game on the afternoon for Durna, of his hit streak, now to 25 games. He got that out of the way in his first at-bat in both ends of the twin bill.
Jesse Moore then doubled down the left field line, setting the stage for Brigman's second two-out, two-run, opposite-field single to right in as many contests, this one on an 0-2 pitch from Hernandez. Moore had fouled off three straight to go down 0-2 himself, before taking three balls and producing his third double of the year.
The teams traded single runs in the third. Redshirt junior right-hander Kyle Goodbrand got out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam with minimal damage, as he struck out the side swinging around a one-out walk that put CSUDH on the board.
The Tritons got that one right back as Hearn and Durna singled for starters to put men at the corners, and Moore grounded into a double play that plated Hearn.
Junior rightfielder Brandon Evans led off the fourth with his first home run of the season, pulled out to right field, to close CSUDH to within a pair again at 4-2. The Toros then lodged a wrench in the good vibes at Triton Ballpark with a three-run sixth that suddenly saw them on the verge of a series split. The frame began with three successive singles, the last of which was of the RBI variety by Brandon Polizzi.
A sacrifice and a wild pitch knotted the score at 4-4. Soteropulos worked an eight-pitch walk from sophomore right-hander Jonah Dipoto, and Esteban Ortega lifted a go-ahead sacrifice fly to right. Redshirt sophomore catcher Michael Palos' perfect strike to Brigman caught Soteropulos trying to steal for the final out, and sent UCSD back to work.
Work it did, as junior designated hitter J.T. Williams narrowly beat out an infield single to Guzman to open the home sixth. Palos laid down the sacrifice without issue, and Howsley's groundout advanced Williams to third. Shirley came up big with the RBI single to center on an 0-1 pitch, and things were level again at 5-5. The fifth-year senior swiped his team-leading 13th bag on his 16th attempt, which held enormous significance as Larsen slid what proved to be the game-winning hit right up the middle with the count at 2-2.
Dipoto (1-0) set CSUDH down in order in the seventh with two flyouts around a swinging strikeout, picking up his first decision of 2017.
Goodbrand, celebrating his 22nd birthday, went the first four innings and gave up two runs on five hits and three walks. He struck out a season-high six in front of about 10 or so professional scouts, touching as high as 97 on the speed gun.
Erik Amundson, on his 21st birthday, went 1-2-3 in the fifth in relief of Goodbrand. His outing began with three straight balls before the redshirt sophomore right-hander battled back to get Miguel Castaneda waving. A flyout and groundout followed in what was the games' only perfect inning besides Dipoto's seventh.
Durna wound up 2-for-2 with a walk and run scored. At the top of the order, Shirley was 1-for-3 with a walk, two runs, one RBI and a steal. Larsen and Brigman each drove in a pair, with Larsen's team-leading total now at 33. He knocked in seven, his high for a series in 2017, while Brigman had five RBI over the four games.
Cy Scott (2-4) took the loss for CSUDH in relief of Fernandez. Nick Morelli was 3-for-3 with two doubles, a sacrifice and his 12th steal.
Triton Notes: Tyler Howsley extended his consecutive games played streak to 148 dating back to the 2015 opener ... Jack Larsen has appeared in 103 straight games, all of them starts ... JD Hearn has appeared in 70 games in a row, all of them starts ... Hearn, Howsley and Larsen are the only Tritons to appear in all 39 games this season ... Tyler Durna extended his team-best streaks to 30 straight games reaching base and 25 with a hit ... The hit streak is a record for the program's NCAA Division II era (since 2001) ... Durna continues to lead the CCAA with his .417 average ... Game One: Preston Mott made his team-best 12th start of the year and 26th of his career ... UCSD saw its streak of scoring in the first inning snapped at five straight games ... Game Two: Kyle Goodbrand made his fifth start as a Triton.