Coming off of a Spring Break in which it went 4-2 in six road games in seven days, No. 29 UC San Diego heads into another key California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) series this week with significant postseason implications. Currently sitting in fourth place in the league standings, UCSD (17-10, 13-7 CCAA) begins its four-game, split-venue set with fifth-place Cal State L.A. (14-15, 12-11 CCAA) with a pair of primetime affairs at Triton Ballpark on Thursday, April 3, and Friday, April 4, both at 6 p.m. The series then shifts to Reeder Field in Los Angeles to conclude with a 1 p.m. doubleheader on Saturday, April 5. The Golden Eagles won their first CCAA tournament title a season ago, ending the Tritons' four-year run as champions. The top four teams in the final regular-season 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.
The Tritons are 10-4 over their last 14, 10-6 at home and 7-4 on the road in 2014. They hold a full four-game advantage over Cal State East Bay and Cal State Dominguez Hills, who are tied behind Cal State L.A. for sixth in the CCAA, each at 9-11.
All UCSD home games at Triton Ballpark feature a live online video stream and live stats. Weeknight CCAA contests will additionally have audio commentary, provided again by former Triton pitcher Tim Strombel (2007-08). Strombel will be on the call this Thursday and Friday night. The audio/video is free, but does require registration and a login. Some road contests will also have video, including both ends of Saturday's doubleheader at Cal State L.A. 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, which appeared at No. 39 in the preseason edition of Collegiate Baseball Newspaper's NCAA Division II top-40 poll released back on Dec. 24, moved up one spot from No. 30 to No. 29 this week. UCSD is also getting votes in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) poll, and has gradually moved up from No. 10 (preseason) to No. 4 in the NCBWA West Region listing.
ABOUT THE GOLDEN EAGLES
Cal State L.A., like UCSD, is coming off of a 3-1 CCAA series victory, also after dropping the opener of a split-venue set with Cal State San Bernardino. The Golden Eagles swept last Saturday's doubleheader by scores of 10-4 and 6-3. Cal State L.A. went 35-22 overall a year ago en route to the program's first league banner, and was picked to place fourth in this year's CCAA race. The Golden Eagles are 10-7 at home and 4-8 on the road. CSULA is led by senior catcher and NCBWA Preseason All-America Second Team selection Cody Doyle, a left-handed bat who is hitting .304 (31-for-102) having started all 29 games thus far, with 16 runs, seven doubles, two home runs and a team-best 25 RBI. Doyle is the reigning CCAA and NCBWA West Region Player of the Week after a pair of home runs and 10 RBI during Saturday's twin bill with the Coyotes. CSULA is hitting .280 as a team with a 5.41 ERA and .960 fielding percentage. Ryan Santhon (2-3, 3.71 ERA) and Brandon Quintero (4-4, 4.84 ERA) are the top starters on the mound, while Marcos Casillas has notched five saves, though he has a 5.02 ERA. Vince Beringhele is in his seventh season at the helm of the Golden Eagles.
The extremely tight all-time series between these league rivals is now completely even at 35-35 after Cal State L.A. took two of three in an early-season non-conference series back in February. The teams split a doubleheader in La Jolla on Feb. 8, before the Golden Eagles held off a late charge by the Tritons to win 9-8 at home the next day. CSULA scored seven in the fourth and UCSD rallied with six in the eighth in that one. UCSD won the 2013 regular-season series, 3-1, as the teams split a pair in Los Angeles before the Tritons swept a home doubleheader. The sides played to a 2-2 series split in 2012, each winning twice at home.
LAST TIME OUT
Last weekend, UCSD dropped the opener of its series at Cal State East Bay, 5-4, surrendering three runs in the ninth to allow a walk-off Pioneer victory, before taking the next three games to win the set, 3-1. The Tritons ended up earning the split of that Friday doubleheader with a 10-3 decision in seven innings, before sweeping Sunday's twin bill in the weather-altered series, 12-0 and 5-2. UCSD pounded out a season-high 17 hits in the opener before Troy Cruz twirled the first nine-inning complete game by a Triton since late in the 2012 season. Trevor Scott had earlier produced his first career complete game in Friday's nightcap by tossing the full seven frames.
FACE ON FIRE
Nick La Face is having an incredible final year in a Triton uniform. He has played in 26 of 27 games, starting all 26, and is hitting a team-best .404. La Face leads the CCAA in triples (3), walks (26), on-base percentage (.555) and slugging percentage (.640), and is second in batting average, doubles (12) and RBI (tied-25). He also paces UCSD in hits (36), doubles, home runs (tied-1), total bases (57) and RBI. La Face 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). He reached base in six straight plate appearances prior to a strikeout in the third inning of the doubleheader opener with CSUMB (3/15). La Face is a blistering 20-for-42 (.476) over the last 12 contests, with nine doubles, one triple, 13 walks, 12 runs and 15 RBI. He has reached base in 24 consecutive games, the longest such streak by a Triton in 2014, and leads the team with 13 multi-hit efforts. La Face drew at least one walk (15 total) in 11 straight games prior to the series finale with CSUMB, and has walked a career-high three times on two occasions. He is tied for second in the country in walks per game (1.0) and tied for 12th in total walks.
Justin Donatella (4-1) achieved a new career long in each of his first four appearances of 2014, and won his first four conference starts before taking a no-decision in his most recent outing at Cal State East Bay (3/28). He has the fourth-best ERA in the CCAA at 1.32. 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. Over his last three starts, he is 2-0 and has given up just two runs on 12 hits and three walks over 21.1 innings, with 27 strikeouts. 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 then-12th-ranked 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. Donatella was the individual story of the exhibition season. 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 his preseason with nine shutout frames over two starts with six hits allowed, all singles, no walks, and 14 strikeouts.
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 27 games, at either third base (17), designated hitter (four) or pitcher (six). He has also made two relief appearances. 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 threw 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. Cruz accounted for the Tritons' lone complete game in 2013, and now has three for his career. Cruz hit in the leadoff position in each of the first eight games, and is now batting .273 with 22 RBI.
E-LEW PROVIDING A BIG SPARK
Erik Lewis has been a revelation thus far at second base in his first season at UCSD. The former Long Beach State and Fullerton College player has appeared in all 27 games, starting 26. He is currently second on the team with a .344 average, and ranks second in the CCAA, also just behind senior teammate Nick La Face, in walks (22) and on-base percentage (.476). Lewis' team-best 27 runs are tied for the CCAA lead. Over the last five games, he is 11-for-20 (.550) with three doubles, four walks, six runs, seven RBI and a steal. Defensively, Lewis has been charged with just a single error in 154 defensive chances for a .994 fielding percentage.
DOUBLE DIP CYCLE FOR SANCHEZ
Sophomore outfielder Gradeigh Sanchez hit for the cycle during last Friday's 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 the series with one career extra-base hit in the form of a double on March 15, Sanchez now has four. During his current six-game hit streak, Sanchez is 9-for-21 (.429) with eight runs, three RBI, one double, one triple, one home runfive walks and a stolen base. He also played a key role in both walk-off home victories for the Tritons thus far 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 26 of 27 games at first base and leading the team with seven multi-RBI games. He is hitting at a .330 clip (32-for-97) with 13 runs, five doubles, one home run, 24 RBI and a team-best nine hit-by-pitches. Mann has missed just the series opener at Cal Poly Pomona (2/20). He has both a four-hit game, coming in the opener of a doubleheader at Cal State Dominguez Hills on March 8, and a four-RBI performance, that in the nightcap of that same twin bill. Mann's first home run in a Triton uniform came in the series opener at Cal State East Bay (3/28).
LEAGUE LEADERS IN GETTING PLUNKED
Through 27 games, UCSD players have been hit a league-leading 47 times by opposing pitchers. Cal State Monterey Bay (46) and Chico State (46) are each now just one behind, though those teams have played 34 and 29 games, respectively. UCSD ranks in a tie for 20th nationally in the category. Thirteen different Tritons have been hit at least once, led by Michael Mann with nine and Brett Levy with seven. Mann is tied with two others for second in the conference.
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 28 double plays through 27 games in 2014, ranking third in the CCAA and tied for 26th nationally in Division II. They are 13th in double plays per game.
UCSD has two walk-off wins in 2014, both involving sophomore Gradeigh Sanchez. 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. 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.
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 four shutouts in 2014, the others a 9-0 decision vs. Holy Names on Opening Day (2/2), and a 12-0 road rout of Cal State East Bay on March 30.
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 is 13-2 in 2014 when tallying six runs or more, and a perfect 6-0 when scoring in double figures ... The Tritons are a perfect 14-0 when achieving at least as many hits in a game as their opponent ... UCSD has yet to lose a league series in 2014, with one sweep, the 3-1 win at East Bay, and three splits ... Justin Rahn reached base in each of the first 23 games prior 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 14 of his 16 starting assignments as a Triton, including six of seven in 2014 ... 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. Jack Larsen, Christian Leung and Tyler Howsley are a trio of 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 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 a 76-58 record (59-41 CCAA) in charge of the Tritons and 171-130 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 Saturday's doubleheader at Cal State L.A., UCSD continues a season-long 11-game road stretch with five contests next week. The Tritons will play a single non-conference game in Riverside at California Baptist, currently ranked 18th nationally in Division II, on Wednesday, April 9, at 6 p.m. UCSD then heads to Turlock over the weekend for a four-game CCAA series at Cal State Stanislaus.