STOCKTON, Calif. - The UC San Diego softball team fought off elimination twice Saturday at the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Championship Tournament and earned the chance to defend its title Sunday at Arnaiz Stadium.
Second-seeded UCSD began the day with a 3-2 victory against fourth seed Cal State Dominguez Hills, scoring the game-winning run in walk-off fashion with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Tritons followed with an 8-6 defeat of third-seeded Sonoma State, coming back from an early 4-0 deficit to stay alive in the tourney.
UCSD (33-22) will now face No. 5-ranked and top-seeded Humboldt State, winner of the CCAA's regular season crown, Sunday for the tournament championship. In the double elimination format, the Tritons will have to top the Lumberjacks twice to successfully defend their title. Game one starts at noon with the second game, if necessary, immediately following.
UCSD head coach Patti Gerckens was pleased with the way the team responded with its back against the wall.
"Today, I really felt like we competed," said Gerckens, whose team was on the field for more than five hours. "It was fun to see them come from behind and although we were down against very good teams in both games, they never played like they were losing. They stuck with the game plan and it was a total team effort."
With the score tied 2-2 in the seventh against Cal State Dominguez Hills, Mya Romero drew a one-out walk. Following a fly ball that resulted in the second out, Romero stole second with Emily McQuaid coming to the plate. McQuaid singled back up the middle to score Romero, giving the Tritons the 3-2 win and keeping their tournament title defense alive.
McQuaid finished 2-for-3 with a run scored and a stolen base. Caitlin Brown and Nicole Spangler accounted for the other two of UCSD's four total hits, with each also driving in a run.
Freshman starter Alexis Edwards went six innings, giving up two runs on five hits while striking out three and walking six. Classmate Hannah Duarte (3-0) got the win, inducing an inning-ending double play in the top of the seventh.
CSUDH out-hit UCSD, 5-4, but ended up leaving nine runners on base in the game. Five different players had the hits with Veronica Vazquez and Catherine Brown scoring runs. Stephanie Jimenez (24-9) took the loss in the circle, surrendering the three runs on four hits. She struck out one and walked one.
The Toros took a 1-0 lead in the opening inning. With the bases loaded following a walk, two fielder's choices and a single, Brittany Brenner drew a two-out walk to force in Vazquez for the game's first run.
The Tritons scored a pair of runs in the second inning to go up by a 2-1 count. Brown led off with a home run to left field, her team-leading eighth of the season. After two consecutive outs, McQuaid singled and stole second. She put UCSD ahead by scoring on a single by Spangler.
A two-out run in the top of the sixth by the Toros tied the game at 2-2. Brown singled and came in to score on a double by pinch hitter Jamie Duran.
Game two saw Sonoma State jump on it in the first inning. The Seawolves registered just one hit, but an error, four walks and a hit batter resulted in a 4-0 SSU lead that appeared insurmountable, especially with CCAA Pitcher of the Year Samantha Lipperd in the circle, the same hurler who had defeated the Tritons Friday.
However, UCSD quickly showed that it was not about to go down without a fight. With two gone in the bottom of the first, left fielder Kirsten Willmon lined a single to right. One batter later, Brown rocked a Lipperd offering off the top and over the left-center field fence for her second homer of the day, and just like that, the Tritons had life.
Sonoma State added a marker to go up 5-2 in the top of the second, but UCSD again answered back. McQuaid started things off with a single and Spangler followed with a double. A sacrifice fly by Amani Proctor scored McQuaid, while Dyanna Imoto, who had entered to pinch run for Spangler, later scored on a failed pickoff attempt, getting the Tritons back within a run at 5-4.
After a scoreless third, UCSD tied the game in the fourth. With two outs and nobody on base, singles by Proctor, Mckenna Clewett and Taylor Sepulveda evened the score at 5-5.
In the top of the sixth, the Seawolves recaptured the lead, but UCSD may have come out of the inning with the momentum that would prove decisive. With one down, Vanessa Currie walked and Ali Palermo roped a double to the wall in center. The next two batters walked, forcing home the go-ahead run and leaving the bases loaded. With the game on the line, a big defensive play by McQuaid forced Sonoma's Ally Bryant at the plate for the second out. Samantha Beauchamp also appeared to draw an RBI walk, but Gerckens questioned the count and a prolonged conference on the field resulted in the umpires calling her back to the batter's box and taking the run off the scoreboard. Beauchamp proceeded to ground out, ending the threat with the Seawolves leading 6-5.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Tritons erupted for three runs. McQuaid was again the catalyst, slicing a double to the gap in left-center. Spangler then reached on a fielder's choice and Proctor on an infield single to load the bases with nobody out. Clewett dropped down a perfect bunt and McQuaid raced home to tie it. Sepulveda rapped an RBI single up the middle to make it 7-6 and a sacrifice fly by Alissa Gutierrez scored Proctor to put UCSD ahead, 8-6.
Sepulveda was 3-for-4 while McQuaid, Proctor and Clewett all finished with two hits apiece. In the circle, Edwards (5-2) earned the win in a relief role. She pitched the final 1.2 innings, keeping the Seawolves scoreless with just one hit. Duarte got the start and lasted just a third of an inning.
SSU, which left 12 runners on base, got two hits from Danielle D'Eccliss, while Currie scored three times and Keisi Chinen finished with three RBI. Lipperd went three innings, giving up four runs (three earned) on five hits while striking out two and walking none. Reliever Katy Bihl (0-1) took the loss as she let in four runs on seven hits.
"We won today because we did the little things," Gerckens said. "We were patient in both games and it paid off. Last year, Caitlin was big in the postseason and she seems to be going up to the plate with the same kind of confidence. She hit two huge home runs today off two of the best pitchers in the conference. Emily is just so steady. There's nothing fancy about her game, but when we need her, she's one of those players who makes things happen."
UCSD was swept by Humboldt State (46-12) in Arcata during the regular season. The Lumberjacks have wins over Dominguez Hills (4-1) and Sonoma State (4-2) at the CCAA Tournament.
-- UCSDtritons.com --