POMONA, Calif. - The UC San Diego baseball team turned four double plays and handed No. 15 Cal Poly Pomona its first defeat of the season, 4-2, to open a California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) series Thursday afternoon at Scolinos Field.
With the victory, UCSD improved to 6-4 overall and 3-2 in the CCAA. Cal Poly Pomona, off to an incredible start, fell from the ranks of the unbeaten, now at 10-1 overall and 4-1 in league play.
Among CPP’s 10-game win streak to begin the 2014 campaign, the last eight at home with seven against ranked West Region foes, four were in walk-off fashion. The Broncos trailed or were tied in the eighth inning in five contests. On Thursday, they put the tying run on base in each of the final two frames, but UCSD made sure that it did not suffer the same fate as its predecessors, as relievers Chad Rieser and Scott Zeman, each benefitting from a double play, maintained the Tritons’ two-run edge.
UCSD jumped right on sophomore left-hander Max Bethell, who had entered the game a perfect 3-0 with a 3.24 ERA. Each of the first four Triton batters reached base via hits, with a two-run single down the left field line by senior Nick La Face on Bethell's seventh offering giving UCSD the early 2-0 advantage after a leadoff single from Erik Lewis and a double by Brandon Shirley. The bases later loaded in between a pair of strikeouts, senior Garrett Tuck drew the walk for a 3-0 lead as the Tritons batted around with five hits in their first turn at the plate.
Despite a leadoff walk, right-hander Justin Donatella, like Bethell a sophomore, put together the shutdown inning in the bottom half, with junior Brett Levy throwing out the first would-be base-stealer by a Triton catcher for 2014 to end the frame.
Donatella was not as fortunate in inning number two, as the home side loaded the bases to lead things off through a single and two more walks. A Steven Andrade sacrifice fly to right put the Broncos on the board. The bases again full following a hit-by-pitch, the Tritons averted further damage courtesy of a 6-4-3 double play.
UCSD got that single run right back in the third as sophomore Troy Cruz (Chula Vista/Bonita Vista HS) drew a leadoff walk, Justin Rahn’s single put runners at the corners, and Cruz then crossed the plate when Levy hit into a 4-3 double play.
CPP narrowed the deficit once more in the sixth on a one-out double to right center by David Armendariz, followed by an RBI single to the opposite gap by fellow senior outfielder Chris Carlson. After a single by Joseph Eusebio, it was the double-play ball again coming to Donatella’s rescue, as another 6-4-3 twin killing got him out of it.
Rieser, on in relief of Donatella to begin the home eighth, walked Trevor Magno to bring up the top of the Bronco order. A wild pitch and a foulout later, an infield Armendariz single put runners at the corners with one away, but the Tritons were able to turn two once more, 5-4-3 this time on Carlson.
Zeman came on for the ninth, and was greeted by a Eusebio double to left, before walking Bo Walter. After Brennen Salgado was unable to get a bunt down and was facing two strikes, Zeman got him to roll harmlessly into a 4-6-3 double play. Having worked the count full, Andrade fouled out and Zeman notched his second save.
Four different CPP batters hit into the four double plays, with the first two started by Tyler Howsley, a true freshman making just his fourth start at shortstop for UCSD. The Tritons had last turned four 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.
Donatella (2-1) allowed two runs on four hits and three walks over 7.0 innings, without a strikeout. It marked the longest outing of his career. He set CPP down in order in the third, fourth, fifth and seventh, getting two groundouts and an infield popout in both the fourth and fifth. Donatella retired 11 straight Broncos from the end of the second to the Armendariz double in the sixth.
With junior Michael Mann, who had started each of the first nine games at first base, a late scratch from the lineup following batting practice, UCSD head coach Eric Newman was forced to shuffle things a bit. Tuck, regularly a left-sided infielder, made his first career start at first base, and Cruz was in the cleanup spot for the first time as a college player.
Each of the first seven hitters in the adjusted Triton batting order had at least one hit on the day, with two apiece from Lewis and Shirley at the very top. They both scored a run, with Shirley adding his first career steal in the ninth.
Bethell (3-1) went 6.0 frames, giving up four runs on eight hits. He walked three and struck out four, getting through the second and fifth with nothing across. Andy Amaro set down nine of the 10 batters he faced in relief, with three strikeouts.
“I thought Donny (Donatella) didn’t have his best stuff early, but he really grinded it out,” said Newman. “He got into a rhythm and pitched really well. He gave us a chance to win, and then the bullpen did a great job. Our infield defense was pretty good today, turning those double plays. It was a pretty special win from a pitching and defensive standpoint, and a good win from a toughness standpoint.”
“Double plays, those are game changers any time you get them,” added Newman. “Of course you get two outs on one pitch, but then especially those last two (we got today) and the situations where they happened, those were momentum changers. The infield defense has been there all year, and the pitching has been there all year. They work together. The guys really trusted each other. You have to make pitches and make plays to win. We did that.”
The Tritons and Broncos resume their series at Scolinos Field in Pomona on Friday at 2 p.m. The teams will then head down to La Jolla to contest a doubleheader at Triton Ballpark on Saturday, also beginning at 2 p.m.
Triton Notes: Troy Cruz and Justin Rahn are the only two Tritons to have started each of the first 10 games, with one of Cruz’s starts coming on the mound ... With his two-run single in the first inning, Nick La Face extended his team-best hit streak to seven games ... Rahn’s third-inning single extended his reached-base streak to 10 games, as he is the only Triton to have reached in every contest so far in 2014 ... UCSD began the day with six double plays in the first nine games.