LA JOLLA, Calif. - UC San Diego scored four runs in the first and six more in the third, cruising to a 10-2 victory over Cal State Monterey Bay in the opener of a California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) series Friday night at Triton Ballpark.
It was a fifth straight win for the Tritons (12-6, 9-4 CCAA), who, with No. 10 Cal Poly Pomona’s 6-3 loss at Cal State East Bay in the afternoon, moved atop the league standings. Cal State Monterey Bay dropped to 9-15 overall and 6-11 in the CCAA.
Reigning CCAA Player of the Week Nick La Face continued to sizzle at the plate, going a perfect 3-for-3 with a walk, double, run scored and four RBI before giving way to a pinch-runner in the sixth. The fifth-year senior leads the league in batting average (.429), on-base percentage (.590) and walks (18).
On the mound, Justin Donatella (4-1) won his fourth straight start, all in conference play, tossing six frames to extend his shutout streak to 16.0 innings. The sophomore right-hander allowed three singles and three walks, striking out seven. He retired the Otters in order in the second on a called third strike, groundout and lineout. Donatella twice struck out senior Mark Hurley, the league’s hits leader with 34.
A remarkable first inning was the key to the game. Coming off of a previous outing of 8.1 scoreless innings and a career-best 13 strikeouts, Donatella got off to a shaky start by hitting the leadoff batter with a 2-0 pitch before junior second baseman Erik Lewis’ first error in a Triton uniform after handling all 103 defensive chances cleanly so far this season put Otters at first and second.
Donatella managed to work back-to-back 1-2 counts on Hurley and clean-up batter Richie Johnson before fanning them both. Designated hitter Travis Bonner then lifted a fly ball deep that senior rightfielder Justin Rahn tracked all the way while staring right into the setting sun, before making a spectacular, diving catch toward the base of the wall to save two runs.
Reinvigorated, UCSD sent nine to the plate in the home half and struck for four runs on four hits and two walks. Leadoff hitter Gradeigh Sanchez dumped a single down the left field line after looking at two strikes, ahead of an RBI double into the gap in right center by Lewis, and suddenly it was 1-0 Tritons instead of 2-0 Otters. Lewis cleverly took third on a flyout, and trotted home on the next offering by CSUMB starter Josh Eagle as La Face singled sharply to left center. An RBI groundout by Michael Mann and a fourth wild pitch in the frame by Eagle sent the other runs in.
The big third began with a Mann double over the centerfielder’s head. Rahn took the next pitch through the right side to chase him home, and wound up at second on the throw. CSUMB’s sloppy play continued as UCSD loaded the bases on a walk, sacrifice and hit-by-pitch. Lewis followed with a two-run single, again to right center. An infield error after a pitching change again left the bases loaded. That’s when La Face stepped up and stung a three-run double on a line that tailed away from the Otter centerfielder and toward the gap in right center.
Donatella got into a bit of trouble in the sixth through two walks around a foulout, but consecutive strikeouts ended the threat, and his night. Junior left-hander Chad Rieser struck out the side in the ninth. Sanchez made a tough, sliding grab with third baseman Troy Cruz converging on the same area in foul territory in the fifth.
Lewis was 2-for-4 on the night with his first double, two runs and three RBI. Sanchez wound up 1-for-3 with two hit-by-pitches and two runs scored. Rahn went 2-for-3 with a walk, run and RBI.
A two-run Noah Graham single in the eighth accounted for the CSUMB scoring. Eagle (2-3) took the loss, surrendering nine runs, all earned, on seven hits and four walks. Collin Monagle saved the Otter bullpen heading into the weekend, giving up just an unearned run on four hits while striking out five over 5.2 innings.
UCSD and CSUMB continue the series with a noon doubleheader Saturday at Triton Ballpark.
Triton Notes: Troy Cruz is the only Triton to have started all 18 games, with three of those starts coming on the mound ... Justin Rahn is the only Triton to have reached base in all 18 games so far in 2014 ... UCSD’s five-game win streak is its longest since a six-gamer from April 5-15, 2012 ... Nick La Face has reached base in five straight plate appearances and 13 of 14 over the last three contests, with three doubles, five singles, five walks, five runs and 10 RBI ... The Tritons have scored in double digits in back-to-back games and three times in 2014, with 31 runs over their last three ... Senior right-hander David Hart made his season debut, throwing the seventh and eighth ... Freshman Jack Larsen made his first appearance as a defensive substitute in center to begin the seventh, since exiting a home game early against Cal State Dominguez Hills on March 6 following a collision at first base.