SAN FRANCISCO - The 18th-ranked UC San Diego baseball team surrendered five runs in the sixth and seventh and saw its ninth-inning rally fall just short, getting edged by San Francisco State University, 7-6, in the opener of a four-game California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) series Thursday afternoon at Maloney Field.
With the defeat, UCSD fell to 25-12 overall and 21-8 in the CCAA. SF State won its fifth straight and improved to 18-21 overall and 13-16 in league play.
UCSD had taken 11 straight CCAA contests at the start of the day, the program’s longest such streak since completing the 2011 season with 15 straight league triumphs. The third-place Tritons lost ground on all three of their opponents atop the CCAA standings, as No. 30 Sonoma State, No. 8 Chico State and No. 12 Cal Poly Pomona all won their series openers Thursday.
Four times over its previous nine games, UCSD overturned three-run deficits to win. Having already trailed 2-0 Thursday before grabbing a 4-2 lead, the Tritons headed into the ninth, down by three at 7-4. With Gator closer Cory Davis on to pitch, Troy Cruz singled up the middle and sprinted all the way around on Nick La Face’s team-best fourth triple to left center on an 0-2 count. Back-to-back flyouts followed, the latter by Michael Mann deep enough to center to send La Face home for 7-6.
Freshman centerfielder Jack Larsen then worked the count full before sending a double down the left field line for his career-best fourth hit of the contest. On Davis’ very next offering, junior catcher Brett Levy was hit for the second time in the game. The junior right-hander pulled it together at that point and got redshirt freshman rightfielder Brandon Shirley looking at strike three to wrap up his 10th save.
UCSD squandered a golden opportunity to open the scoring in the first, stranding Cruz (Chula Vista/Bonita Vista HS) at third after the sophomore third baseman had tripled to right center with one away.
The host Gators put runners at the corners with just one out in the third through a leadoff single, fielder’s choice and infield error. After Dillon Meyer swiped second, both he and Fernando Escobar scored on Bryce Cherry’s single through the right side. Carter Loud then flew into an inning-ending double play to Justin Rahn in left.
UCSD got both runs right back in the fourth. La Face and Justin Rahn led off with back-to-back singles, and with one away, Larsen’s single through the right side loaded the bases. Ryan Romero’s 1-0 pitch hit Levy to force La Face in, and Shirley then came through with a sacrifice fly to bring the Tritons back level.
Justin Donatella put together the shutdown inning in the home half, getting around a one-out infield single with a strike-him-out, throw-him-out double play, as Garrett Heisinger started at a third strike and Levy fired to second baseman Erik Lewis to cut down junior catcher Mark Lindsay.
Lewis promptly drew the leadoff walk in the fifth, the first base on balls issued by either starting pitcher, but Romero got a strikeout and two lineouts to keep it at 2-2.
Reigning CCAA Player of the Week, junior third baseman Matt Vera, opened the home fifth with a single, but a 4-6-3 twin killing started by Lewis on Donatella’s next offering quickly cleaned that up.
Consecutive one-out singles by Larsen and Levy put UCSD in scoring position again in the sixth. With the count at 2-0, Shirley’s double to left plated Larsen to give the Tritons their first lead of the day at 3-2 and chase Romero. With Tyler Cobb on to pitch, Tyler Howsley reached on the first Gator error of the game, as Levy trotted home from third to double the advantage.
Donatella was unsuccessful in his bid at a second shutdown frame as SF State tied the game back up in the home half. Meyer reached on a second Triton error to lead things off, stole second and scored on Cherry’s double to the gap in left center. Loud drew a first walk from Donatella, with Cherry moving to third on just the second wild pitch this season by the sophomore right-hander, who then sent Espinosa away swinging on three pitches for the first out.
Lindsay’s subsequent single to right, however, made it 4-4 before Donatella finally got out of it with a flyout and called third strike on Vera.
The Tritons went right back to work offensively in the seventh, loading the bases on a leadoff Lewis single, Cruz hit-by-pitch and intentional walk to Rahn following a second Gator pitching change and La Face’s first sacrifice of the season on right-hander Taylor Wade’s first pitch. Wade got Michael Mann looking for the second out, and retired Larsen for the first time on a flyout to right center.
A hit-by-pitch and a bunt advanced Joe Chedid to second to start the decisive home seventh. With one out and the bases full, David Hart walked Espinosa to force in the go-ahead score. Lindsay came up with the clutch two-run single through the right side. It would prove to be the game-winning hit.
Donatella (6-2) allowed six runs, four of them earned, on eight hits over 6.1 innings. He walked one and struck out five, cruising through a 1-2-3 second on 11 pitches. It marked a second straight outing in which he had four earned runs against him. The loss was Donatella’s first in a CCAA game after six wins and a no-decision.
Larsen finished 4-for-5 with a double and a run scored. La Face went 2-for-4 with a triple, two runs and an RBI. Cruz also had two hits with a triple, was hit once and scored once. Shirley was 1-for-4 with a double, sacrifice fly and two RBI.
Romero, a junior right-hander, went 5.1 innings, giving up four runs on nine hits, one walk and one hit-by-pitch. He struck out three and successfully navigated through a one-out base hit by the Tritons in each of the first three frames. Wade (4-0) tossed 2.0 shutout innings, walking two and striking out three.
Cherry was 2-for-3 with a double, run and three RBI. Meyer went 1-for-5 but stole two bases and scored three times. Lindsay added three hits and three RBI.
UCSD and SF State continue their series with a doubleheader Friday at Maloney Field beginning at 12 p.m.
Triton Notes: Troy Cruz is the only Triton to start all 37 games, with eight coming on the mound ... The triple by Cruz in the first was his third this year and fourth for his career ... With his leadoff single in the fourth, Nick La Face extended his reached-base streak to 34 games ... La Face’s ninth-inning triple increased UCSD’s league-leading team total for 2014 to 12 ... Brett Levy and Michael Mann are now tied for the team lead in hit-by-pitches at 11 apiece ... Levy caught his seventh would-be base-stealer on 22 attempts to end the fourth ... Jack Larsen produced his first career four-hit game after nine two-hit efforts ... The two double plays today gave UCSD 37 for the year ... Sophomore left-hander Eric Moersen faced one batter in the seventh and struck him out on five pitches ... Eight of nine Tritons in the starting lineup had at least one hit ... Thursday marked UCSD’s first loss in 2014 when it out-hit its opponent (13-9), after 18 wins ... The Tritons entered the day third in the nation in fielding, but matched their single-game season high with four errors.