STOCKTON, Calif. - UC San Diego and Chico State aren’t tiring of playing instant classics , so we aren’t tiring from calling them as such.
The 18th-ranked Tritons downed ninth-ranked rival Wildcats, 10-7, in a game that had a little bit of everything in the 2014 California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Championship title tilt Saturday night at Banner Island Ballpark.
It marked UCSD’s fifth CCAA tournament banner in the last six seasons and six in all, pushing the Tritons ahead of Sonoma State at five for the most tournament titles in the CCAA Baseball Championship’s 16-year history.
The result earned UCSD (35-14) the CCAA’s automatic berth into the 2014 NCAA Division II Championship. Chico State (39-13) will also assuredly be among the 48 participants when the field is announced on Sunday evening at 7 p.m. PT. The selection show can be viewed live at NCAA.com.
The teams had split their four-game regular-season series in mid-February, with the Tritons rallying for a 5-3 victory in the opening game of the tourney for both sides on Thursday night. Third-seeded UCSD was the designated home team Saturday on account of having previously been the home squad less times (once) than No. 2 seed Chico State (twice) this week. The ‘Cats moved into the title round by virtue of a 5-2 decision over Cal Poly Pomona in an elimination contest earlier Saturday.
Six Tritons were named to the CCAA Championship All-Tournament Team in Justin Donatella, Nick La Face, Brett Levy, Erik Lewis, Brandon Shirley and Garrett Tuck. La Face was tabbed the Most Valuable Player. It was his walk-off double in the 11th inning on Friday night that lifted UCSD past CPP and into Saturday’s final.
Ryan McClellan shot a leadoff single through the right side to begin the second and immediately swiped his ninth bag of the year. A looped liner to Lewis at second base and two flyouts to Justin Rahn in left field keep the Chico State senior there.
The home second opened with back-to-back walks to Troy Cruz and Levy, but Wildcat starter Derek Sesma collected Jack Larsen’s sacrifice attempt and cut Cruz down at third. Another fielder’s choice grounder saw Tuck narrowly beat the throw to first. That brought up Tyler Howsley, a true freshman making his first postseason start, who looked quite the veteran in promptly drawing the six-pitch walk from the nine-hole. On the very next pitch, Shirley lined a two-run single to left to give UCSD the 2-0 lead. Shirley had jumped on a first-pitch fastball for a game-tying solo shot to lead off the eighth in Thursday’s win over the Wildcats.
Cruz produced the shutdown inning, erasing a one-out Ryne Clark single thanks in part to an unsuccessful hit-and-run play. Eric Angerer lined out to Lewis, who had loads of time to flip to first to double up the moving Clark.
Immediately after Nick La Face’s sharp single to lead off the third, Rahn smoked an RBI triple just by Angerer at first base, inside the foul line and into the right field corner. Though Cruz’s flyout wasn’t quite deep enough to bring Rahn home, no matter. Brett Levy, making his first collegiate start at first base, rewarded his head coach with a solid RBI single on the second pitch of his at-bat, and within a five-pitch segment in the frame, it was 4-0 Tritons just like that. Triton skipper Eric Newman had put Levy at first to keep his junior catcher’s hot bat in the lineup.
After a perfect bunt single by Larsen to make up for his missed sacrifice in the second, Howsley worked his second full count in as many frames and like La Face, Rahn and Levy in the inning ahead of him, made solid contact on an RBI single to right, chasing Sesma early.
Cruz again had little issue coming up with the shutdown inning, needing 11 pitches to the heart of the Wildcat order get around a two-out McClellan single via his first strikeout in between two harmless grounders.
UCSD added a sixth run in the fourth, as Levy’s two-out single plated Lewis, who had singled to lead off and moved to second on a one-out walk to Rahn.
Connor Huesers was plunked with the first pitch of the fifth before the Wildcat leftfielder advanced on a passed ball and groundout. A lineout and another ground ball, both to Lewis, stranded him at third.
With everything seemingly going their way, the Tritons then endured a nightmare of a sixth inning. Chico State strung together five consecutive hits, with four singles and a double, for their first two runs of the night, pushing Cruz out of the game. When the dust had settled, 11 Wildcats had come to the plate and the score was 7-6 in favor of Chico State.
New Wildcat pitcher Clayton Gelfand in turn hit Lewis with his very first pitch to start the home half, and walked La Face on a 3-2 offering to quickly end his evening. Star closer Luke Barker entered and dialed up the hard-hit 4-6-3 twin killing off the bat of Rahn with his first pitch. Cruz then smoked a harder shot that glanced off of Barker’s head and bounded over Angerer’s head down the first base line, going down as an RBI double up the middle to knot it at 7-7. Barker remained on the hill and got Levy looking for the third out.
Chico State loaded the bases with one out on an infield single and two walks in the seventh, only for Justin Donatella to get successive strikeouts to keep the Tritons even. The sophomore right-hander got Dylan Garcia swinging, before Cody Slader saw Levy far enough back at first base to try for a two-strike bunt, but pushed it foul.
Larsen, like Howsley a true freshman with the duo teammates from Capistrano Valley High School, drew a leadoff walk from Barker in the ensuing frame, and moved to second on a wild pitch. Tuck then laid down the sacrifice, or so he thought, as it went too close to Barker for Larsen to advance, but the Wildcat pitcher slipped on the infield grass and had no play. He was charged with the error. Howsley hit the ball hard again, only for Danny Miller to make the sliding grab in right. After a strikeout, Lewis lined an RBI single to right to send Larsen flying around third with the go-ahead score. La Face followed with a frozen rope that Miller angled back to snatch toward the wall to keep the margin at a single run.Donatella cruised through a perfect eighth with two swinging strikeouts on the minimum six pitches, and a groundout, enabling his squad to get right back to work and add two insurance runs in their half. Rahn’s leadoff double and a hit-by-pitch to Cruz preceded a third single to left by Levy on a neatly-executed hit-and-run. Larsen’s sacrifice fly put a cap on the scoring.
UCSD then had the unique opportunity to send its ace starter back to the mound to close out a conference championship. Donatella extended his remarkable to stretch to five strikeouts in six Wildcat batters, all swinging, before two flyouts had the Tritons pouring onto the field to celebrate.
In all, Donatella (8-2) tossed 3.2 scoreless with two singles and two walks against him and five punch-outs, earning the decision.
Cruz, making his first collegiate postseason pitching appearance, went five-plus innings and allowed five runs on nine hits and no walks. He struck out one. The five earned runs were a season high. Cruz navigated around a two-out Ruben Padilla single in his first frame with three ground balls to Lewis, who was involved in each of the first four outs. Lewis totaled eight assists and three putouts.
Levy wound up 3-for-4 with a walk, two runs and three RBI, tying single-game career bests in hits and runs while falling an RBI short. Rahn went 2-for-4 with a walk, double, triple, two runs and an RBI. Lewis was an identical 2-for-4 with two scored and one knocked in. La Face finished 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored. Shirley had the clutch two-run single early on.
Sesma, a junior left-hander, gave up five runs on seven hits and three walks over 2.2 frames, striking out two. Sesma got through the first unscathed despite centerfielder Ryne Clark being unable to glove La Face’s drive to deep center with the evening sun causing considerable difficulty. The play went down as La Face’s 20th double of the year, but Sesma fanned Rahn. Barker (4-3) took the loss.
McClellan went 4-for-5 with a run, RBI and steal. Dylan Garcia was 1-for-4 with a two-run double in the big Wildcat sixth. Angerer and Padilla were each 2-for-5.
The four-team, double-elimination CCAA Championship was being held at the neutral-site facility of the minor-league Stockton Ports for the second straight year.
Triton Notes: Troy Cruz is the only Triton to start all 49 games, with 12 now coming on the mound ... It was the 18th career pitching start for Cruz ... Prior to his first collegiate start at first base tonight, Brett Levy had made two starts at designated hitter and three at third base as a freshman, in addition to 86 at his usual catcher spot ... Erik Lewis’ leadoff single in the fourth extended his reached-base streak to 18 games ... Justin Rahn’s third inning triple was his second on the year and fourth of his career ... Since the start of April, Garrett Tuck is hitting .351 (20-for-57) with 10 runs, a double, triple and 11 RBI ... The Tritons are 20-7 away from home in 2014 ... In its 10th appearance, UCSD is 23-12 all-time at the CCAA Championship, and 6-1 under third-year head coach Eric Newman ... This was UCSD’s seventh appearance in the last round of the CCAA Championship, with the Tritons 7-4 in title-round games ... Each of the previous three times that the Tritons had made the championship round, they lost the first game before earning the league banner in a second and final meeting with their opponent ... UCSD is 8-3 against Chico State at the CCAA Championship, including a perfect 3-0 in title-round games, with two extra-inning wins at Chico’s Nettleton Stadium to grab its first banner in 2005 ... The Tritons are 9-2 in CCAA Championship games in the city of Stockton ... UCSD is 21-4 over its last 25 ... The Tritons reached double figures in runs for the 13th time this season, now a perfect 13-0 in such contests, and 25-3 when it scores at least six.
2014 CCAA Championship All-Tournament Team
P - Steven Farnworth (Cal Poly Pomona)
P - Justin Donatella (UC San Diego)
C - Brett Levy (UC San Diego)
C - Peter Miller (Chico State)
2B - Erik Lewis (UC San Diego)
2B - Ryan McClellan (Chico State)
3B - Ruben Padilla (Chico State)
SS - Garrett Tuck (UC San Diego)
OF - Brandon Shirley (UC San Diego)
OF - Joseph Eusebio (Cal Poly Pomona)
OF - Ryne Clark (Chico State)
DH - Nick La Face (UC San Diego)
Most Outstanding Player
Nick La Face (C/DH) - UC San Diego