LA JOLLA, Calif. - The 24th-ranked University of California San Diego wasn't at its best in terms of offense, defense or pitching, but did just enough things right to hold off city rival Cal State San Marcos, 5-3, in California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) baseball action at Triton Ballpark on Friday night.
With a sixth consecutive triumph, UC San Diego has reached the 10-win mark for 2017 and is 10-2 overall and 2-0 in the CCAA. Cal State San Marcos dropped to 10-4 overall and 0-2 in league play. The Tritons lead the weekend series two games to none, having taken Thursday night's series opener, also in La Jolla, 8-0 in shutout fashion. They own the longest current win streak in the CCAA.
The Cougars and Tritons began play Thursday 1-2 in the conference in batting average, but at the midway point of the series, they have flip-flopped, as UCSD (.325) has surrendered just three runs to CSUSM (.322) over 18 innings.
A pair of sophomore right-handers were effective in relief. First, Kyle Lucke turned in 2.1 shutout frames with two strikeouts. He retired the first six Cougars he faced before giving up back-to-back two-out singles in the fifth. Lucke then struck out Anthony Rodriguez.
Jonah Dipoto came on to strike out a career-best four over his 3.0 innings, giving up just an unearned run in the seventh. He gave up two hits and two walks. His outing began with successive singles to lead off the sixth. A five-pitch walk after a sacrifice bunt filled the bases with the Tritons only up 4-2. Dipoto got exactly what he needed, inducing a comebacker from Riley Manquen for a perfectly-executed 1-2-3 double play.
Redshirt senior right-hander Troy Cruz took the ninth and worked around a single to center after two groundouts, by getting another ground ball to the right side on which he ultimately made the game-clinching putout. The Chula Vista product (Bonita Vista HS) thus earned his first save since he was a true freshman, back on Feb. 28, 2013.
Sophomore right-hander Kyle Mora didn't have his best stuff but battled through 2.2 innings in his third start of the year and first appearance since Feb. 10. He gave up two runs, one of them earned, on a solitary hit and two walks, striking out three.
UCSD pinned senior right-hander Taylor Ahearn (3-1) with his first loss, the Santee product having entered the contest with a 1.12 ERA. The Tritons touched him up for four runs on 10 hits. Ahearn did not walk anyone and struck out five, but was also credited with five wild pitches on the evening. The Cougars gave away a lot of free bases with three walks, a hit-by-pitch, six wild pitches and a pair of passed balls.
Cal State San Marcos took advantage of a leadoff walk to Manquen and struck first with two runs in the third, coming on a groundout and sacrifice fly. One of two Triton errors on the night, led to one of them being unearned.
UCSD answered immediately and denied Ahearn a shutdown inning. With a man on and one away, Brandon Shirley slapped a single through the left side to put Tritons at the corners. After a wild pitch and a strikeout, Jack Larsen was plunked to load the bases. Christian Leung stepped up to the plate and continued the torrid start to his senior season, looping a two-out, two-run single to center on an 0-2 offering from Ahearn. He had just moments earlier been denied perhaps a bases-clearing double down the right field line as it was ruled foul. Ahearn's fourth wild pitch of the frame plated Larsen for a 3-2 Triton edge.
The Tritons had men at second and third with nobody out in the fourth, and then at second with zero outs in the fifth, but could not add to their lead. Finally in the sixth, and seventh, they broke through again with single tallies. Tyler Howsley's RBI single up the middle scored Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/San Diego Mesa College/La Jolla HS) from second in the sixth. UCSD loaded the bases with one gone, but could manage no more offense. JD Hearn, who had struck out his first three trips to the plate, bounced back to work a walk to lead off the seventh, and after a bunt single by Larsen and pinch-hit sacrifice by Keenan Brigman, scored on a passed ball.
All three Cougar runs actually came without benefit of a hit. A walk, infield error and wild pitch preceded the RBI groundout and sacrifice fly in the third. In the seventh, it was another infield error, and back-to-back right-sided groundouts.
On his mother Rhoda's birthday, Shirley produced his second straight three-hit game and third on the year, finishing 3-for-5 with a run and team-best fifth stolen base. Eliopulos and Coe had two hits apiece, while Leung was 1-for-3 with two RBI.
Hearn climbed the ladder to make a leaping grab of a hard liner to end the first.
This series now shifts north to San Marcos for its conclusion on Saturday, Feb. 25, as UCSD and the Cougars will contest a doubleheader at CSUSM Baseball Field beginning at 11 a.m. The nightcap will be of the shortened seven-inning variety.
Triton Notes: UCSD leads the all-time series, 6-3 ... Tyler Howsley extended his consecutive games played streak to 121 dating back to the 2015 opener ... Jack Larsen has appeared in 76 straight games, all of them starts ... Larsen's bunt single in the seventh was his fourth on the year ... Christian Leung now leads the CCAA with his 16 RBI ... Brandon Shirley is a perfect 5-for-5 in steals.