TURLOCK, Calif. - The eighth-ranked University of California San Diego baseball team rode starter Adrian Orozco and timely offense to a 7-3 triumph over Stanislaus State in the crucial rubber game of a California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) series Sunday at Warrior Baseball Field.
With the result, UC San Diego improved to 22-6 overall and 14-4 in the CCAA. Stanislaus State fell to 20-12 overall and 10-11 in league play. The teams had split Saturday's doubleheader, with UCSD dropping game one, 6-3, before taking the nightcap, 8-5. Sunday thus meant that in three of the past four weekends, the Tritons have lost the opening game of a three-game series against a CCAA North opponent, only to rally and win the set. UCSD remains unbeaten in a series in 2017, now with eight victories and one two-game split. With Cal Poly Pomona holding on for an 11-8 decision at Cal State Monterey Bay, the Tritons maintain their 3.5-game lead over the Broncos in the CCAA South standings.
"The guys did a great job of battling this week, and there is a growing competitiveness that I see when we come out and don't play our best, to respond well," said UC San Diego head coach Eric Newman. "As a coach, that is something you want to see your team be able to do."
Sunday's success also now sets up a marquee three-game showdown between UC San Diego and third-ranked CCAA North leader and red-hot rival Chico State (27-5, 20-1 CCAA) in La Jolla next weekend. The Wildcats will head south a winner of six straight, including a comfortable three-game home sweep over Cal State San Marcos this weekend, and is also unbeaten (7-0-1) in a series in 2017.
Orozco, a redshirt senior and local product out of Chula Vista (Otay Ranch HS) who began his college career at UCSD before spending 2015 at Southwestern College and 2016 at San Diego State, allowed three runs on six hits and one walk over season highs of 7.1 innings and 118 pitches, with seven strikeouts. He improved to a perfect 5-0 with a winning decision in his fourth successive start. The Tritons are 7-0 in Orozco's seven starting assignments. He got through the third with two groundouts and a called third strike for the first of his three perfect frames.
"Adrian was great again today," remarked Newman. "He was executing really well and really only made a couple of mistakes. We played really well behind him and it was a good team win."
For the second time in the series, UCSD produced a solo home run in the very first inning, this time from Jack Larsen with one away as the senior rightfielder took two strikes from starter Stewart Alexander before depositing the senior right-hander's next offering over the wall in right center.
Orozco walked leadoff man Kert Woods to open the home half, but the redshirt senior right-hander followed that up with a called third strike, routine flyout and swinging strikeout to notch the shutdown frame.
The Tritons threatened to add to their slim lead in the second as Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS) singled for starters and Keenan Brigman worked a one-out walk, but a routine 6-4-3 double play allowed Alexander to escape.
Stanislaus State went up 2-1 during its turn in the second. Aldo Koutsoyanopulos and Charlie Gaff registered back-to-back one-out singles. Orozco got the next batter to fly out, and looked for a moment like he might evade the threat, but the Warriors were fortunate on a successful double steal, ahead of Nick Ippolito lacing a two-run double on a 1-2 pitch just past the outstretched glove of first baseman Tyler Durna.
UCSD got that run right back in the third. Tyler Howsley battled through a nine-pitch at-bat with three foul balls, ultimately sliding a leadoff single through the left side. He moved to second on Brandon Shirley's sacrifice, and to third on Larsen's flyout. JD Hearn worked a four-pitch walk, and Durna, the reigning CCAA Player of the Week, provided the clutch RBI single in front of the rightfielder. He was, however, thrown out trying to extend it into a double, ending the inning with a 2-2 deadlock.
Howsley also ignited a rally in the fifth, this one of the bigger variety. He led off by roping a 2-2 offering by Alexander into right center past the leaping Kyle Nixon, and to the wall, sprinting around the bases for a huge triple. Shirley pulled the next pitch through the left side for an RBI single, and Larsen bunted him over on the toss after that. Hearn followed with his third home run of 2017, deep to left center for 5-2.
Orozco made quick work of the Warriors in a nine-pitch bottom half for the shutdown frame on two more groundouts and a flyout. Nixon opened the home sixth with a solo blast to right center, but the San Diego native bounced back to get a popout and successive strikeouts.
The seventh began in promising fashion for the Tritons as new pitcher Nick Voumard, the Stan State closer with a CCAA-best eight saves, wasn't fooling anybody. Hearn looped a single into right center, and then Durna banged a first-pitch single off the ball in right to put men at the corners before also scooting into scoring position on a wild pitch. Eliopulos wanted nothing to do with a mere sacrifice fly to answer the Nixon run, so he sent a two-run double just inside the line past first base and into the corner.
Orozco cruised through the seventh via three more easy groundouts. He came back out for the eighth as well, finally exiting after a leadoff single and groundout. Travis Roberts and Jonah Dipoto left the Warrior runner stranded at second, Roberts getting Nixon swinging. Dipoto got two right-handed bats to fly out to right to end the eighth and begin the ninth. Durna then scooped up Howsley's short hop for the second out of the final inning. Charlie Gaff chopped a double down the left field line, but Dipoto had Nathan Chunn waving at three straight to deny any and all drama.
Howsley finished 2-for-3 with a walk, triple and two runs scored. He also made six clean assists defensively at shortstop, including a difficult, typically-strong throw from deep in the hole for the first out in the fourth. Durna wound up 3-for-4 with a walk, run, RBI and steal, increasing his season average to a now-league-leading .413. Hearn was 2-for-3 with his home run, two walks, two runs and two RBI, Shirley, Larsen and Eliopulos added two hits each.
Alexander (4-2) went 5.0 innings and gave up a season-high five runs on eight hits and two walks, striking out three. He had entered the contest with a 1.02 season ERA. He struck out the side in the first around Larsen's home run, the first blast he had surrendered on the year.
The Tritons collected all seven runs and 13 of their 14 hits against two of Stan State's more reliable pitching options in Alexander and Voumard. The teams had entered the weekend 2-3 in the CCAA in ERA, with both in the top 10 nationally.
UC San Diego returns to La Jolla by bus late Sunday. The doubleheader with Chico State on Saturday, April 8, begins at 1 p.m. at Triton Ballpark on East Campus in La Jolla, with a noon start to the Sunday finale. All three contests can be viewed in high definition on UCSDtritons.tv.
"You never want to put too much importance on one weekend or game at this point, but obviously everyone is looking at this weekend as a clash of two first-place teams, that also are among the best in the region," concluded Newman. "They are playing really well and their pitching is very, very good. We will have to play well."
Triton Notes: Tyler Howsley extended his consecutive games played streak to 137 dating back to the 2015 opener ... Jack Larsen has appeared in 92 straight games, all of them starts ... Adrian Orozco made his seventh start of the year and eighth of his Triton career ... Orozco's 7.1 innings marked the longest outing by a Triton in 2017 ... Tyler Durna started in the cleanup spot of the order for the first time as a collegian ... JD Hearn and Alex Eliopulos each made their second straight starts at second and third base, respectively ... The first-inning home run gave Larsen a share of the team lead with Durna, now at five on the year and 17 for his four-year career ... Durna's third-inning single extended his team-best streaks to 19 straight games reaching base and 14 with a hit ... Howsley's fifth-inning triple was his second of the year, third of his career, and UCSD's 10th of 2017 ... Durna's fifth-inning steal was his second on three tries this year and for his career ... The Tritons now have 22 home runs this season, including eight over the past five games, and are second in the CCAA in that category ... Since allowing three straight singles leading to a single tally to begin his season debut on Feb. 4, Jonah Dipoto has not surrendered another earned run over his last 17.1 innings, now with 11 appearances on the year.