Reclaiming the Title

The No. 18 Tritons recorded three stunning victories en route to winning UCSD’s sixth ever CCAA Championship this past Thursday through Saturday in Stockton, California. 

Junior Erik Lewis, pictured in a May 2 game against Cal State San Bernardino. Photo by Kelsea Bergh/Guardian
Junior Erik Lewis, pictured in a May 2 game against Cal State San Bernardino. Photo by Kelsea Bergh/Guardian

Late-game heroics and clutch play propelled the No. 18 UCSD baseball team to a perfect California Collegiate Athletic Association tournament record as it reclaimed the conference title this past Saturday in Stockton, California. Led by six All-CCAA Team members, the third-seeded Tritons went 3–0 through the championship series. Their top performance earned UCSD the number one seed and homefield advantage for the NCAA Regionals. 

In the tournament opener on Thursday night, the Tritons faced off first against No. 9 Chico State. With junior left-handed pitcher Trevor Scott on the mound for UCSD, the second-seeded Wildcats took an early 1–0 lead in the bottom of the first. 

After the first frame, both squads went scoreless until the fifth inning, during which the Tritons tallied two off of four walks and a single run batted in from senior shortstop Garrett Tuck. 

However, the Wildcats responded with two runs of their own in the other half of the fifth to regain the advantage. Though down a run, UCSD drove a score in during the eighth, forcing both squads to enter the ninth inning tied at three. With two outs in the ninth, Tuck came up in the clutch, knocking in a two-run double to ultimately give UCSD the win.

“I tried not to make it that big of a moment,” Tuck told the UCSD Athletics Department. “We were tied, and I knew if I got out, nothing terribly bad was going to happen. We were just going to keep playing, so I just took it as another at bat, and it went my way.”  

On Friday night, the Tritons continued their impressive, last-minute play as UCSD recorded an extra-inning, walk-off victory against No. 19 California State Polytechnic University Pomona. The Tritons took a 1–0 lead in the third, only to have the Mustangs plate two runs of their own in the fifth to flip the advantage. UCSD had a big inning in the seventh as four straight walks doomed the Mustangs, allowing the Tritons to take three runs. 

Despite the 4–2 lead, the Mustangs responded in the top of the ninth with two runs, ruining senior right-handed pitcher Scott Zeman’s potential save. 

With two outs in the bottom of the 11th inning, junior second baseman Erik Lewis drew a walk to reach base. Then, senior catcher Nick La Face took to the plate and knocked in an RBI double on his second pitch to give UCSD the walk off victory. 

“He got me earlier in my previous at bat,” La Face said. “I got behind, and he caught me looking on a slider [in the earlier at bat], so I was just looking to get on a fastball early. If I got one, I was going to take a good hack at it, so that’s all I was thinking.” 

UCSD entered the championship game in a rematch against Chico State on Saturday night. It looked like the Tritons would cruise to the tournament crown after racking up a 6–0 edge after five full innings. However, in an incredible turn of events, the Wildcats rallied for a whopping seven runs in the top of the sixth to take the lead. Cruz allowed five runs, and senior right-hander David Hart allowed two more in relief. 

The Tritons still appeared unphased, batting in four runs over the following three innings to shut out the Wildcats for a win of 10–7 to take the championship. Sophomore right-hander Justin Donatella earned the win after pitching through 3.2 scoreless innings in relief and a bases-loaded situation in the seventh. 

UCSD head coach Eric Newman expressed pride in the Tritons’ ability to consistently string together comeback wins in big moments. 

“Our players believe in our system,” Newman said. “We’ve put it in play, and they’ve done a great job all year long. As [coaches], it’s up to us to trust the players to go out there and do what we talk about, and they did a great job of that.” 

With the 2014 CCAA crown, UCSD has now won the title in five of the last six seasons. La Face also earned the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award, recording six hits in 13 at bats and tallying the ever-crucial walk-off double against Cal Poly Pomona. 

The Tritons will next look to make a mark at the national level as they prepare to host the NCAA West Regionals in the number one seed. The Tritons will face sixth-seeded Sonoma State at Triton Ballpark in the first round on Thursday, May 15.  Regionals will run Thursday, through Sunday, May 18.