UCSD ends record-breaking season against Cal Poly Pomona in final round of tournament.
No. 30 and fifth-seeded UCSD fell just short of an NCAA tournament berth when they lost to No. 13 Cal Poly Pomona in the West Region Playoffs Final on Monday afternoon. UCSD battled through three elimination games after losing in the opening round to Azusa Pacific University. The Tritons went on to win against Point Loma Nazarene University, Dixie State University and Azusa Pacific University before seeing the season terminated by their California Collegiate Athletic Association foe.
UCSD had started down the “road to Cary,” where the NCAA championships are held, when it fell to Azusa Pacific 17–11 in a very high-scoring game. The defeat put UCSD in the elimination bracket side of the double-elimination tournament.
Junior right-handed pitcher Justin Donatella (9–3) entered the game with just eight runs allowed total over the season. His fortune quickly changed, as Azusa Pacific put up a four-run inning in the bottom of the first.
UCSD quickly fell behind but reduced the gap to 5–2 in the top of the fourth when redshirt freshman outfielder Justin Flatt scored off of sophomore infielder Tyler Howsley’s single up the middle. That ray of hope was short-lived, as Azusa Pacific got a seven-run fifth and a five-run sixth to break the game open. Donatella even got replaced in the middle of the fifth inning. The Tritons put up seven unanswered runs in the seventh and eighth, but the game was already far out of reach.
Donatella increased his strike total to a league-leading 109 but allowed a season-high nine runs in 4 1/3 innings. Sophomore outfielder Brandon Shirley reached base in his first five plate appearances, while Howsley got a career-high four hits and three RBIs in the very offensive game.
UCSD moved on to the second day of competition, where it had to win to stay in the competition. The Tritons did so when they edged city rival Point Loma 7–5.
The blue and gold got a 1–0 lead when junior infielder Troy Cruz scored in the second inning. They continued to pressure Point Loma, even extending their lead to 4–0 in the fourth, when freshman infielder Tyler Plantier, senior infielder Erik Lewis and senior catcher Brett Levy each scored. UCSD thought it had secured a win after the team put one more run on the board when sophomore outfielder Jack Larsen ran to home in the fifth.
Point Loma answered in the bottom of the seventh and eighth, putting up five unanswered runs to tie the game up, threatening to end the Tritons’ season. However, Cruz, the hero of the game, scored in the bottom of the eighth to put them back on top. Lewis put another run on the board to raise the score 7–5 and securing the UCSD victory.
Larsen went 3-for-4 and Cruz went 1-for-2, putting up two runs. Levy was 2-for-4, while Howsley got two RBIs to put his season total to 20.
“Offensively, I was just trying to ground out and try to get on base,” Cruz told the UCSD Athletics Department. “Defensively, on the mound, I tried to be aggressive. Late in the game with runners in scoring positions, I just stuck to my routine and just settled down there [to get the game-ending out].”
The strong effort led to UCSD facing Dixie State University on Saturday afternoon. The Tritons came through again with flying colors, shutting out the fourth seed 7–0.
Senior right–handed pitcher Dan Kolodin (5–1) led the Tritons in a great effort. The offense also delivered, led by two runs by Shirley and one by junior outfielder Gradeigh Sanchez, Flatt, senior first baseman Michael Mann, Larsen and Plantier. Cruz then closed out the game, giving UCSD its program–record 13th shutout of the year, the third–most nationally in Division–II.
Shirley was 2-for-4, Larsen was 1-for-3 and Levy went 3-for-4 to lead the Tritons into the last day of the tournament.
“We talked yesterday about not being done, about wanting to play more baseball. And in this situation, you [have to] rely on your seniors,” UCSD Head Coach Eric Newman said. “These two guys, [Kolodin and Levy], right here along with other guys,did a good job to lead us on to Monday.”
Having survived two elimination games, UCSD advanced to the final day of competition, where the men would have to defeat both Cal Poly Pomona and Azusa Pacific again to reach the NCAA. The Tritons got the first part done but could not end their incredible run with a success.
Despite falling behind early after Azusa Pacific scored a run in the first inning, the Tritons never lost their composure. They retaliated in the bottom of the second, putting in two runs of their own from Lewis and Flatt. UCSD kept on building on their lead, scoring one run in the fifth, sixth and eighth innings. Up 5–1, UCSD saw Azusa Pacific try a comeback in the top of the ninth. The Cougars put up two runs, but left-handed pitcher Trevor Scott got a game-ending groundout to third base with one runner on second to end the game.
Junior right-handed pitcher Alon Leichman (7–2) went 5 2/3 innings and got the win. Shirley reached base in his first three-plate appearances and went 2-for-3. Flatt was 2-for-3 also.
UCSD thus advanced to the championship game, where CCAA foe Cal Poly Pomona defeated them 7–4 to end the Cinderella run.
The Tritons put up the first run of the game when Shirley went home in the first inning. Pomona struck right back, in the bottom of the first, to level the score at one.
The Broncos then took the lead in the bottom of the second but immediately relinquished it when UCSD scored three runs in the top of the third. Mann, Sanchez and Larsen scored for the Tritons to put them in the lead, 4–3.
UCSD would not score again, however, and Cal Poly Pomona slowly took control of the game. The Broncos assumed the lead in the bottom of the fourth with two runsand scored two more runs in the seventh and eighth to get the win and the bid for the NCAAs. UCSD ended its season on the bitter defeat and will not go to the NCAA championships.
However, UCSD also finishes the season with a league-best, program-record 465 strikeouts and a nation-leading 311 walks, a proof of the Triton bullpen consistency and effectiveness throughout the year.
Cruz, Larsen and Shirley were elected to the All-Tournament Team.
Eight seniors ended their UCSD career on this loss: right-handed pitcher Javier Carrillo Jr., catcher Brian Choi, Kolodin, Levy, Lewis, Mann, left-handed pitcher Chad Rieser and Scott. Triton ace Donatella might also be done with his collegiate career, as he has the potential to be drafted in the upcoming First–Year Major League Baseball Draft.
The roster will have an altered look next season with all these departures, especially in the bullpen, but will probably again play the first roles in the CCAA and remain a powerful contender for an NCAA championship bid.