Led by junior infielder JD Hearn, this week’s California Collegiate Athletic Association player of the week, No. 16 UCSD baseball swept San Francisco State in three games on Saturday and Sunday. All games were one-run contests, with UCSD coming up clutch in all three games. UCSD now holds a 26–13 overall record and 16–11 CCAA record while San Francisco State is at 16–17 overall and 9–13 in the league.
Game One: UCSD 6, SFSU 5 (11)
UCSD head coach Eric Newman continued to trust his crop of freshmen pitchers, sending out right-hander Kyle Mora to the mound to start the first game, which featured a nail-biting finish, with UCSD winning in walk-off fashion in the 11th inning.
Newman’s strategy almost backfired, when Mora allowed a season-high four hits and one walk in four innings. He was relieved by redshirt senior right-hander Alon Leichman, who pitched 4.2 innings, giving up a run in the fifth but shutting out San Francisco State for the remainder of the game, even retiring eight Gators in the seventh and eighth inning.
UCSD struck first in the third inning, scoring two runs on the Gators with junior infielder Tyler Howsley opening up the inning with a single and scoring shortly thereafter on a triple by Hern. Sophomore infielder Tyler Plantier then hit a single, scoring Hearn to make it 2–0 at the bottom of the third.
San Francisco State answered in explosive fashion at the top of the fourth, scoring four runs on the Tritons, which led to Leichman coming in relief for the fifth. Down 2–4, UCSD took the lead back at the bottom of the fourth, bringing in three more runs, as junior infielder Vince Mori was brought home on a flied out by Howsley. After redshirt junior outfielder Brandon Shirley walked, Hearn came to the plate and delivered once again with a double to left field, scoring Shirley and redshirt sophomore outfielder Justin Flatt.
The Gators leveled the game at the top of the fifth, and the score remained the same after the ninth, bringing the game into extra innings. The Tritons finally broke through in the 11th inning as Howsley singled to open up the inning and stole second on a wild pitch. After Shirley grounded out and Hearn walked, Howsley took advantage of a throwing error by the Gators’ third baseman to score the winning run out from second base.
“We showed up to practice this week on a mission and did stuff with conviction today”, Hearn told the athletics department. “The first half of the season was kind of a hit and miss for me but I’ve been working on stuff in the cage and that has really been the key for me lately.”
Game Two: UCSD 8, SFSU 7
Freshman left-hander Preston Mott got the start for the second game of Saturday’s double-header.
“We have a lot of young pitchers and they’re really progressing as the year goes on,” Hearn said. “We are very young but we are also getting really mature and it’s going to help us out in the end.”
UCSD’s offense was steady and consistent, scoring in every inning but the fourth and ninth. The Tritons opened a 2–0 lead after Hearn scored in the first and Flatt scored in the second. San Francisco State answered in the third with one run of its own. In the bottom of the third, Larsen scored for the Tritons. Hearn and Flatt scored their second runs of the day in the fifth and sixth, bringing the score up to 5–1.
Things heated up in the seventh, when San Francisco State finally got its offense going, scoring two runs. However, UCSD answered through Larsen (unearned) and Plantier on a wild pitch. UCSD thought it had put the game away after the eighth inning, having put up another run and leading 8–3.
However, the Gators attempted a furious comeback in the top of the ninth and UCSD had trouble closing the game out, after getting the two first batters out. On an error by the Tritons, the Gators scored three on an inside-the-park home run. San Francisco State brought one more runner in, putting the heat on the Tritons, but UCSD managed to get the last Gator batter to fly-out, closing out the two-game sweep of the double-header on a 8–7 score.
Mott pitched for seven innings in his team-leading 10th start and allowed three runs combined with a season-high nine hits and one walk.
Game Three: UCSD 3, SFSU 2
The third game of the series was another tight one, as UCSD needed a single by junior outfielder Christian Leung to win the game after it was tied 2–2 until the eighth inning. Hearn continued to be on fire with his third consecutive three-hit game, scoring UCSD’s final two runs. Freshman right-hander Tim Nelson got the win in relief, bringing his record up to 7–1, putting him at the top of the CCAA for the category.
Meanwhile, freshman right-hander Jonah Dipoto earned his first collegiate start. Both the Gators and Tritons got runners on base, but nobody scored until the top of the third, when San Francisco State scored off of Dipoto.
“It’s really important to get off to a good start on the mound,” Newman said. “A couple of really good at-bats put us in position to win that game. Credit goes to the players; they’ve put in a lot of hard work to get those results.”
UCSD tied it up in the fourth, with a lucky bounce allowing Leung to get a double, which eventually produced an unearned tying run.
The Tritons continued to push in the bottom of the the sixth, with Hearn and Larsen leading off with singles. Plantier then grounded out, and Hearn was able to score, putting UCSD in the lead.
However, the Gators tied things up again at the top of the eighth, as Hearn opened up the bottom of the eighth for the Tritons with a single. But Larsen had a sacrifice fly,advancing Hearn to second and eventually to third through a flyout by Plantier. That’s when Leung stepped up to the plate and drilled a single to right field, bringing in Hearn for the game-winning run.
“JD’s worked really hard,” Newman said. “He’s making adjustments and stuck with it. Even when he was struggling he stayed up and stayed ready.”
With the three wins, UCSD still stands a game behind Cal Poly Pomona for the lead in the CCAA South Division. The Tritons face a tough test next week, heading up north to face Cal State Monterey Bay, the leader of the North Division. First pitch for the first game is at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 23.