Baseball ends surprising year on a winning note

    The UCSD baseball team played its last game of the 2002 season Tuesday at home against Chapman University after returning from its final regular season series last weekend in Davis, Calif.

    Guardian File photo

    The Tritons lost the final game of the four-game series against the UC Davis Aggies, leaving UCSD just one game shy of clinching a playoff berth.

    After struggling through six innings of play without a run, the Tritons scored once in the seventh and once in the ninth, but by then, UCSD was too far behind to come back. The Tritons finished with 11 hits in the game, but were hurt by their failure to convert many key opportunities.

    UCSD lost the game to the Aggies 5-2 in the series closer and saw its playoff hopes slip away.

    “”The loss was disappointing because we expected to win, but we went out there and beat two legitimate pitchers with our back against the wall in game three,”” said UCSD head coach Dan O’Brien. “”It was a must-win situation, and we beat arguably the best pitcher in the league [Aggie Greg Bruso]. [Bruso] had won nine consecutive games, [and that win] took us to Sunday. We don’t feel like we played well on Sunday, but it will just motivate us to be hungry for next year.””

    Triton pitcher Andy Hanau picked up the loss for UCSD and falls to 3-5 on the year. Designated hitter Jeff Riddle and center fielder Matt Smith had two knocks apiece for the Tritons in the loss.

    UC Davis’ Trevor Thornton earned the win for the Aggies, tossing eight and one-third innings en route to improving to 5-2, while closer Dave McKae picked up his sixth win of the year.

    Aggie shortstop Ryan Coultas had three hits in the winning effort, while third baseman Matt Kamigawachi, first baseman Dennis Flippen, left fielder Shaun McCullough and catcher Andrew Reisinger had two hits apiece.

    UCSD returned to Triton Baseball Stadium in high fashion where it played well and beat Division III powerhouse Chapman University 8-4 in the last game of the season.

    All nine Triton seniors were honored before the first pitch on Senior Day for their contributions to the UCSD baseball program.

    Triton pitcher James Sanders took a hiatus from his usual closing duties, got his first start of the season, and picked up the win when he improved to 3-1 on the year. Seniors John Schultz, Robert Peelle and John Beaven pitched in the victory, along with Raf Bergstrom and Tommy Sereno. Alexander Cremidan took over the closer role to shut down the Panthers with three-straight strikeouts in the ninth.

    UCSD third baseman Matt Merrifield doubled with two outs in the bottom of the second and then scored when senior second baseman Anthony Lococo singled up the middle. In the fourth, Jeff Riddle singled to center and Sullivan singled through the right side. Both would score later that inning, with Sullivan’s run coming on a wild pitch by Panther hurler Clint Blevins.

    Leading 4-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, UCSD rallied more offense and put three additional runs on the board.

    Sullivan led off the inning with a walk, and then Merrifield reached on a fielder’s choice. Brandon Walker pinch-ran for Merrifield and advanced to second on a wild pitch just before Lococo walked.

    After O’Brien inserted Garret Riddle to pinch-hit for right fielder David Hawk and Nigel Miller to pinch-run for Lococo, a Garret Riddle single through the right side drove in Walker on the play. Brett Burton then pinch ran for Garret Riddle and advanced to second on a wild pitch while Miller scored. Freshman shortstop Keith Hernandez singled to right field and scored Burton.

    Chapman tried to mount a comeback in the top of the eighth when designated hitter Enrique Heredia and catcher Matt Graves drew walks in the beginning of the inning. Panther third baseman Jason Miller also walked and loaded the bases for pinch hitter Elmer Roldan, who singled down the left field line and drove in Heredia and Graves for two runs.

    However, the Tritons closed out the game in the bottom of the eighth and put up an additional insurance run after Smith scored off of a Sullivan single.

    Smith, Jeff Riddle, Sullivan, Merrifield and Lococo had two hits apiece in the victory for UCSD. Senior first baseman Chad Addison also notched one hit.

    Panther Scott Akamine got the loss for Chapman and falls to 6-3 on the year.

    Panther right fielder C.J. Castillo went 3-for-3 on the day, while Heredia, Graves, left fielder Jeff Levering, pinch hitter Travis Otott and Roldan each had one.

    After a 14-34 start in Division II last year and a predicted 10th-place finish in the California Collegiate Athletic Association preseason poll this year, UCSD’s fifth-place finish in the 2002 season is all the more impressive.

    “”I think to get respect in any poll, you need to establish yourself, and that’s why I’m so proud of this team,”” O’Brien said. “”It’s a team I will never forget because it’s a team that put UCSD baseball legitimately on the baseball map.””

    With the victory, the Tritons improve to 30-23-1 overall — the first time UCSD baseball has earned 30 wins since 1994 when head coach Dan O’Brien was a junior first baseman for the Tritons.

    However, the Triton team will be hurting next year because nine seniors from the team are slated to graduate this June.

    “”We are undoubtedly going to take a hit,”” O’Brien said. “”Three of our starting pitchers are graduating, and you potentially lose your entire pitching staff, along with some infielders, but we’ve had a great recruiting year and we have a great returning ball club.””

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