Early Struggles Swept Away

    After a less than stellar start to a season that began with high expectations, the UCSD baseball team finally played to its full potential for an entire four-game series, sweeping the Regis University squad at Triton Baseball Stadium with scores of 22-0, 16-5, 2-1 and 13-7 from Feb. 16 to Feb. 18.

    WILL PARSON/Guardian
    Senior catcher David Morehead rounds third following a home run as last year’s California Collegiate Athletic Association Freshman of the Year Garrett Imeson awaits him at the plate. Morehead and the Tritons crossed the plate early and often in their series sweep against Regis Univeristy.

    The Tritons started the season ranked No. 30 out of all Division II teams in the nation, but some early season struggles, including dropping two of three games to Grand Canyon University, dropped the team in the rankings and put the competitiveness of this year’s team in question.

    However, after winning the last game against Grand Canyon University and sweeping the Rangers, the Tritons are riding a five-game winning streak as they head into the start of their California Collegiate Athletic Association schedule with four games against Cal Poly Pomona starting today.

    A key to the Tritons’ current win streak is their explosive offense, which has put 66 runs together over the five games. The 22 runs the Tritons put up in the series opener against Regis University were the most the team has scored in a single game since 1999. Head coach Dan O’Brien said that his team has the power to pull up these types of numbers game after game.

    Will Parsons/Guardian
    Freshman right-handed pitcher Eric Abraham is one of the Tritons’ many young talented arms. Sophomore Trevor Decker is another, as he demonstrated with a complete game win.

    “”We certainly have the capability to play at that level every day,”” he said. “”The challenge for the hitters is to bring that intensity every game, and if they do, we have a chance to be pretty good offensively all year long.””

    While the offense was behind UCSD’s wins in games one, two and four, the third game, the second of a doubleheader on Feb. 17, was a pitching duel between sophomore Trevor Decker and Rangers’ sophomore right-hander Brennan Bonati. Decker and Bonati exchanged scoreless innings until the fifth, when both pitchers surrendered one run. With a tied ballgame, O’Brien decided to keep Decker on the mound, while Bonati was pulled in favor of senior Jeff Mienicki. O’Brien’s decision paid off, as Decker went on to pitch a complete game, allowing only the one earned run on four hits and a walk and tallied three strikeouts. He picked up the win thanks to a walk-off home run by senior third baseman Jonathan Erickson.

    As his decision to keep the young pitcher in illustrates, O’Brien has immense faith in Decker.

    “”Trevor was probably pressing a little bit early knowing that he was the ace of the staff and felt a little pressure due to higher expectations,”” he said. “”But as expected, he settled down.””

    It was good that Decker calmed his nerves because it put him in the position to pick up the win on Erickson’s homer, something Erickson was happy to do for the pitcher.

    “”Trevor deserves it,”” Erickson said. “”He’s a great athlete and a great pitcher. He held them to one run and we should have put up more runs, but he did an amazing job and I’m just glad he got the win.””

    After posting such high run totals in the first two games, it was surprising to see such a low-scoring game from UCSD’s high-powered offense, but as O’Brien explained, “”That’s baseball.””

    “”Games take on personalities and that became a pitcher’s duel because two guys were throwing pretty well,”” O’Brien said. “”I thought our hitters were pressing a little bit in that game; they were probably a bit tired after a long game Friday and a long game Saturday morning, so we didn’t have the same focus at the plate. But we found a way to win the ballgame and that’s all that matters.””

    The Tritons may not have found a way to escape with a win if it weren’t for Erickson’s heroic shot, a pull ball to left-center that came on an 0-1 fastball.

    “”I was just thinking get on base so we can have a chance to score, so I tried a push bunt, but fouled it off so it was 0-1,”” Erickson said. “”After that I was just looking fastball and he gave me one middle-in and I swung and hit and as soon as I connected, I knew it was gone.””

    Getting the walk-off home run and a series sweep should give the Tritons the momentum they need as they head into the start of their CCAA schedule. UCSD will play two games at Cal Poly Pomona on Feb. 22 and 23 before returning home to face the Broncos for a doubleheader on Feb. 24.

    When asked if he prepares any differently for the tougher teams on UCSD’s CCAA schedule, O’Brien said he prefers to maintain a regular approach to all of the Tritons’ games.

    “”We go about it as though every team in our conference is nameless and faceless,”” he said. “”We don’t want to prepare to play against another team as much as we want to play to the best of our abilities. Our guys get in trouble when they start gearing up for certain opponents.””

    No matter how the Tritons prepare for their games, the players must know that these CCAA games mean a lot more than a series against Regis University and that their coach has high hopes for the team this year.

    “”We absolutely expect a [CCAA] title,”” O’Brien said. “”But that said, we understand that we don’t have a lot of control over that versus how we go about things on a daily basis.””

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