Baseball Bounces Back

BASEBALL — After a disappointing 1-2 start, the No. 15 UCSD
baseball team salvaged a split in the four-game season-opening series with Western
by completing a comeback victory, 3-2, over the Wolves in a
Feb. 4 make-up game.

When rain postponed the finale, the Tritons had just played
three games, winning the opener on Feb. 1 by one run and losing both games in a
doubleheader on Feb. 2 by a total of three runs. It was fitting that the finale
was another one-run game, as the Tritons tied the game in the seventh inning
with a two-run homerun from redshirt freshman Kyle Saul and then took the lead
in the eighth when junior second-baseman Garrett Imeson drove in the
game-winning run with a single.

Freshman right-handed pitcher Tim Shibuya came out of the bullpen and held Western Oregon scoreless over 4 1/3 innings, allowing only two hits and a walk and striking out six Wolves in a 3-2 win on Feb. 4. (Karen Ling/Guardian)

“Considering how poorly we played all weekend, we were lucky
to get out of there with a split,” head coach Dan O’Brien said. “But at the
same time, we found a way to win a game that we had absolutely had to win on
Monday…against a team that has a pretty good chance to go to a Regional at
the end of this year.”

The Tritons looked like they were in for another loss when
the Wolves came out swinging to lead off the game. Freshman starting pitcher
Nick Young ran into some trouble in the early goings, allowing two runs on
three hits in the first inning. The young pitcher managed to escape without
much more damage, leaving the bases loaded and keeping his team within reach.

Young lasted another 1 2/3 innings and didn’t allow any more
runs before giving way to freshman Tim Shibuya, who was masterful in relief,
saving the rest of the bullpen from work by turning in 4 1/3 innings of
scoreless work in which he allowed only two hits and a walk and struck out six.

“The two best things in life are good friends and a good
bullpen and, well, this could be the first year in my tenure at UCSD where we
have a chance to have a lights-out bullpen,” O’Brien said.

Shibuya’s gutsy performance kept the Wolves’ lead at only
two runs until the seventh inning, when Saul sent a ball deep to left field to
tie the game.

Despite Saul’s heroics, it took some more clutch relief
pitching and another timely hit to give the Tritons the victory and the series
split. After the freshman pitchers did all they could do, O’Brien went to
veterans in the late innings, first calling on senior right-hander Keith Noe to
stymie the Wolves in the eighth. Noe did just as his coach wanted, setting the Western
hitters down in order and setting the stage for Imeson’s
game-winning hit.

Junior third-baseman Justin Bono led off the bottom of the
eighth inning with a single up the middle and advanced to second on a bunt
single by sophomore shortstop Vance Albitz. Both runners advanced on a passed
ball and with no outs the heart of the Triton lineup headed to the plate.

Imeson was the first Triton to get a crack at driving in the
go-ahead run, and he came through, singling to center field to send Bono home
for a 3-2 lead. Still with no outs and runners at first and third, the Tritons
looked for some insurance runs but were put down and forced to head into the
ninth clinging to a one-run lead.

New closer, senior Nick Rodieck, came in to earn the tough
save and had no problem, setting the Wolves down in order, including a
strikeout to open the inning. Rodieck has now earned saves in both of UCSD’s
victories and looks comfortable so far in his new role as one of the team’s
closers, along with Noe.

According to O’Brien, the Tritons will need two closers
available to get through a four-game series, especially when the games are
close, as they were this past week.

“[Those] veterans in the bullpen we think are going to be
able to finish games for us,” O’Brien said. “It’s a pretty good 1-2 punch and
we think it’s going to be a successful combination throughout the year.”

UCSD also took on Cal State San Marcos in a nonleague game
on Feb. 6 and won 10-3 behind four home runs but further details were
unavailable as of press time.

Next, the Tritons will take on Grand

Feb. 8 to 10 and Barry University
Feb. 15 to 17 with both four-game series serving as tuneups before league play
begins on Feb. 21, when they host Cal State San Bernardino in their CCAA

Unlike in the previous two games, when UCSD lost by a total of three runs, the Tritons got clutch hitting throughout the lineup to pull off the 3-2 victory on Feb. 4. (Erik Jepsen/Guardian File)