Bats Lift UCSD in League Opener

    Junior second baseman Garrett was one of many Tritons that crossed the plate in a series against Cal State San Bernardino, as UCSD combined to score 35 runs in three wins to open the conference schedule. (Erik Jepsen/Guardian File)

    Baseball — The No. 9 UCSD baseball team opened its
    California Collegiate Athletic Association schedule with three straight wins
    over Cal State San Bernardino before the finale of the four-game series was
    rained out on Feb. 24.

    The series started with the Tritons exploding for 13 runs to
    open their conference schedule with a big win in front of a home crowd on Feb.
    21. The teams then took a day off before UCSD traveled to San
    Bernardino
    for a doubleheader on Feb. 22. The Triton offense
    was clicking once again, as UCSD scored 22 runs in two more wins. The day’s
    first game ended in a 10-5 UCSD victory and the second game lasted only seven
    innings due to rain delays but saw the Tritons barely come away with a 12-11
    win in the nightcap.

    “It was great to start with three wins in conference; I
    think it was more important to get the wins the way we did,” head coach Dan
    O’Brien said. “Our guys showed a tremendous amount of character and
    competitiveness and I was just very impressed with they way they handled
    adversity throughout the weekend.”

    While the Tritons didn’t get a chance to complete the
    four-game sweep, they did showcase their offensive firepower in every game of
    the series, totaling 35 runs in three games. In the 12-11 win, the Tritons
    barely eked out a win after exploding for 10 runs in the third inning.

    “As good as we swung the bats this weekend I think we can be
    even better,” O’Brien said. “If our guys continue to focus on getting better
    everyday and having quality at bats as the season goes on, we could have a
    pretty phenomenal offense.”

    Despite the offensive burst, UCSD nearly lost the game after
    its normally reliable relief corps allowed six runs over 6.2 innings on top of
    the five runs that junior starting pitcher Trevor Decker gave up in just a
    third of the innings. Keith Noe was the first relief pitcher able to stifle the
    Coyotes, as he pitched the final 4.1 innings, allowing only one run to earn the
    win.

    In the other two wins, the Tritons did not have to deal with
    the Coyotes nipping at their heels as their offense put them out in front by
    large margins early on. In the first game of the doubleheader on Feb. 22, UCSD
    scored five runs each in the second and third innings and that was all the
    Tritons needed as they cruised to a 10-5 win.

    Once again, UCSD got a shaky performance from a starting
    pitcher, but this time, the bullpen lived up to its early season expectations
    and kept the Coyotes from clawing their way back into the game. Sophomore
    right-hander Kirby St. John took the mound to replace freshman starter Guido
    Knudson and turned in a brilliant performance to earn the win, pitching 3.2
    innings of scoreless work in which he struck out eight Coyotes.

    In the opener on Feb. 21, UCSD again used a big inning to
    cruise to victory. This time it came in the seventh, when the Tritons, leading
    6-5, put together a seven-run inning to jump out to a 13-5 lead they would not
    relinquish.

    Senior designated hitter Chris Franco led the Tritons
    offensively, going 4-for-5 with a homer, three runs scored and three RBIs.
    Junior third-baseman Justin Bono came in as a defensive replacement in the
    sixth and hit a grand slam one inning later.

    With the wins, the Tritons improve to 13-3 overall and 3-0
    in their early conference schedule. Prior to the series, UCSD held the 16th
    ranking in Division II but was bumped up to ninth after the impressive series
    win.

    “My stock answer is that [the rankings] don’t mean
    anything,” O’Brien said. “But at the same time, we worked really hard to get
    the program to this point. And so I’m very proud to get that respect from the
    other coaches in the nation and I think our players should be very proud to put
    themselves in this position. And I think it’s great for us to have that
    bullseye on our back and to play the whole season under those circumstances.
    It’s only going to make us better.”

    UCSD will next host Cal Poly Pomona for two games on Feb. 28
    and Feb. 29 before traveling to Pomona
    for a doubleheader on March 1 in the start of twelve straight league games.

    “There are no weekends off in our conference,” O’Brien said.
    “Anybody in our conference on any given day can give you a heck of a game. But
    if we just play our game and execute to our capabilities, I don’t think there’s
    anybody we can’t beat on any given day.”

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