UCSD Battles Chico State to Series Split

Ching Wu/Guardian

BASEBALL — The No. 3 nationally ranked UCSD men’s baseball team suffered a heartbreaking series opener when it hosted No. 23 Chico State at Triton Ballpark from Feb. 19 through Feb. 21.

The Tritons opened CCAA play by carrying a 6-3 lead into the final frame, but the Triton wheels came off and the Wildcats came back for a 10-9 win against the UCSD bullpen.

Junior right-hander Tim Shibuya turned in a solid effort for UCSD, allowing four earned runs and striking out an impressive nine Wildcat hitters over 8.1 innings.

Despite carrying a lead into the ninth inning, a three-run home run dagger gave Chico an 8-6 lead which the team then built on with seven more ninth-inning runs for a 10-6 victory.

A three-run shot off the bat of junior outfielder Kyle Saul gave the Tritons one last gasp of breath in the bottom of the ninth, but they ended up falling one run short at 9-10.

Saul finished the game one single short of the cycle, going 3-5 with four RBIs.

“One adjustment we need to make as a team is to make sure that we dictate the tempo of the game and take our game to the other team,” Saul said. “As an offense, we need to make sure that we keep our approach at the plate for the entire game.”

The second game of the doubleheader — postponed to Saturday due to weather — ended in another win for Chico, who outlasted the Tritons through 11 innings to notch a 9-6 victory.

Senior catcher Kellen Lee’s cycle from the plate provided one of the few bright spots in the game for the Tritons in the extra inning battle, but wasn’t enough to defeat the Wildcats, who scored three runs in the 11th inning.

“One thing we did not do well was take advantage of our opportunities we had on offense with runners [in] scoring position,” Lee said. “Chico did come through in those situations. We just left too many people on base.”

The Tritons were eager to at least split the series with Chico, and dug deep in the final two games of the series, thanks to a series of strong pitching performances.

Immediately after the rescheduled game, the Tritons played another nine innings with more favorable results.

Senior right-hander Matt Rossman tossed a complete game for the 4-3 win.

Rossman got off to a slow start in the third game, giving up back-to-back doubles that led to two first-inning runs.

However after giving up three runs on six hits in the first two innings, Rossman settled down to shut the Wildcats out for the final seven innings, en route to a complete game victory.

The Tritons took the lead in the fifth inning when senior outfielder Robert Sedin doubled, and fellow senior shortstop Vance Albitz followed with a single.

Junior third-baseman Evan Kehoe then hit a sacrifice fly, giving the Tritons a 4-3 lead.

Rossman struck out five and walked just two in the 4-3 victory, improving his record to 2-0 and pitching his first complete game of the season.

UCSD salvaged the series split by winning the fourth game 8-7 on Sunday.

After the Wildcats came out with a four-run lead in the second, hopes of a series split looked unlikely for the Tritons — but three runs in the third and three more in the fifth gave UCSD a 6-4 lead.

UCSD senior starting pitcher Kirby St. John clamped down after allowing four early runs to the Wildcats, pitching into the seventh inning with the lead.

He was followed by senior reliever Eric Abraham, who quickly allowed two Wildcat runners on base — warranting his substitution for sophomore reliever Elias Tuma.

Tuma entered the game at a tense a 7-7 game, with the bases loaded and one out in the top half of the second.

He answered the call brilliantly, escaping the inning after inducing a 1-2-3 double play and leaving the game all tied up.

In the bottom half of the eighth, Saul started things off for UCSD with a walk. Senior outfielder Chris Fung advanced Saul to first on a grounder, and after senior first baseman Brandon Gregorich was intentionally walked, a double steal by Saul and Gregorich put Triton men on second and third.

After Kehoe was hit by a pitch, Benton stepped up to the plate with bases loaded and came through for UCSD with a sacrifice fly to center, propelling the Tritons to an 8-7 win and series split.

“One thing that we did very well was never giving up,” Lee said. “We were down a few runs at one point in each game, and we continuously fought back to make it [a] closer game, and even took the lead. That is one thing that exemplifies our program as a whole. We never let down, whether we are winning or losing.”

Tritons now sit at 11-3 overall and 2-2 in CCAA action. Chico State stands at 6-2 in CCAA play.

The Tritons will complete their homestand as they continue conference action against Cal State Monterey Bay University.

The Tritons then bring their string of successes up against the Otters.

Last season, the Tritons managed to win all four games in Seaside. The first pitch of the series is slotted for 2 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 26 at Triton Ballpark.

“All we need to do is take care of the baseball on defense and capitalize on the offensive opportunities we have,” Lee said. “When we play the way we can, and stick to our overall approach as a team, we will be pretty tough to beat moving forward in the season.”

Readers can contact Cameron Tillisch at [email protected].

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