Otters Swept Away at Triton Ballpark

John Hanacek/Guardian

BASEBALL — With a 15-3 overall record, the UCSD baseball team is ranked No. 3 in the nation. If you ask the players, team chemistry is stronger than its ever been. Coincidence? Hardly.

The Tritons completed their third series sweep of the season against Cal State Monterey Bay on Feb. 26 through Feb. 28. Senior pitcher Daniel Simmons attributed the early season success to a tight team connection — one he described as potentially stronger than last year’s national-semifinalist squad.

“We have fun on and off the field,” Simmons said. “We’re having a great time crap-talking and joking around.”

Of course, jokes and trash-talk don’t win games, but the Tritons brought a lot more than that to their game against Monterey Bay. The team overwhelmed the Otters with stellar pitching and an offense that scored emphatic 10-3, 9-2, 12-1 and 9-3 victories en route to sweeping the four-game series. UCSD now stands at 6-2 in California Collegiate Athletic Association play.

The series began with a doubleheader on Feb. 26. Behind the right arm of CCAA Pitcher of the Week junior Tim Shibuya, the Tritons coasted to a 10-3 victory. Shibuya tossed a complete game, allowing six hits, one earned run and five Otter hitters. Seven of nine position players racked up multiple hits.

The second game saw junior right-handed pitcher Guido Knudson return to the starting rotation after a year in the bullpen as the Tritons’ closer. Before racking up 10 saves in the 2009 season, Knudson was the No. 2 pitcher in the rotation as a freshman. The coaching staff decided to move Knudson back into the rotation.

“We are all pretty excited about it,” head coach Dan O’Brien said. “Guido was pretty nasty on Friday as a starter. The nice thing is going into the postseason, sometimes you need five starters and we’re going to have multiple guys with experience going into the end of the year.”

Knudson’s return to the rotation was dominant: He took a no-hitter into the fifth inning.

“I haven’t really taken anything differently,” Knudson said. “My goal is to go out there and pound strikes, put them on their heels and take my game to them. I don’t really care what role I’m in.”

Seven of nine hitters collected multiple hits in the victory. Senior shortstop Vance Albitz’s lone hit of the game brought his career-hits tally to 260, surpassing Bob Natal for second on UCSD’s all-time hits leaders. Albitz is creeping up on the all-time mark of 306 career hits, held by former teammate Garrett Imeson.

On Sunday, in another doubleheader, UCSD set its sights on a series sweep. The offense was led by senior centerfielder Robert Sedin, who went three for four with two runs and two RBIs. Senior right-hander Matt Rossman had another solid outing, tossing seven scoreless innings and improving his record to 3-0.

“I used my changeup a lot more today, and they were really aggressive, making it easy on me with first pitch outs,” Rossman said. “Our starters are doing well and our offense is really picking us up. This year, our offense has stepped up big time. Pitching with a lead is easy.”

Senior starting pitcher Kirby St. John got off to a shaky start in the final game of the series, allowing three runs in the first two innings. He then settled down, giving up only one hit over the next five.

“Kirby is a veteran,” O’Brien said. “He was getting roughed up a little bit … and he just bounced right back and kept pounding the strike zone. He’s a veteran, and — as a fourth-year starter — we expect him to keep his composure and know the offense is going to pick him up.”

A number of factors have played into UCSD’s early season success. An explosive offensive lineup has provided substantial run support for a deep pitching rotation led by Rossman and Shibuya, and a stout defense has kept opposing offenses in check.

Rossman said that most importantly, close team chemistry that has propelled the Tritons to their 15-3 start.

“Chemistry is an overlooked part of baseball,” Rossman said. “In my three years here, we are closer as a group this year than we ever have been, and obviously it’s translating onto the field. When you know someone off the field, it makes it real easy to trust them on the field.”

The Tritons now head on the road to face off against Cal State East Bay from Mar. 5 to Mar. 7 — their first away series of the season.

Readers can contact Cameron Tillisch at [email protected].