Chart Toppers

John Hanacek/Guardian FILE

BASEBALL — Already having amassed a school-record 19-game winning streak since their Feb. 19 loss to Chico State University, the UCSD baseball team can now add the nation’s No. 1 ranking to its growing list of accolades in 2010.

The Tritons swept their series against Cal State Sonoma State University from March 12 to March 14 to earn the No. 1 ranking, then continued to dominate another four-game series against Cal Poly Pomona over spring break between March 25 and March 27. They improved their record to 28-3 overall and 18-2 in California Collegiate Athletic Association play.

But according to senior pitcher Matt Rossman, the No. 1 spot and record win streak hasn’t gone to the players’ heads. Rossman emphasized that the team must hold onto its humility throughout the season.

“The No.1 ranking is cool,” Rossman said. “It’s an honor, and we have earned it. Our success and recognition is providing even more motivation for us. We aren’t satisfied with where we’re at, and know that we still have things to improve upon.”

In a four-game home stand against Sonoma State, the Tritons did not leave much room for error. They made easy work of the Seawolves on an effective balance of pitching and offense, earning another four victories to tack to their last 15.

In the opener, junior right-hander Tim Shibuya was nearly unhittable, throwing eight innings of two-hit ball. UCSD cruised to a 10-2 win behind Shibuya’s arm, and followed with solid pitching efforts from Rossman and junior right-hander Guido Knudson to take games two and three by scores of 9-7 and 4-3.

Game four of the series saw an offensive outburst, as UCSD exploded for 15 hits in a 12-3 victory to seal the series sweep. Senior first baseman Brandon Gregorich went three-for-four with two doubles, two runs and two runs batted in (RBI), while junior second basemen Blake Tagmyer added three RBIs and two runs. They continued to eat up Seawolves pitching until the ninth inning.

Sonoma dropped to 9-13, 2-10 in CCAA play.

Prior to the series against Cal Poly Pomona, UCSD hosted Cal State San Marcos in a non conference game on March 22, coming out on top 8-4.

Junior catcher Kellen Lee delivered a three-hit game, including a home run and three RBIs. The Tritons sent out nine different pitchers in the game to keep their arms fresh for league play.

In a home-and-home series — in which each team plays host for two of four series games — the Tritons swept Cal Poly Pomona in back-to-back matchups in Pomona on March 25 and March 26.

The Tritons then won both games in a doubleheader at Triton Ballpark on March 27 to complete the four-game sweep.

Shibuya dominated off the mound once again for the Tritons in game one, coasting through seven innings conceding just one earned run.

Kehoe provided three RBIs and senior shortstop Vance Albitz added three hits, allowing UCSD to ease into a 7-3 win.

Rossman pitched all nine innings to go the distance in game two, allowing two unearned runs on five hits.

The complete game effort was just enough for a 5-2 victory –one that Rossman said was mentally and physically taxing.

“We talk about the mental game a lot, and it’s something we take pride in,” Rossman said. “The average fan doesn’t realize how mental baseball is, and the average team doesn’t spend enough time working on it. Physically, it’s exhausting. It was pretty hot in Pomona, and I definitely didn’t cruise through that game. I didn’t have my best stuff, and had to battle my way out of some jams I put myself in. Mentally, I keep telling myself out there, ‘They will not beat me.’ I hate to lose.”

Triton Ballpark provided no refuge for Pomona. They were demolished 11-0 in game three thanks to a scoreless seven-inning effort out of senior pitcher Kirby St. John and an offensive show by junior second baseman Blake Tagmyer.

Tagmyer opened the game with a three-RBI double in the first inning and a three-run home run in the second. His six RBIs and St. John’s impressive pitching was too much for the Broncos to handle, and the Tritons won easily.

The final game in the series was highlighted by a gutsy performance from Knudson, who threw over five innings while allowing four hits and two earned runs.

Junior outfielder Kyle Saul was one at-bat short of the natural cycle, going 3-3; Kehoe added a home run; and Cal Poly Pomona fell to 17-16 overall and 9-11 in CCAA action.

With their series sweep of Cal Poly Pomona, the Tritons surpassed UCSD’s school record of 16 consecutive wins, pushing their streak to 19 games.

While the No. 1 ranking earned the Tritons some respect, Kehoe said expectations will only rise.

“The No. 1 ranking is more of a recognition thing than anything,” Kehoe said. “The rankings really don’t mean anything besides the fact that we are getting some respect nationally. We know we deserve the No. 1 ranking because we know we are the best team in the country, but it doesn’t change the way we go about things at all. We still show up every day and outwork everyone else in the nation.”

Kehoe says the team’s success is rooted in the players’ work ethic.

“The mentality we have is that we may not have the most talent in the nation, but we have outworked everyone else,” Kehoe said. “We play teams that we know haven’t worked as hard as we have — and that, in turn, makes us feel we deserve it more. Nineteen straight is a product of knowing we are better than everyone else, outworking the other team and trusting our preparation — nothing more.”

Thus far, the season’s success has been attributed to consistency in every area of play: the rotation, lineup, bullpen and bench.

At the top of the rotation, Rossman and junior right-hander Tim Shibuya have served as an outstanding 1-2 punch. Rossman now stands 6-0 with a 2.17 Earned Run Average (ERA), while Shibuya stands at 7-0 with a 2.22 ERA.

Junior designated hitter Aaron Bauman leads the Triton offense with a .444 batting average and an astonishing .603 on-base percentage. Gregorich leads the team with an impressive 46 RBI so far this season.

The Tritons will now set their sights on Cal State San Bernadino, working to keep the streak alive in another home-and-home series this weekend. The Coyotes are currently 16-10 overall and 15-9 in CCAA play.

“No one talks about the fact that we have won 19 straight,” Rossman said. “Sure, we all know it, but the important thing is that we are only focused on the future and getting better. We talk about taking things one game, one inning and one out at a time. That keeps us in the present and doesn’t allow us to get caught up in external hype that is out of our control.”

Readers can contact Cameron Tillisch at [email protected].

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