At the Peak of Their Game

 

Erik Jepsen/Guardian

With only a slim two-game margin separating the first-place UCSD baseball team from second place Cal State Dominguez Hills in league standings, a four-game series showdown between the two California Collegiate Athletic Association juggernauts — from April 23 to April 25 — was postured for a tense, closely fought battle for the top spot. A series victory for the nationally ranked No. 10 Toros would see them pull closer in the standings, and undermine the No. 2 Tritons’ regular season title push.

However, any doubts as to the pedigree of UCSD were stamped out last weekend, when the Tritons clinched the CCAA regular season championship in style, sweeping Dominguez Hills by scores of 5-2, 10-1, 21-3 and 9-1. They dominated their opponents in every aspect of the game, scoring 45 runs on 71 hits throughout the four-game streak. In total, UCSD starting pitchers allowed just seven runs.

On Friday, the Tritons hosted the Toros at Triton Ballpark. Junior starting pitcher Tim Shibuya continued his dominant season by hurling his fourth complete game, allowing just eight hits and one earned run and improving his personal season record to nine wins and two losses. The Toros did put two on the board early, but Shibuya shut them down for the final six frames.

At the plate, UCSD senior infielder Brandon Gregorich went three-for-four with two doubles and four runs batted in. Senior shortstop Vance Albitz finished three-for-five with a triple, and junior outfielder Aaron Bauman went three-for-four with two runs scored. The Tritons took the series opener with a score of 5-2.

The next two games took place on Saturday at Toro Field in Carson, Calif., in a doubleheader. In the first game, UCSD dominated the infield and outfield. Junior starter Guido Knudson kept the Toro hitters at bay by hurling three innings, allowing only one run and striking out five. The offense provided Knudson with ample run support: Senior catcher Kellen Lee went three-for-four with a pair of doubles, sophomore Danny Susdorf drove in four runs and both Gregorich and Bauman scored three runs apiece. UCSD took the first game of the day at a whopping score of 10-1.

Knudson said his success on the mound could be attributed to the help of his battery partners — catchers Lee and junior Michael Benton — his own competitive spirit and the work he’s done with assistant coach Ryan Leake.

“I am being myself on the mound out there and just having fun competing with each batter,” Knudson said. “I can’t say enough about how much Kellen [Lee] and Mike [Benton] are doing behind the plate in making me a better pitcher. I also think Coach Leake really taught me to know who I am as a pitcher, and it’s made me much better on the field.”

In the second game of the doubleheader, with the CCAA championship in their sights, the unrelenting Tritons battered the Toros and further demonstrated their authority in the league. Junior outfielder Kyle Saul, junior third baseman Evan Kehoe, Gregorich and Albitz combined for 12 RBIs, 11 hits and nine runs in a game where the Triton offense scored 21 runs on 22 hits. Saul hit his sixth home run of the year, while Kehoe hit his seventh.

Benefiting from plenty of run support, senior starting pitcher Kirby St. John threw five solid innings, allowing no runs on four hits as the Tritons clinched the CCAA title with a lopsided 21-3 victory.

With the league title in the bag, the series resumed at Triton Ballpark on Sunday for Senior Day — the last home game for several graduating players. Seniors Matt Rossman, Albitz and Gregorich all turned in memorable performances.

Rossman, the starting pitcher, tossed seven scoreless innings of four-hit ball, earning the win and improving his personal record to 8-0. Behind him, Gregorich went two-for-three with a home run, two RBIs and two runs scored. Bauman went three-for-four with two runs and two RBIs as well, while Albitz broke the career hits record in the third inning.

The Tritons topped off the four-game series sweep — their eighth of the year — with a 9-1 victory.

“That was a special Senior Day to cap off an outstanding weekend,” head coach Dan O’Brien said in an interview with the UCSD Athletic Department. “We are starting to play our best baseball at the right time.”

The Tritons will travel up north this weekend to face San Francisco State (22-28, 15-21 CCAA) in their final regular-season series of the year.

Knudson said that while taking the league title is satisfying, the Tritons still have more to work for.

“First place is nice and is a testament to our work ethic and drive to win,” Knudson said. “But it’s just the start of what we are striving for in our goals as a team.”

Readers can contact Cameron Tillisch at [email protected].

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