Triton Bid For Conference Playoff Falls Short

 

Erik Jepsen/Guardian

SOFTBALL — Since only the top three teams in the league advance to the California Collegiate Athletic Association playoffs, No. 4 UCSD — tied with Humboldt State University in league standings — needed a four-game sweep in the regular-season series finale against Cal State San Bernardino from April 24 to April 25 in order to retain any hopes of postseason play.

Unfortunately, a series split against the Coyotes cost UCSD a spot in the CCAA playoffs, and jeopardized their chances at qualifying for this year’s National Collegiate Athletic Association Division-II Championships. However, the Tritons are still in contention to play at nationals if they end the season ranked in the top eight teams in the Western region of Division-II.

In the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, the Tritons intimidated the Coyotes early on by plating two runs by the second inning — thanks to freshman third baseman Katie Belanger’s base-clearing home run to center field.

The Tritons maintained momentum by tacking on three more runs by the sixth inning, one of which was junior outfielder Kris Lesovsky’s seventh of the season.

With sophomore right-hander Camille Gaito at the mound, the Coyotes struggled at the plate. Gaito singlehandedly pitched UCSD to a 5-1 victory, throwing a complete game and allowing the Coyotes only one run in the second inning.

The second game on Friday brought the Tritons back down. Gaito was only able to pitch one inning, tired after withstanding seven innings in the game prior. As a result, San Bernardino came to life for six runs against both Triton relief pitchers — junior Brittany Sheats and senior Christine Zankich — who allowed three runs each.

UCSD needed a quick rebuttal of runs quickly if they were to mount any rally against Coyote pitching. The team did manage to put a run on the board in the top of the fifth inning — courtesy of a well-struck home run over the left-field fence by junior transfer Rhiannon Ousley, her first as a Triton — but it was not enough.

“We came out excited,” Ousley said. “I did my best to help my team out”.

Despite recording three runs in the final inning, the Triton comeback efforts were in vain, and they walked away from the doubleheader with a 7-4 loss.

Junior infielder Jennifer DeFazio said the team’s inability to rally in the second game was in no way from lack of effort.

“We didn’t get the outcome we wanted,” DeFazio said. “But we played with our hearts and left it on the field”.

On Sunday, the Tritons knew they needed to take Game Three of the series to keep any hopes for the playoffs alive. Lesovsky took the lead, hitting a home run in the first inning. Although San Bernardino evened the score by the end of the first inning, the Tritons continued to tack on runs — one in the third inning, two in the sixth and one in the seventh — and held on for a 5-2 win.

Gaito was again a force on the mound, restricting the Coyotes to only two runs in seven innings for her second complete game performance in as many days. She improved her personal season record to 18-10 — the No. 4 best single-season tally in school history — and finished the regular season having pitched 21 complete games in 28 starts.

UCSD fell in the back end of the doubleheader for the second straight day, sealing a series loss.

In the top of the second inning, De Fazio drove the ball over left field for her first career home run. Lesovsky then followed with one of her own in the third inning — giving her one home run in each of the series’ games. Ousley also produced another solo homer — her second of the season — to put a third Triton run on the board.

However, the Coyotes matched the Triton’s scoring quickly, surging ahead with a three-run fifth inning to take a 6-3 advantage that they refused to relinquish. The series split against San Bernardino caused the Tritons to slip down to sixth place in the CCAA; they are now eliminated from conference playoff contention.

“We don’t like the feeling of losing,” Lesovsky said. “We’ll remember that for next year so that it won’t happen again, in order to make it all the way.”

Despite missing out on a top-three conference finish, the season was still a historic one for the team. The Tritons’ regular-season winning percentage of .600 — thanks to their 30-20 finish — is the highest the school has seen since 2001.

With the CCAA regular season behind them, the Tritons now wait for May 9 — the day the NCAA Divison-II Championships field will be announced — to see if they will get a spot in the postseason. To earn one, UCSD will need to retain its No. 8 ranking in the western region.

Readers can contact Yvonne Chow at [email protected].

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