Repeat Champs

Erik Jepsen/Guardian

UCSD steamrolled through the NCAA West Region this weekend, earning three wins in three days to take the regional title and secure a trip to the College World Series for the second year in a row.

The top-ranked Tritons crushed Hawaii Pacific University 12–0 on May 13, then fought for a narrow 4–3 victory over conference rival No. 24 Cal State Dominguez Hills on May 14. After Hawaii Pacific defeated Cal State Dominguez Hills in an elimination game to merit a spot in the final, the Tritons beat the Sea Warriors for the second time in three days to clinch their second consecutive NCAA West Regional title.

“We had great energy all tournament and were just having fun being ourselves as a team,” junior pitcher Guido Knudson said. “It was one of the best weekends of baseball I have experienced. You can’t describe playoff baseball and the chemistry we had in the dugout and on the field all weekend.”

Held at the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., the tournament opened with a resounding win for the Tritons. Junior pitcher Tim Shibuya recorded his school-record 12th win of the year, while junior catcher Kellen Lee had four runs batted in and the Tritons cruised to an easy 12–0 win.

The team’s next game against Cal State Dominguez Hills was a significantly tighter affair. Holding onto a slim 3–2 advantage in the top of the ninth inning, the Tritons looked on as senior starting pitcher Matt Rossman allowed two base runners. Junior pitcher Daniel Simmons came on to try to convert the save opportunity, but gave up a double to center to the Toros’ Derrick Duarte — allowing one run to score. Fortunately for the Tritons, though, the potential winning run was thrown out at the plate, thanks to an excellent relay from senior outfielder Robert Sedin and senior shortstop Vance Albitz.

With the score tied 3–3 in the bottom of the ninth, Sedin drew a walk and advanced to second on a balk by the Toros’ pitcher. Albitz was intentionally walked to set up a potential double-play opportunity, but junior outfielder Kyle Saul laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance the runners to second and third with just one out.

The Toros intentionally walked junior Aaron Bauman to allow a possible force-out at home plate, but the Tritons next hitter — senior first baseman Brandon Gregorich — was hit by a pitch, and the winning run came in to score.

In the title game on May 15, the Tritons rode a seven-run fifth inning and capitalized on a complete game performance from Knudson for a 9–4 victory. UCSD had eight extra base hits in the game and 12 in total, while five different players had RBIs.

The Tritons sent 10 hitters to the plate in the fifth inning, capped by a two-run homer from junior catcher Lee that brought the score to 7–1.

The right-handed Knudson allowed only four runs in all nine innings, walking two and striking out five. After striking out the final two Hawaii Pacific hitters, the Tritons mobbed Knudson on the mound to celebrate their return to the College World Series.

“The feeling of being on the mound [at the end] was phenomenal,” Knudson said. “It was like things happened in slow motion. Just that first-person view of Kellen [Lee], who is a brother to me, running full speed at me with his arms out was something I will never forget.”

The Tritons also saw five players make the 2010 NCAA West Regional All-Tournament Team, including Most Valuable Player in the tournament Kyle Saul. Gregorich, Albitz, Shibuya and redshirt freshman designated hitter Danny Susdorf also earned a spot on the honorary team.

The eight-team NCAA National Championship will begin May 22 in Cary, N.C. The NCAA Selection Committee will determine the schedule on May 17, but the Tritons are already gearing up to make the trip.

“We are preparing by having solid and quality practices with a great focus and intensity,” Knudson said. “We are going to keep working hard in being fully prepared for that first pitch in Cary.”

Readers can contact Liam Rose at [email protected].