Tritons Push On With Late- Inning Heroics

BASEBALL — Above all else, the No. 1 UCSD baseball team had one goal in mind since its season began on Feb. 1: to make it to the College World Series Cary, N.C. Finally, after a record-breaking season with 51 wins, the Tritons are excelling in the Tar Heel State —taking one careful step at a time.

UCSD’s first two games in the series were epic nailbiters — battles to the last pitch. Still, the Tritons pull ahead in both games. Behind, junior Tim Shibuya and senior Matt Rossman — the team’s staff aces — UCSD beat Georgia College & State University 3-2 in walk-off fashion on May 22, then outdueled University of Central Missouri 2-1 in a CWS classic on May 25.

After being delayed by rain for over three hours, the game against the GCSU Bobcats got off to a slow start. Featuring two of the best pitchers in the nation, it was clear from the start that this game would be decided on the mound. Both Shibuya and GCSU’s Martin Dewald threw complete games, but the UCSD ace was the last one standing — thanks to timely support from the Triton offense.

Shibuya tossed his fifth complete game of the season, allowing eight hits and just two runs. Junior outfielder Kyle Saul drove in senior shortstop Vance Albitz in both the first and fifth innings to put UCSD up 2-0. GCSU strung together four hits in the top half of the sixth to tie the game at 2-2; after the minor blip, however, Shibuya and Dewald settled to hold the teams scoreless until the bottom of the ninth.

Evan Kehoe led off the bottom of the ninth inning for the Tritons, reaching first after being hit by a pitch. Senior Chris Fung then pinch-hit for redshirt freshman Danny Susdorf, laying down a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance Kehoe to second. After the Bobcats forced senior catcher Kellen Lee to fly out, junior second baseman Grant Bauer singled through the left side, allowing Kehoe to score from second and seal the win.

Bauer came up with the game-winning single after going hitless in his first three at-bats.

“I had been struggling against [Dewald] in my previous at-bats, but a lot of people were talking to me before the at-bat and telling me to wait for something up and to stay relaxed,” Bauer said in statement. “It’s easy to get pretty excited in that situation, so I just tried to stay relaxed, and I got a pretty good swing on it.”

The Tritons moved to the winner’s bracket after taking Game One. In Game One of the 2009 championships, UCSD lost a 3-1 decision to Dowling University before battling back to take third place overall in the double-elimination tournament.

This year, the Tritons played Game Two against Central Missouri, the team that won the D-II title in 2000 and has racked up the most wins in the last decade in any collegiate division.

Senior starter Matt Rossman took the hill, and — in what could have been his final performance as a Triton — Rossman saved his best for last. The UC Riverside transfer and La Verne, Calif. native threw a no-hitter through seven innings, but did not receive any run support. The game remained scoreless until the beginning of the eighth inning, when Bauer took first on a drag-bunt base hit and was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Bauman finally broke the deadlock by driving a pitch to left field that allowed Bauer to score to give UCSD a 1-0.

Central Missouri answered quickly in the bottom half of the frame by hitting back-to- back doubles, breaking up the no-hitter and tying the score 1-1. The game continued into extra innings as the Tritons left runners on base in the ninth and 10th innings — but Rossman’s pitching gem kept them in the game. He settled down after allowing the run, refusing to give up a hit for the rest of the game.

In the 11th, sophomore designated hitter Danny Susdorf collected his third hit of the game and advanced to third after a balk (an illegal move made by the pitcher that results in all baserunners advancing by one base) and a wild pitch. Lee then punched a single to center field, allowing Susdorf to score giving the Tritons a 2-1 lead. Rossman finished the game cleanly, closing out the 11th inning. Overall, Rossman struck out 12 and allowed just two hits throughout the game.

“I’m excited about going to the semifinals, but right now all I can talk about is the courageous outing that Matt Rossman just gave us,” head coach Dan O’Brien said in a statement.“That was his ball tonight, and he prepared himself for this moment all year. He rose to the occasion, and that’s what great players do.”

Rossman said he was aware he was pitching a no-hitter, but tried to block it from his mind to keep the pressure from getting to him.

“My mentality was the same as every other game: just to take it one pitch at a time and throw aggressively to a spot,” Rossman said. “I knew I had [a no-hitter] going the whole time. That was cool, but winning was obviously more important.”

Even the game-winning batter Lee said most of the credit for the victory should go to his pitcher.

“Rossman is a true competitor, and there are not enough words to describe his performance in that game last night,” Lee said. “His cutter was his most effective pitch all night long. The Central Missouri lineup is a very powerful and dangerous offense, and he pitched like a true veteran and winner. This really was the best I have ever seen him.”

Both games featured rain delays. During the downtime, senior relievers Dan Simmons and Eric Abraham kept themselves occupied by putting on a dance-off for those in attendance. Simmons also led the team in a “YMCA” dance — demonstrating the incredible chemistry they have built this season.

“We feel that all of the teams here are as talented — or even more talented than us — and what separates us from the other teams is our mental preparedness and toughness,” Lee said. “We work on the mental game of baseball all year, and we feel like we have mastered it.”

UCSD, now 53-7 on the season, will advance to the semifinals on Thursday. From there, the Tritons will face Kutztown University, who emerged from the loser’s side of Bracket Two.

Central Missouri fell to 52-10 overall with the loss. The Mules will face GCSU in an elimination game on Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET.

Readers can contact Cameron Tillisch at [email protected].

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