Tritons Stumble in Final Stretch

Not every story ends happily ever after. The UCSD baseball team’s incredible season came to a heartbreaking end on Saturday, as the No.1-ranked team in Division-II fell 6-4 to No. 9 University of Southern Indiana.

The Tritons seemed unstoppable after taking their first three games at the College World Series, held in Cary, N.C., from May 22 to May 29. However — poised to top off what was perhaps the best year in program history with a national title — UCSD was stopped just short by the Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles.

“We picked a bad day to have some very uncharacteristic mistakes,” head Coach Dan O’Brien said in an interview with the UCSD Athletic Department.

The Tritons opened the week-long tournament against Georgia College & State University, emerging with a 3-2 victory thanks to a walk-off single by junior Grant Bauer. Junior Tim Shibuya threw his fifth complete game of the season, striking out four to record his twelfth victory.

Late-inning drama followed the Tritons into their next game of the tournament — this time against University of Central Missouri. Senior righty Matt Rossman took a no-hitter into the eighth before allowing two straight doubles and giving up a run. With a 1-1 tie, the game went into extra innings — and Rossman rose to the task. He did not allow a hit the rest of the way, and junior catcher Kellen Lee drove in the winning run in the top of the 11th to capture a 2-1 victory.

In the semifinal game against Franklin Peirce University, junior pitcher Guido Knudson threw four and two-thirds innings of scoreless baseball. Junior third baseman Evan Kehoe’s three RBIs led the offense, as the lineup combined for 13 hits and six runs in 6–3 win that led the Tritons into the championship game.

After recording seven straight victories in postseason play, the Tritons were in the driver’s seat of the double-elimination College World Series — having advanced through the bracket without a single loss.

Staff ace Shibuya was given the nod in the championship game. However, the ever-reliable junior out of Wyoming wasn’t as sharp as he had been throughout the season, yielding five runs in four innings.

Still, the Tritons came out strong at the plate after a home run off the bat of junior outfielder Kyle Saul and an RBI double by Kehoe. But the 2–0 lead was short-lived: UCSD found itself in a hole after Southern Indiana answered back with a three-run second inning. Two throwing errors allowed three unearned runs for USI, and the Tritons trailed 3-2.

Rossman, coming off a brilliant performance against Central Missouri just days before, entered the game to relieve Shibuya. However, Rossman showed signs of fatigue and exited after allowing a hit and a walk and recording just two outs. Knudson came in to quiet the USI bats, but couldn’t quite gain control over the Screaming Eagles, who extended their lead to 6–2.

Though the Tritons rallied in the eighth inning with RBIs from redshirt freshman Danny Susdorf and junior Blake Tagmeyr, two quick fly outs in the bottom of the ninth saw the Tritons down to their final out. Kehoe singled to put the tying run at the plate, but another fly ball sealed the game and handed the national title to Southern Indiana.

Senior first baseman Brandon Gregorich went three-for-five, Kehoe had two hits and drove in a run and Saul homered for UCSD in the loss.

They may not have gotten their fairytale ending, but the Tritons played championship-caliber baseball all season, winning 20 of their last 22 games in 2010 and finishing their season with an overall record of 54-8 — the most wins and fewest losses the UCSD baseball team has ever seen in a single season.

“We all recognize that this is the greatest season in the history of UCSD baseball,” senior pitcher Kirby St. John said. “Right now it really stings, but the more time goes by the more we realize how special it was of what we were able to accomplish.”

O’Brien said he was pleased with his team despite the loss.

“Our guys did exactly what they needed to do and battled to the very end,” O’Brien said. “They stayed resilient, they stayed loose — we just didn’t get it done. I can’t tell you how proud I am of this ball club for how they go about their business day in and day out.”

Of the eight teams invited to the College World Series, UCSD was the only team that had played in the 2009 tournament. And, with only nine graduating seniors, the team will set its sights on Cary, N.C, for the third straight season.

The loss hurts most for the seniors, but St. John said how grateful he was for the experience.

“This team is really special.” St. John said. “We love hanging around together and have a lot of team chemistry, and that’s the most important thing to take out of it.”

Rossman echoed St. John’s sentiments.

“It was an awesome run,” Rossman said. “An amazing year with an even better group of people. It was definitely the best year of my life.”

Readers can contact Cameron Tillisch at [email protected].

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