SF State’s baseball team dropped both games of a doubleheader to 10th-ranked University of California San Diego on Friday, falling to 4-19 and 2-13 in conference play.
Game one started as a pitcher’s duel. Gator starter Andrew Najeeb-Brush worked in and out of trouble through the first four innings, allowing a triple to lead off the game and runners in the first, third and fourth.
The Tritons finally broke through in the fifth inning. Catcher Michael Palos nearly popped out to first baseman Chris Nicholson, but Nicholson dropped the ball in foul territory. On the next pitch from Najeeb-Brush, Palos lined a single into right center and advanced to second when the ball got past right fielder Jack Harris. With two outs in the inning, Najeeb-Brush allowed a double that snuck past Nicholson down the first base line, scoring Palos.
“I knew they had a good lineup,” Najeeb-Brush said. “I knew I needed to come out with some good stuff of my own.”
The Tritons’ 1-0 lead didn’t last long, however, as the Gators took the lead in the sixth. Catcher Dalton Pizzuti, hitting cleanup despite slugging .162 in 15 games played coming into Friday, launched a solo home run to right center, tying the game at one.
Later in the inning, with the bases loaded and one out, second baseman Zac Neumann stepped to the plate. Neumann grounded out to third, but it was good enough to push across the go-ahead run and give the Gators a 2-1 lead.
Najeeb-Brush, despite working through a lot of traffic due to his four hits and two walks allowed, as well as three errors, finished the seventh inning with a flourish, striking out two.
“My slider and fastball were definitely key components,” he said. “My splitter was also very handy. Just being able to throw off hitters and change their eyesight and keep that in the back of their mind.”
“Andrew was lights out,” head baseball coach Tony Schifano said. “He absolutely dominated the number 10 team in the country.”
“Andrew pitched like a top of the rotation guy,” he said.
Najeeb-Brush was lifted from the game to start the eighth in favor of Ryan Bohnet, who made his first relief appearance of the season.
Bohnet, normally a starter, had to tightrope out of danger in the eighth after allowing a leadoff single to Triton third baseman JD Hearn. Hearn advanced to second on a wild pitch by Bohnet and then to third on a ground out to shortstop. With one out and the tying run at third, Bohnet got a ground out back to the mound, freezing Hearn at third.
The next hitter, first baseman Tyler Durna, worked the count to 3-2 before Bohnet struck him out swinging on a high fastball, eliciting a chorus of cheers from the Gator bench.
Bohnet allowed a leadoff single in the ninth. The Tritons then sacrificed the runner over to second. After a walk and a flyout to center, the Tritons had runners on first and third with two outs. Bohnet got two strikes on right fielder Jack Larsen, but Larsen lined a double into the right field corner that gave the Tritons a 3-2 lead.
“We had a little miscommunication on the pitch call to Larsen,” Schifano said. “And he made us pay.” Schifano declined to comment on what the miscommunication was.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Gators got runners on the corners with two outs. Left fielder Jacob Lopez took off for second base, only to stop in his tracks when the catcher Palos threw down to second. When Palos threw, Jackson Kritsch, the runner at third, stole home. The double steal tied the game at three and pushed the game to extra innings.
“I let the hitter hit and then he got to two strikes and I said ‘OK we’re going to have to manufacture something,’” Schifano said. “Fortunately, they threw a ball high at home.”
“We made them play catch and they didn’t,” he said.
In the tenth, Bohnet allowed a single and a long home run to right field by Durna. The two-run clout put the Tritons back out front, 5-3.
The Gators brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the tenth, but the Tritons held on to win their 19th game of the season.
In game two, the Tritons did early damage against Gator starter Brent Montgomery, scoring two runs on three hits and two walks. The Gators plated two in the second inning on a two-run single by Sam Schmidt. Schmidt played half of game one as well after he replaced third baseman Bryce Brooks, who exited with a wrist injury.
“You always got to be on your toes,” Schmidt said. “Bryce actually came up to me and said ‘Hey, get your mind right, my wrist kind of hurts’.”
“He’ll probably rest this week and then hopefully be ready for conference,” Schifano said, referring to the Gators’ series against CCAA foe Cal State San Marcos next weekend.
UC San Diego added a run in the second, chasing Montgomery after two innings.
Right-handed junior Garrett Ciuk relieved Montgomery, but allowed a run in the third and a pair of runs in the fourth on six combined hits. Ciuk lasted only two innings as well and the Tritons led 6-2 after four innings.
“We just didn’t get the effort we needed early in the game on the mound,” Schifano said. “We fought back in the second and then we just go out there and give up another run in the third which is unacceptable.”
Matthew Hernandez relieved Ciuk and managed to stop the bleeding for the first two innings he pitched, but allowed a run on a walk, a double and a ground out, increasing the Tritons’ lead to 7-2. The Gators managed just three hits and a walk in the seven innings after scoring two in the second. Sophomore right-hander Cameron Kurz closed out the 7-2 win for the Tritons.
“Our pitching did well, our defense struggled in the first game and then kind of flip flopped in the second game,” Schmidt said when asked where the team goes from here.
“I guess it’s just putting it all together eventually, for our team. Just all clicking at the right time.”