May 23, 2010

Harold Gutmann
Special to

CARY, N.C. - It wasn't one of UC San Diego's four .400 hitters or six All-Americans.

Instead, it was No. 8 hitter Grant Bauer who had the walkoff hit in the Tritons' 3-2 win over Georgia College Saturday night in the first round of the Division II baseball championships at the USA Baseball National Training Complex.

Bauer drilled a single to left field with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, scoring Evan Kehoe and sending top-ranked UC San Diego into the second round. The Tritons will face No. 3 Central Missouri Monday night at 7 p.m., while No. 4 Georgia College will play No. 2 Tampa in a losers bracket game Monday at 3 p.m.

UC San Diego (52-7) coach Dan O'Brien said he pinch-hit for Bauer five or six times early in the season, and the junior second baseman was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts against Bobcats starter Martin Dewald before the final at-bat. But the Tritons stuck with him.

"I went up to him in the middle of the year and said that's going to be your at-bat from now on," O'Brien said. "We're going to let you hit, you're going to drive in that run. I think you're the man for the job.

"I just can't tell you how proud I am of Grant for stepping up and having his best at-bat of the day. He went up there with great composure and battled like a warrior."

Tim Shibuya (13-2) allowed eight hits and struck out four to earn the win and increase his school record for wins in a season. Dewald (11-3) pitched his third straight complete game, and eighth on the season, allowing eight hits and striking out nine. Both aces threw 138 pitches.

"That's a ballgame that could have gone either way," O'Brien said. "Both teams scraping and crawling, two No. 1 (pitchers) throwing their hearts out. Win or lose, that's what college baseball's all about right there."

UC San Diego is the only one of the eight teams making a return appearance in the NCAA championship. Last year it lost its first round game before eventually bowing out in the semifinals. Georgia College is in its second-ever finals, following a runner-up finish in 1995.

"I think our guys were a little more prepared this year than we were last year for this game and they showed it," O'Brien said.

After a two-hour rain delay, the Tritons went ahead 2-0 early. After scoring twice in the sixth to tie the game, the Bobcats (39-16) had a chance to take the lead, but Shawn Ward was thrown out trying to score from second base on a single by Richard Pirkle. UCSD leftfielder Aaron Bauman hit third baseman Evan Kehoe with the relay throw, and after a quick exchange catcher Kellen Lee absorbed a big collision with the 205-pound runner.

"Aaron came charging on, threw a strike to Evan," UC San Diego pitcher Tim Shibuya said. "I didn't even know if the ball touched Evan's glove, he got rid of it so fast, and then Kellen's in there blocking the plate, just stood in there like the toughest kid I know. That was a big momentum play for us."

Leadoff hitter Vance Albitz, who is sixth in NCAA history with 326 career hits, set up the Tritons first two runs. In the first inning he singled to right, stole second without a throw, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly by No. 2 hitter Kyle Saul.

Saul drove in Albitz again in the bottom of the fifth. With two outs, Albitz singled to center on a full count, and Saul ripped a double down the leftfield line to make it 2-0.

Georgia College, which had only three baserunners through five innings, strung together five singles - including four straight with two outs - to tie the game in the sixth. Shawn Ward (83 RBI) and Matt Pitts (82) knocked in Kyle Allen and Steve Muoio, respectively.

But a great defensive play by the best fielding-percentage team in the country ended the Bobcats' rally. Shibuya settled down after that, retiring eight batters before Pirkle's two-out double in the ninth. After a meeting at the mound, the junior righty got a groundout from designated hitter Benton Yaun to end the threat.

That left it to the bottom of the Tritons lineup. Kehoe, the No. 5 hitter, was hit by a pitch to lead off, and he moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Chris Fung. Lee flew out to center, setting up Bauer as the unlikely hero.

"It's easy to get excited in that situation, so I just tried to stay relaxed and see the ball up and put a good swing on it," said Bauer, who was mobbed by his teammates after rounding first.