May 25, 2010

First to Go and the North-South Differential

Harold Gutmann
Special to

CARY, N.C. - UC San Diego senior Matt Rossman may have lost his no-hit bid on the first pitch of the eighth inning, but he said afterwards it was easy to shake it off.

"It's all about winning at this point," Rossman said. "It's huge to stay on that winners side (of the bracket). I have no idea what my pitch count was but they weren't taking me out."

Rossman allowed just four baserunners in an 11-inning complete game, striking out 12 and throwing 124 pitches in a masterful performance that led the top-ranked Tritons to a 2-1 win over No. 3 Central Missouri in the winner's bracket of the NCAA Division II baseball tournament at the USAB National Training Complex.

"He conditions all year, and he's worked his whole career for that moment right there," Tritons coach Dan O'Brien said. "That's what great players do."

Rossman's no-hitter ended when Tyler Ruch sent the first pitch of the eighth inning into the rightfield corner for a double. Two pitches later, Jon Wegener doubled into the leftfield corner, scoring Ruch and tying the game at 1-1. Those were the only hits Rossman (10-0) allowed.

The third-team All-American, whose uncle is Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, recovered and allowed just one walk among the last 14 batters.

Meanwhile the Tritons were collecting hits, but to no avail. UC San Diego (53-7), which was trying to reach the national semifinals for the second straight year, left eight runners in scoring position after the fourth inning.

Catcher Kellen Lee finally got the clutch hit the Tritons needed. Danny Susdorf singled against Mules closer Nick Phillips (2-3), who was in his fourth inning, to lead off the 11th. He moved to second on Phillips' second balk, went to third on a wild pitch, and then scored when Lee singled to center.

Lee would have scored an insurance run on a single by Vance Albitz, but he lowered his shoulder on a home plate collision with Albert Salenders and was called out for catcher's interference. Salenders, who remains the only player with a home run, suffered a concussion.

The tournament committee said it was still to be determined if Lee will be suspended for the play.

"I don't think there was anything malicious about the play," Mules coach Tom Myers said. "It's unfortunate that our catcher got hurt, but I think it's part of the game."

Rossman, the NCBWA West Region Pitcher of the Year, struck out pinch hitters Eric Cole and Steffon Williams in the bottom of the 11th, and then got Chance Tuttle on a fly ball to center to seal the win.

As a reward for winning its first two games, UC San Diego will be the only team in the tournament who gets a two-day break. The Tritons won't play again until the semifinals Thursday night at 7 p.m.

The Mules (52-10) now move to the losers bracket. Their next opponent will be No. 4 Georgia College, which beat No. 2 Tampa, 2-1, in an elimination game earlier on Monday.

Rossman, a senior righty from La Verne, Calif. who transferred from UC Riverside, started his night by walking Chance Tuttle, who has reached base safely in 53 straight games. But he retired the next 21 batters before giving up the back-to-back doubles.

The Tritons weren't doing any better against starter Ryan Allen, who played for three years at Missouri before joining the Mules. Like Rossman, Allen walked the leadoff hitter to start the game - Albitz was caught stealing soon after - and then retired 10 in a row before walking Aaron Bauman with two outs in the fourth.

UC San Diego finally scored the game's first run in the eighth. Grant Bauer, who hit a walkoff single in the Tritons tournament opener, led off with a bunt single down the third-base line.

He was bunted over to second, and after second baseman Cory Deedrick kept him there momentarily with a diving catch off a line drive by Albitz, Bauer finally scored on a two-out single by Bauman.

There have been five no-hitters in the NCAA Division II tournament, which began in 1968. Troy's Steve Charles, who no-hit Mansfield in 1993, is the only player to accomplish the feat in the national finals.

Notes: The threat of inclement weather delayed the game for 2 1/2 hours, although the rain never actually came. "I think we were better safe than sorry," NCAA Assistant Director of Championships Russell Yurk said. "We were looking at the radar and there were several significant cells. That's mainly why we waited. In a game this important, we didn't want the game to start, the pitchers to get warm, and then if we had an extended rain delay chances are they would not be able to come back into the game and have to then go to the bullpen."

Only one of the six games has started within 45 minutes of the scheduled time - Kutztown-Franklin Pierce, which ended more than nine hours later after several lightning delays.