SAN RAMON, Calif. - The University of California San Diego baseball program has once again been picked to finish second in the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) South in 2017, as voted by the league's 12 head coaches in its preseason poll released on Friday.
UC San Diego was both favored for second ahead of the 2016 campaign, and physically finished in that spot, behind two-time reigning NCAA Division II West Region champion Cal Poly Pomona. The Tritons are ranked 24th nationally in the preseason by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, with the rival Broncos sixth.
UCSD gained 53 points and two championship votes, just behind CPP with 59 points and four votes. Chico State, the defending CCAA tournament champion, is favored for the top spot in the North via 59 points and five championship nods. The 37th-ranked Wildcats, the 2014 West Region victor, is thus the CCAA favorite for the fifth time in the last six years. Cal State Monterey Bay (46) took the second position, with Cal State East Bay (38) laying claim to the final championship vote in third.
The six-team CCAA Championship field is predicted to be unchanged from last May.
UCSD wound up 31-21 overall in 2016, and 20-17 in CCAA play. The Tritons return all but two primary position player starters and all but one starter on the mound. Among those back are fourth-year starters Jack Larsen in the outfield and Tyler Howsley at shortstop. Larsen is a two-time All-CCAA First Team selection who added National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) All-West Region honorable mention as a junior, while Howsley has a pair of All-CCAA honorable mentions to his name. Joining them are the likes of senior infielder JD Hearn, veteran outfielders Brandon Shirley and Christian Leung, catcher Steven Coe (Valley Center/Valley Center HS), Justin Flatt, Tyler Durna and Tim White.
Entering his sixth season in charge, Eric Newman welcomes back a large bulk of a pitching staff that saw 35 of 52 starts made by true freshmen in 2016. All are in the stable with a full year of college baseball under their belts, that group being made up of Brent Bell, Jonah Dipoto, Kyle Lucke, Kyle Mora and Preston Mott. Bullpen options are Jack Rupe, Jr. (San Marcos/Mission Hills HS), Erik Amundson, Cameron Kurz (Encinitas/La Costa Canyon HS) and Tim Nelson.
There is plenty of excitement for a group of incoming transfers that includes Keenan Brigman (Pacific), Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/San Diego Mesa College/La Jolla HS), Kyle Goodbrand (Irvine Valley College), Jesse Moore (Edmonds CC), Adrian Orozco (Chula Vista/San Diego State/Otay Ranch HS) and J.T. Williams (Mt. Hood CC). Orozco is a former two-year Triton reliever (2013-14) who spent the past two seasons at Southwestern College and San Diego State.
UCSD should be bolstered by the fifth-year return of Troy Cruz (Chula Vista/Bonita Vista HS), a 2014 All-American and three-time All-CCAA selection in a dual role as a pitcher and hitter who was only able to make three appearances in 2016 before being shut down due to injury.
The CCAA baseball landscape remains largely the same for 2017, with two geographically-balanced, six-team divisions. The top three squads in the final standings of each division will again make up the CCAA Championship field. Second-year member Cal State San Marcos, UCSD's crosstown foe and South opponent, is still ineligible for postseason play. The CCAA maintains a 38-game league slate, made up of a four-game series within divisions, and three-gamers across divisions.
The automatic qualifier into the NCAA Championship is still the winner of the CCAA tournament, which remains a double-elimination event. New this year, however, is that the top seed in that tourney will be crowned regular-season champion.
UC San Diego welcomes in Concordia University of Portland, Ore., and the Great Northwest Athletic Conference for a four-game series for starters. Opening Day is set for Friday, Feb. 3, with first pitch slated for 3 p.m. at Triton Ballpark in La Jolla. The teams will play a doubleheader on Saturday, Feb. 4, at 1 p.m., with both ends scheduled for the regulation nine innings. The single finale has an 11 a.m. start time, a recent change from noon, on Super Bowl Sunday.
The Tritons will commence CCAA play on Friday, Feb. 24, hosting Cal State San Marcos in the primetime opener (6 p.m.) of a four-game, split-venue series. The CCAA Championship will be held in the neutral-site city of Stockton for the fifth year in a row, returning to Banner Island Ballpark of the minor-league Stockton Ports, May 10-13. UCSD has earned three successive trips.
2017 CCAA Baseball Preseason Coaches' Poll
Institution (Championship Votes), Points
1. #37 Chico State* (5), 59
2. RV Cal State Monterey Bay*, 46
3. Cal State East Bay* (1), 38
4. RV Sonoma State, 37
T-5. SF State, 18
T-5. Stanislaus State, 18
1. #6 Cal Poly Pomona* (4), 59
2. #24 UC San Diego (2), 53
3. Cal State San Bernardino*, 32
4. Cal State LA, 30
5. Cal State Dominguez Hills, 25
6. Cal State San Marcos, 17
* CCAA Championship teams