GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - After surviving elimination for four games over five days since dropping its opener, No. 4 University of California San Diego narrowly fell to No. 6 West Chester University, 5-2, in a finals tilt of the 2017 NCAA Division II Baseball Championship at AirHogs Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
UC San Diego, the designated home team, completed its outstanding 2017 season at 44-19 and as the West Region champion and national runner-up. West Chester, the Atlantic Region champion from West Chester, Pa., improved to 44-11 in winning the second national title in program history. The Tritons were in search of a first, and needed to beat the Golden Rams twice on Sunday. The if-necessary meeting was not needed after WCU struck for an improbable run in the seventh, tacked on two insurance tallies in the eighth, and hung on behind its top reliever.
The result marked the unfortunate end of the college careers of a remarkable group of 10 Triton seniors, in Troy Cruz, John Erhardt, Justin Flatt, JD Hearn, Tyler Howsley, Jack Larsen, Christian Leung, Adrian Orozco, Brandon Shirley and Tim White. The 44 wins they helped achieve were second-most in program history.
Robert Knox led off the game by sending a 2-2 pitch from Orozco (Chula Vista/Otay Ranch HS) over the wall in left for just his second home run of the season. Orozco struck out a pair around a hit-by-pitch and stolen base, and then got a groundout to keep the damage at a single tally.
After a seven-pitch, 1-2-3 second out of Orozco, Hearn absolutely stung a ball with one away that went over the leftfielder's head and hit more than three-quarters up the wall, with Hearn sprinting around for his second triple of the year. Redshirt freshman Keenan Brigman worked a five-pitch walk. True freshman Chad Crosbie then dropped an RBI single right in between three Golden Ram fielders in shallow right center. Michael Palos and Howsley each followed with solid contact at the bottom of the order, but both balls were caught.
Orozco had retired seven straight, and got the first two Golden Rams on four pitches, when No. 2 hitter Nick Ward pulled his team-leading ninth home run over the wall in right as WCU retook a 2-1 lead.
Orozco set the Golden Rams down in order again in the fourth, this time on 10 pitches, and Hearn opened the home half with a single through the left side. A hard flyout to the opposite field in right by Brigman, and a 3-6 double play right on the bag off the bat of Crosbie, ended that frame.
Orozco then turned WCU away in order for the third time in the fifth, the inning beginning with Eliopulos and Durna combining on a nice play for a groundout.
The home fifth started with Palos and Howsley connecting sharply again, but once more both fly balls held up enough to be caught. Larsen singled into center and advanced to second, but after working the count full, Shirley struck out swinging for Jon Fisher's first of the afternoon.
A one-out bunt single and ensuing double just inside the left field line and past a diving Eliopulos put the Golden Rams in business in the sixth. Orozco got dangerous cleanup hitter Shane Dressler swinging for a big second out, before popping Nick Bateman up to Durna in foul territory in front of the WCU dugout to keep it 2-1.
The home sixth began with Durna grounding one at second baseman Joe Sheeran, who couldn't find the handle for the game's first error. Eliopulos then singled up the middle. Hearn put down a great bunt that dropped and deadened right in front of Fisher. The WCU pitcher picked it up and still thought about third, but ultimately threw to first, and threw a bit wide, credited as a second error to load the bases with nobody out. The Golden Rams went to their relief ace, Josh McClain, and though UCSD tied the game once more at 2-2, it occurred on a tailor-made 6-3 double-play ball, off the bat of Brigman, and Crosbie fouled out on his first pitch to deny hopes of a big inning.
Orozco's first walk of the day began the seventh and gave WCU its first leadoff runner since Knox's home run to start the game. Drew Jarmuz then lifted a fly ball that Hearn sprinted toward right field and made the tough over-the-shoulder grab for the first out. Anthony Salomone flew out to Brigman, with Sheeran tagging and going to second. That proved to be critical, as the No. 9 hitter, Clay Harwick, then lined a single that scored Sheeran from second for a 3-2 edge to end Orozco's outing.
UCSD attempted a two-out rally in the seventh to get that run right back, as Larsen worked a four-pitch walk and Shirley singled through the right side, but Durna hit a comebacker right at McClain to end that threat.
West Chester opened the eighth with a walk and two singles, the latter of the RBI variety to put runners at the corners and force a second pitching change by the Tritons. UCSD then just missed turning a double play as Jonah Dipoto took over for fellow sophomore right-hander Kyle Lucke, scoring the second run of the frame. Dipoto then did get a 6-3 double-play ball to Howsley, the Tritons chasing 5-2.
Redshirt freshman right-hander Blaine Jarvis navigated around a one-out double in the ninth, but McClain struck out the side in the last half to notch his 11th win.
Orozco (9-1) allowed three runs on five hits, one walk and a hit-by-pitch over his 6.2 innings, striking out four. He breezed through a 1-2-3 second on just seven tosses, with a groundout, flyout and infield popout. Having already produced a streak of seven straight retired, a bunt single down the third base line snapped another string of eight in a row with one gone in the sixth.
Hearn finished 2-for-3 with his triple, a sacrifice, and run scored. He accounted for two of UCSD's six hits on the afternoon. Larsen was 1-for-3 with a walk in his final appearance, and Shirley 1-for-4.
Palos (C), Hearn (2B), Eliopulos (3B) and Larsen (OF) were UCSD's NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team selections, with WCU's McClain earning Most Outstanding Player distinction after appearing in relief and closing out all four Golden Ram victories.
Fisher went 5.0 innings and gave up one run on five hits and two walks. He struck out one. The sophomore right-hander retired the Tritons in order in the first on two groundouts and a foulout. McClain (11-2), a senior right-hander, earned the win through his 4.0 shutout frames with just a single and walk against him and three strikeouts. He set down the last seven and 11 of 13 faced.
Triton Notes: UCSD is 29-18 over nine NCAA Division II Championship appearances, including 15-8 in its fourth trip under head coach Eric Newman ... The Tritons are 9-5 at the D-II finals ... UCSD is an even 1-1 all-time against West Chester, the only prior meeting actually marking the Tritons' first-ever victory at the NCAA Division II Championship finals site, an 8-6 decision in Cary, N.C., on May 26, 2009 ... The Golden Rams have in fact won eight straight at the NCAA Championship finals site since, sweeping through the 2012 and 2017 tournaments (4-0) ... Tyler Howsley completed his illustrious career having appeared in 172 straight games dating back to the 2015 opener ... Jack Larsen appeared in the last 127 games of his great career, all of them starts ... JD Hearn appeared in 94 games in a row over his stellar two-year Triton career, all of them starts ... Hearn, Howsley and Larsen are the only Tritons who appeared in all 63 games this season, with only Hearn and Larsen starting each ... Adrian Orozco drew his team-best 16th start of the season and 17th of his Triton career ... Larsen's two-out single in the fifth extended his reached-base streak to 45 games, a program record for the NCAA Division II era (since 2001), besting 41-gamers by Jeff Riddle (2004) and current teammate Tyler Durna earlier this season ... Larsen's seventh-inning walk gave him 144 for his career, a new UCSD all-time record, surpassing Matt Cantele's (2006-09) 142 ... Brandon Shirley's seventh-inning single extended his career-best hit streak to 15 games ... The Tritons played 13 consecutive games against nationally-ranked opponents (10-3) to end the year, including seven in the top 10 (5-2), and were 12-5 against ranked foes in 2017 ... UCSD was 7-2 in elimination games this postseason ... Tuesday's result marked career win No. 300 for head coach Eric Newman, who is now 303-197 for his nine years overall and 208-125 at UCSD ... UCSD's 44 wins are the second-most in program history, behind only the record 54 from the 2010 campaign, which also ended as Division II national runner-up.
2017 NCAA Division II Baseball Championship Results/Schedule
Saturday, May 27
Game 1 - West Chester 9, North Georgia 4
Game 2 - Lindenwood 4, Delta State 0
Sunday, May 28
Game 3 - St. Thomas Aquinas 6, UC San Diego 5 (12)
Game 4 - Colorado Mesa 10, Quincy 3
Monday, May 29
Game 5 - Delta State 4, North Georgia 0 (UNG eliminated)
Game 6 - West Chester 5, Lindenwood 2
Tuesday, May 30
Game 7 - UC San Diego 10, Quincy 8 (QU eliminated)
Game 8 - St. Thomas Aquinas 3, Colorado Mesa 2 (10)
Wednesday, May 31
Game 9 - UC San Diego 11, Lindenwood 6 (LU eliminated)
Game 10 - Colorado Mesa 6, Delta State 2 (DSU eliminated)
Thursday, June 1
Game 11 - UC San Diego 10, St. Thomas Aquinas 0
Game 12 - West Chester 1, Colorado Mesa 0 (CMU eliminated)
Friday, June 2
Game 13 - St. Thomas Aquinas vs. UC San Diego (PPD - weather)
Saturday, June 3
Game 13 - UC San Diego 7, St. Thomas Aquinas 3 (STAC eliminated)
Sunday, June 4
Game 14 - West Chester 5, UC San Diego 2 (WCU national champion)
Michael Palos -- Catcher -- UC San Diego
Jared Malone -- First Base -- West Chester
J. D. Hearn -- Second Base -- UC San Diego
Alex Eliopulos -- Third Base -- UC San Diego
Nick Ward -- Shortstop -- West Chester
Drew Quinones -- Designated Hitter -- Lindenwood
Wes Degener -- Outfield -- Lindenwood
Jack Larsen -- Outfield -- UC San Diego
Giovanni Dingcong -- Outfield -- St. Thomas Aquinas
Tre Hobbs -- Pitcher -- Delta State
Josh McClain -- Pitcher -- West Chester (Most Outstanding Player)