CARSON, Calif. - Seventh-ranked University of California San Diego broke a 4-4 tie with a four-run fifth and went on to a 10-7 victory over Cal State Dominguez Hills in game one of a California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) baseball doubleheader Saturday at Toro Field. The Tritons were unable to hold a 4-3 lead going into the last half in the shortened seven-inning nightcap, however, and fell 5-4 in eight to split the twin bill.
With the results, UC San Diego moved to 9-4 overall and 5-3 in the CCAA. The game-one triumph clinched a first CCAA series win for the Tritons for 2018, after having split a four-gamer with San Francisco State at home last weekend. Cal State Dominguez Hills is 4-6 overall and 1-3 in league play.
The Tritons await another four-game, split-venue set in the coming week, against southern rival Cal Poly Pomona. UCSD is the defending West Region champion, with the Broncos having taken the 2015 and 2016 West crowns, the first one over the Tritons. The series will begin with a pair of primetime tilts at 6 p.m. at Triton Ballpark on East Campus in La Jolla on Thursday, March 1, and Friday, March 2.
Game One - No. 7 UCSD 10, CSUDH 7
UC San Diego jumped right out to a 3-0 advantage over the first 13 pitches by senior left-hander Joe Mercado. Freshman shortstop Shay Whitcomb doubled on an 0-2 toss to the opposite field in right center to lead off. Third baseman Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS) then fouled off a pair of two-strike pitches before launching his league-best sixth home to right. It was his third home run in five plate appearances, having hit two of them in Friday night's 14-3 rout. Fellow redshirt junior Zander Clarke followed suit by sending a 1-0 offering over the wall in left center for his second of the campaign.
UCSD went on to load the bases still with no outs, on two walks around an infield error, but could score no more as Mercado got a swinging strikeout and two flyouts.
Cal State Dominguez Hills got one of those runs back in the home half, and also loaded the bases, but senior right-hander Jack Rupe, Jr. (San Marcos/Mission Hills HS), induced a groundout to curb the damage and keep the 3-1 lead intact.
After striking out the leadoff batter in the third, Rupe, Jr., walked the bases full, and a two-run single by John Gonzalez tied the game. UCSD was then unable to turn the inning-ending double play on Jordan James, as Kevin Lugo came across for a 4-3 lead.
UC San Diego knotted the score once again in its half of the fourth, as Clarke worked the count full and roped a two-out, opposite-field RBI single down the line in right to plate Whitcomb from second.
The Tritons then struck for four in the fifth. With one away and men at first and second, Brandon Stewart lifted an RBI single to the gap in left center. The runners had to hold for a bit, before Keenan Brigman finally broke for home and scored. Two ensuing throwing errors on the same play, advanced Stewart and Steven Schuknecht to second and third, and then to third and home, for a 6-4 lead. Stewart was credited with just the one RBI. Whitcomb then followed with a sacrifice fly to center to plate Stewart, ahead of another blast to deep right on a 1-0 count by Eliopulos, giving him a second straight two-home-run game, and third on the year in 12 contests.
Freshman Cameron Leonard issued back-to-back walks after a first-pitch groundout in the home fifth, but junior right-hander Kyle Lucke took over and got a flyout to put Toros at the corners, and then an inning-ending popout. Leonard thus gave the Tritons 1.2 shutout frames in relief of Rupe, Jr. Lucke would go on to strike out the side in order in the sixth, swinging, swinging and looking.
The Tritons added a run in the seventh as Schuknecht led off by pulling a double down the right field line to break an 0-for-16 slump for the redshirt sophomore. He moved to third on a right-sided groundout by Stewart, but had to stay at third on Whitcomb's groundout. CSUDH logically walked Eliopulos intentionally, but Clarke then deposited an opposite-field RBI double into right center for his first four-hit game as a Triton.
In the home seventh, Gonzalez greeted new pitcher Noah Conlon with a two-out, three-run home run to right after Lucke had allowed two runners around two more strikeouts, making it a 9-7 game. Lucke matched his career high with five punch-outs.
With one away in the eighth, redshirt freshman Blake Baumgartner worked the count full and lifted a solo shot over the fence in left center for his first collegiate home run, extending it back out to a 10-7 Triton advantage.
After Conlon's 1-2-3 eighth, redshirt junior right-hander Cameron Kurz worked around a leadoff walk with two strikeouts around a fielder's choice groundout, for his second save on the year. Leonard's (1-0) first collegiate decision was a win.
Rupe, Jr., went 2.2 innings and allowed four runs on four hits and four walks. He struck out three, including two to begin a perfect second.
Clarke was 4-for-5 with the home run, double, run and three RBI. Eliopulos finished 3-for-5 with two home runs, a walk, two runs and three RBI of his own. Whitcomb went 2-for-5 with a double, sacrifice fly, two runs and an RBI as the top three spots in the Triton order combined for a 9-for-15 effort with two doubles, three long balls, five runs and seven RBI. Stewart added two hits and Schuknecht scored twice.
Baumgartner climbed the ladder at first base for a tough grab on leadoff man Evan Yeager in the fourth.
Game Two - CSUDH 5, No. 7 UCSD 4 (8)
UC San Diego got on the board first through a two-run blast on a 3-0 count deep to right by Schuknecht in the second inning, after Baumgartner worked the count full and sent a leadoff double down the left field line. It was Schuknecht's second.
Cal State Dominguez Hills took a 3-2 lead right back in the home half, loading the bases on two walks around a bunt single with no outs. Trevor North slipped a two-run single up the middle, and a Justin Morris sacrifice fly drove in the third run.
UC San Diego regained the upper hand in the fifth as Eliopulos drew a one-out walk and Clarke and Baumgartner managed back-to-back singles, the latter one tying the score at 3-3 as Eliopulos scored. With two gone, Palos reached via infield error while Clarke came across for a 4-3 edge.
Junior right-handed starter Jonah Dipoto got back on the hill and worked around a leadoff single, getting a first-pitch flyout ahead of a 4-6-3 double play from Brigman, Whitcomb and Baumgartner.
Mark Quinby took over for Dipoto in the sixth and duplicated his final frame, turning away a leadoff single with a pair of called third strikes bookending a flyout. Cal State Dominguez Hills scratched across a tying run in the seventh, however, though Kurz did extend the game into the eighth from a bases-loaded, one-out situation, with a strikeout and a foul popout.
Despite a leadoff walk to Kitzmann, UCSD was unable to go back ahead during its turn in the eighth, and the Toros loaded the bases again and walked off in the bottom half through a Morris single to center. Antonio Barrios (0-1) was pinned with the loss.
Schuknecht finished 2-for-4 with a home run, triple, run scored and two RBI. Baumgartner was 2-for-3 with a double, walk, run and RBI. Eliopulos walked three times and scored a run.
Dipoto saw the first two Toros reach base in the opening frame before handling a comebacker and getting a strikeout looking and another groundout to leave them both in scoring position. He retired the side in order in the third, and also faced the minimum in the fourth thanks to Kitzmann throwing out a would-be base-stealer.
Triton Notes: Following a season-long 10-game homestand, UC San Diego was on the road for the first time since its opener, a 5-3 win at Concordia Irvine on Feb. 8 ... Steven Schuknecht fell a single shy of hitting for the cycle over the twin bill ... Game One: Rj Prince started at first base for the third straight game in place of fellow junior Tyler Durna, unavailable due to injury, but Prince himself had to exit after the first pitch of his first-inning plate appearance ... After UC San Diego's first 10 home runs this season were to right field, including Alex Eliopulos' first-inning blast, Zander Clarke's shot moments later was to left center ... Eliopulos' fourth-inning flyout ended his streak of six straight plate appearances reaching base, with three home runs, a double and two singles ... Michael Palos' caught stealing to end the fourth was his first of the season ... Eliopulos' seventh-inning intentional walk was his third of the year, all coming in this series ... The home run by John Gonzalez in the seventh was the first given up of Noah Conlon's college career ... UCSD reached double-figure runs for the sixth time already in 2018 ... The Tritons' four home runs were a season high ... Game Two: Redshirt freshman Blake Baumgartner batted in the cleanup spot for the first time as a college player, making just his second start, at first base while Durna was still out … Mark Quinby made his first mound appearance since the opener on Feb. 8, having recovered from a slight injury.