No. 12 Tritons Blast Past Sonoma State in Series Opener Thanks to Eliopulos' Second Grand Slam of Season
ROHNERT PARK, Calif. - The No. 12 University of California San Diego baseball team used two long balls to score seven runs over the final two frames and defeated Sonoma State University, 7-4, in the opener of a four-game California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) series Friday afternoon at Seawolf Diamond.
With a second straight victory, both away from home, UC San Diego improved to 12-6 overall and 8-5 in the CCAA. Sonoma State fell to 8-7 overall and 4-5 in league play.
UCSD trailed 1-0 for much of the contest after a leadoff home run by Bryce Nagata in the home side's first turn at-bat. It was the senior centerfielder's third on the year.
Having had trouble with Michael Warning throughout his strong outing, the Tritons went to work on the Sonoma State bullpen, scoring three in the eighth on an RBI double by Tyler Durna and a two-run blast from fellow junior Zander Clarke.
The Tritons then filled the bases, all with two outs, in the ninth, and got a league-best eighth home run and second grand slam already on the season, from redshirt junior third baseman Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS), out to right field. He regained the CCAA lead in RBI as well as a result, with 28.
A pinch-hit, three-run shot by Jake Sahagian in the home ninth made things slightly interesting, but Cameron Kurz (Encinitas/La Costa Canyon HS) entered to shut the rally attempt down with three successive outs for his fifth save and third in the last four games. Kurz needed nine pitches for a pair of swinging strikeouts around a flyout.
Junior left-hander Preston Mott, the reigning CCAA and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) West Region Pitcher of the Week, went 6.0 innings and allowed a single run on six hits and one walk. He struck out seven. Mott was moved up to the series-opening starting role for the first time this season, after spending much of his sophomore campaign in that capacity.
Antonio Barrios (1-1) picked up the win in relief. The redshirt freshman right-hander breezed through a 1-2-3 shutdown eighth with a called third strike, comebacker and swinging strikeout. Barrios in fact retired the first six Seawolves he faced, setting them in order in the seventh initially through another swinging strikeout, flyout and groundout. The ninth opened with an infield error, however, and after a single, the Sahagian home run ended his afternoon.
Warning, a senior right-hander, had no-hit the Tritons until back-to-back two-out singles by Keenan Brigman and Michael Palos in the fifth. A fielder's choice groundout got him out of that jam. Rory McDaid (0-2) gave up the Clarke shot and took the loss.
Mott posted a pair of perfect frames in the third and fourth and sent away seven successive Seawolves in all during that stretch, with three strikeouts and three groundouts. The first two batters in the home fifth reached base via single and walk, but Mott wiped them out with a popout and 6-4-3 double play. The leadoff man again reached in the sixth on a single, but two strikeouts and a groundout ensued.
Palos finally ignited the Tritons with a walk for starters in the eighth, overturning an 0-2 deficit by fouling one off ahead of four straight balls. Christopher Schasteen ran for him, and was sacrificed over by freshman shortstop Shay Whitcomb before advancing to third on a passed ball. Durna really only needed to lift a fly ball, but he went ahead and pulled his third double of 2018 down the right field line for 1-1.
Though Durna was knocked down on the bases, Eliopulos drew a walk, also after going down 0-2, and Clarke drove a 3-1 offering over the wall in left center for his fourth of the season.
Schasteen's two-out single to left got things going in the ninth. The junior transfer swiped second, and then Whitcomb and Durna both walked. Eliopulos worked the count full and launched another no-doubter to right, for runs the Tritons would ultimately need.
Eliopulos finished 1-for-4 with the home run, a walk, two runs and four RBI. Clarke was 3-for-5 with his long ball, a run and two RBI. Schasteen provided a single, steal and two runs. Whitcomb went 0-for-2 with two walks, a run, sacrifice and stolen base.
"It was a really good team win," said seventh-year UC San Diego head coach Eric Newman. "Preston (Mott) did an outstanding job keeping us in the game and competing. Our at-bats late in the game were really tough and the guys did a great job passing the at-bats from one guy to the next."
The teams will continue their series with a doubleheader on Saturday, March 10, set for an 11 a.m. start at Seawolf Diamond. The nightcap is scheduled for seven innings.
Triton Notes: Shay Whitcomb earned his first collegiate stolen base, and Christopher Schasteen his first steal as a Triton ... Alex Eliopulos now has 13 home runs in a UC San Diego uniform ... Cameron Kurz has already tied his single-season career high of five saves from his redshirt freshman season in 2016 ... Preston Mott is second in the CCAA with his 41 strikeouts, with Kurz second in saves ... Mott, Antonio Barrios and Kurz combined to match UCSD's season low of one walk allowed ... Tyler Durna had not started at first base since the series finale against San Francisco State on Feb. 18, suffering an injury in the ninth inning of that loss before missing the next five games, pinch-hitting in the following two, and then starting once as the designated hitter.