SAN MARCOS, Calif. - The University of California San Diego bounded out to an 8-0 lead over the first four innings, bookended by two big home runs, and rolled past Cal State San Marcos, 15-0, in the opener of a California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) series on Thursday afternoon at CSUSM Baseball Field.
With the victory, 26th-ranked UC San Diego improved to 31-15 overall and 27-14 in the CCAA. Cal State San Marcos fell to 20-27 overall and 15-26 in league play.
Second-place UC San Diego remained one full game behind 15th-ranked league leader Cal State Monterey Bay (34-13, 28-13 CCAA), a 5-1 winner in its series opener at Cal State East Bay. Thursday's result did clinch a top-three seed for the Tritons at the 2018 CCAA Championship beginning next Wednesday, May 9, in Stockton.
The two early home runs were among five long balls in all on the day for the visitors, while a trio of right-handers combined on a five-hit shutout in senior starter Mitch Hickey, junior Kyle Lucke and sophomore Ted Stuka.
UC San Diego hit the scoreboard pretty immediately as Tyler Durna drew a four-pitch walk with one gone in the opening inning, and fellow junior Zander Clarke lifted his team-best 12th home run of the season, over the wall in right center, for the 2-0 lead. It was the UCLA transfer's first long ball since April 19, and once again broke the tie atop the CCAA RBI chart with teammate Alex Eliopulos, giving Clarke 57 on the year.
The Tritons loaded the bases in the second on two singles around another four-pitch walk, all with one out, to bring up the top of their order. A flyout was too shallow to score Keenan Brigman from third initially, but Durna accepted a second straight four-pitch free pass, to force in the game's third run. That was all they would get as Clarke bounced into a fielder's choice.
Hickey turned in his second shutdown frame in a row in the second for UC San Diego, getting past a leadoff single with some help from his freshman shortstop. After Hickey's second swinging strikeout of the afternoon, Shay Whitcomb handled the high hop on Justin Mellano's grounder, and still managed to start the inning-ending 6-4-3 twin killing.
UC San Diego scored for the third straight frame in the third, capitalizing on a pair of one-out infield errors. Brigman laced a first-pitch RBI double down the left field line to plate Whitcomb for 4-0, before the Cougars could get out of the inning.
Cal State San Marcos threatened to get one back in the home third as Ruben Valdez doubled into the right field corner with one out, and scampered to third on a wild pitch. Hickey buckled down and put called third strikes past fourth-year senior starting shortstop Tyler Place, and Cabot Van Til, at the top of CSUSM's order, to keep Valdez there. Both Cougars were hitting better than .340 heading into the contest.
The Tritons came right back out and broke it open in the fourth. They loaded the bases on walks to Durna and Eliopulos around a first-pitch double to left by Clarke. After a mound visit, Whitcomb unsympathetically deposited starter Taylor Greene's very next offering over the wall in left for UC San Diego's seventh grand slam of 2018. It was Whitcomb's first, his fourth home run of the season, and made it an 8-0 bulge.
Clarke's second home run of the day, just inside the left field line, led off the sixth. After a hit-by-pitch and pitching change, Whitcomb singled to put men at the corners. Justin Beck rolled a right-sided RBI groundout to score Eliopulos for 10-0.
A two-out rally padded the Tritons' advantage in the seventh, as Clarke was hit by a pitch ahead of a two-run shot to right by Eliopulos, and then Whitcomb walked before Beck's two-run blast, also to right. A final tally came in the eighth on junior Rj Prince's first-pitch sacrifice fly. Stewart had led off with a double to deep left center and moved to third on a single up the middle by fellow redshirt freshman Blake Baumgartner.
Hickey (5-3) scattered four hits and a walk over 5.2 innings. He matched his season high by striking out eight. Hickey worked through a leadoff walk, his only one, in the fourth with two swinging strikeouts around a flyout to centerfielder Brandon Stewart. He and Lucke combined for the Tritons' lone 1-2-3 frame of the contest, in the sixth, with the latter taking over to get Austin Ott looking. Lucke stranded a man at second following a leadoff single and outfield error by notching a pair of swinging strikeouts and a popout. Stuka got two more hitters waving over his two innings.
Clarke was 3-for-4 with a double, two home runs, a hit-by-pitch, three RBI and a season-best four runs scored before exiting in the seventh. Durna was 0-for-2 with three walks, two runs and an RBI. Whitcomb was 3-for-5 with a home run, walk, three runs and four RBI. Eliopulos finished 1-for-4 with his home run, a walk, hit-by-pitch, three runs and two RBI. Brigman was 2-for-6 with a double, run and RBI. Beck knocked in three runs.
Whitcomb actually started 0-for-2 before going home run, single, walk and single to close out his day. The grand slam extended the only double-figure hit streak by a Triton this season, now to 11 games.
Eliopulos made a great, charging play on a leadoff bunt attempt in the third, with Durna having to get up on his tiptoes to corral the throw just in time to make the out.
Junior right-hander Taylor Greene (5-5) gave up 10 runs, nine of them earned, on seven hits, six walks and a hit-by-pitch over five-plus frames, striking out seven. He had one perfect frame in the fifth, with two called third strikes around a groundout.
UC San Diego and Cal State San Marcos continue their four-game series with another single game at CSUSM Baseball Field in San Marcos on Friday, May 4. First pitch is again set for 3 p.m.
Triton Notes: Alex Eliopulos is the only Triton to start or even appear in all 46 games ... Mitch Hickey drew his 10th start, making his 12th appearance for the Tritons ... Brandon Stewart batted leadoff and Shay Whitcomb in the No. 5 spot, both for the second time this season ... With five more home runs, the Tritons increased their league-leading season total to 59 ... Their seven grand slams have come from five different players, with Eliopulos and Zander Clarke at two each, and Whitcomb, Tyler Durna and Steven Schuknecht at one apiece ... Clarke produced his second two-home-run game as a Triton ... UC San Diego scored in double digits for the 17th time this season ... Whitcomb had his second four-RBI effort in his last four appearances, matching season highs in runs and RBI ... Keenan Brigman's third-inning double was his seventh ... Clarke's fourth-inning double was his 11th ... Stewart's seven official at-bats were the most by a Triton in 2018 ... Stewart's eighth-inning double was his seventh ... Eliopulos' home run was his 11th on the year and first since March 29 ... Beck's blast was his seventh, with six of them since April 14 ... Thursday's shutout was UC San Diego's second of the year, and first on the road ... Durna has three three-walk games in 2018 and five for his career, and now leads the CCAA with 37 ... Clarke (58) and Eliopulos (57) are 1-2 in the CCAA in RBI ... The game was attended by former Triton closer (2011-12) and assistant coach (2016-17) Tony York.
T4: SHAY WHITCOMB! First-pitch GRAND SLAM over LF wall. #Tritons’ 7️⃣th slam of season. Shay’s 1st. 4th HR of season. Unfortunately just missed it off the bat ⬇️. Loaded bases on Durna BB, Clarke 2B, Elio BB with 0 outs. 💪💣— UCSD Triton Baseball (@UCSDbsb) May 3, 2018
8-0 🔱#GoTritons #CCAAbsb #d2bsb pic.twitter.com/EDP0tWq74R