STOCKTON, Calif. - The No. 25 University of California San Diego scored eight runs in the second to blow things open and launched four more home runs among a 20-hit attack to dispatch Cal State LA, 19-1, on the first day of the 2018 California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Championship at neutral-site Banner Island Ballpark on Wednesday afternoon.
With a fifth straight win and 15th over its last 17, second-seeded UC San Diego improved to 35-15 overall on the year. Fifth-seeded Cal State LA, which came in off three successive victories, dropped to 27-23. The teams had split their regular-season series just recently, April 26-28.
The Tritons advance into the winner's bracket, and next faces third-seeded, two-time reigning CCAA tournament champion and rival Chico State, which walked off No. 4 seed Cal Poly Pomona on a ninth-inning wild pitch, 4-3. That matchup will take place in primetime on Thursday night, May 10, at 7 p.m. Cal State LA heads into an elimination contest at 11 a.m. against SF State, which lost 14-11 to top seed Cal State Monterey Bay to begin Wednesday's activity. All remaining tournament contests are broadcast on Eleven Sports USA (DIRECTV Channel 623) and online at baosn.tv, free of charge.
UC San Diego's 20 hits included 10 of the extra-base variety. The Tritons scored in all but the third and eighth innings, and did not have to bat in the ninth as the higher-seeded home side. On the mound, Kyle Lucke and Cameron Leonard combined to throw six no-hit innings in relief of fellow right-hander Mitch Hickey. In fact, the Golden Eagles could not muster another hit after a leadoff single in the second, which did not lead to a run. UC San Diego scored 19 unanswered after facing a brief, early deficit. Remarkably, of Hickey's nine walks, only one came around to score.
Cal State LA struck first as a five-pitch leadoff walk turned into a run in the opening frame on a groundout that advanced Anthony Ayala to second, and two-out RBI single by Sean Watkins. The Golden Eagles went on to load the bases, but Hickey was able to limit the damage with a ground ball that actually struck the runner at first.
UC San Diego got the run right back, and then some, in its first turn. Tyler Durna worked a one-out walk, and Zander Clarke, announced Tuesday as the CCAA Most Valuable Player, began his week by driving a two-strike double into the gap in left center. With men at second and third, Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS) lifted his third sacrifice fly for a 1-1 game. Senior second baseman Justin Beck then singled to center to score Clarke, and two throwing errors at the end of the play enabled Shay Whitcomb, who had walked after the sacrifice fly, to come all the way around for 3-1.
Cal State LA put its leadoff man on base again in the second, this time through that single, but Hickey got Noe Garcia swinging, and his catcher, redshirt sophomore Nick Kitzmann, fired down to Whitcomb to get the runner trying to steal. On the very next pitch, Keenan Brigman leapt up against the wall in left field to make the third out.
The Tritons proceeded to break the game open with their eight-run second, sending 11 men to the plate. Redshirt freshman designated hitter Blake Baumgartner got things going by slapping a leadoff double into left. Kitzmann took two strikes, fouled off a pair, and then launched his seventh home run of 2018 deep to left center. A Brandon Stewart walk and Durna single led into an RBI single through the left side by Clarke. After an out was finally registered, Whitcomb walked to load the bases, and triggered the first pitching change of the contest.
Beck greeted the new arm, Angel Lerma, with a hot-shot RBI single off the first baseman's glove. Brigman fouled off two straight 2-2 offerings before lining a bases-clearing triple into the gap in left center. He scored on another scalded infield single, this one by Baumgartner to shortstop. Brigman's triple was his team-best third.
Eliopulos opened a three-run fourth by sending a leadoff double to left with the Golden Eagles playing four in the outfield at times against he and Clarke, like they did in the regular-season series. The scores came on a third RBI single from Beck over the first four frames, a double to right center by Baumgartner, and Kitzmann sacrifice fly.
The home fifth began with Durna stroking a single to right, and Clarke following with an opposite-field bomb to right center for his 14th of the season. A two-out rally made it 17-1 in the sixth, as Kitzmann roped a single to left, and Stewart knocked him in with a double to left center that the leftfielder couldn't handle facing the evening sun. Back-to-back blasts to right by pinch-hitter Steven Schuknecht, his fifth, and Eliopulos, his 13th, led off the seventh and capped the scoring.
Hickey went three-plus innings and allowed the one run on three hits and nine walks. He struck out two. Hickey walked the leadoff man after the big second, but quickly erased it by dialing up a first-pitch, routine 6-4-3 double play off the bat of Jorge Garcia. He went on to walk the bases full, actually, before a fielder's choice groundout to Eliopulos at third got him out of the jam unscathed.
Lucke took over after back-to-back walks opened the fourth, and again the Golden Eagles were stuck at one run, as the junior got a swinging strikeout, flyout and popout. Leonard (2-0) replaced Lucke to begin the fifth, and after a leadoff walk, got the next three batters, and in fact retired the final 15 hitters in order with UC San Diego's first perfect frames of the game in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth. The true freshman picked up the winning decision, striking out four.
The ninth saw redshirt freshman Kyle Selor, who pinch hit in the seventh and took over at shortstop, make a spectacular play for the second out, diving behind the second-base bag and getting up to narrowly fire in time to Rj Prince.
Clarke wound up 3-for-4 with a double, home run, three runs and three RBI. Beck was 3-for-5 with two runs and three RBI. Baumgartner also contributed three hits, finishing 3-for-4 with two doubles, one run and two RBI. Kitzmann went 2-for-3 with a home run, two runs and three RBI. Eliopulos was 2-for-4 with a double, home run, two runs and two RBI. Brigman went 2-for-4 with his triple, two runs and three RBI. Durna added two hits and three runs, as he continues to lead the CCAA with 56 runs.
Senior right-hander Nate Adams (1-4) gave up nine runs, eight of them earned, on six hits and four walks over 1.1 innings. He struck out none.
Triton Notes: UC San Diego is now 30-18 over its 14 CCAA Championship appearances, including a perfect 4-0 against Cal State LA ... The Tritons are 15-9 away from home in 2018 ... Alex Eliopulos is the only Triton to start or even appear in all 50 games ... Brandon Stewart batted leadoff and Shay Whitcomb fifth for the sixth time this season and fifth game in a row ... Mitch Hickey made his 13th appearance as a Triton and 11th start ... Zander Clarke's first-inning double was his 14th, moving him into a tie for the team lead with Tyler Durna ... The eight-run second matched UC San Diego's biggest inning of 2018, which it has now achieved three times ... UC San Diego scored in double digits for the 20th time this season, and fourth in the last five games ... Hickey's nine walks were three more than his total from his previous six outings combined, spanning 30.0 innings pitched ... Clarke (68) and Eliopulos (64) remain 1-2 in the CCAA in RBI ... With four more home runs, UC San Diego increased its league-leading season total to 67, now five from matching the school record from 2007 ... Whitcomb finished 0-for-2 to see his hit streak snapped at 14 games, as the lone double-digit hit streak by a Triton in 2018 ... UC San Diego has won 15 of its last 17 games ... The Tritons have turned 17 double plays over the last 11 contests ... UC San Diego has produced 19 or more runs in a game four times and 20 or more hits three times in 2018 ... The Tritons came up with 10 extra-base hits for the second time this year ... With five more doubles, UC San Diego now is joint leader atop the CCAA with Cal State Monterey Bay at 108 apiece ... The Tritons have hit at least one double in 17 straight games, with 59 total in this stretch ... Nick Kitzmann has thrown out nine of 18 would-be base-stealers ... It was a first career two-double game for Blake Baumgartner, who has nine for the season, as does Stewart, and Eliopulos 10 ... Among those in attendance was Triton great Kellen Lee (2009-11).