AZUSA, Calif. - It was billed as a showdown between city rivals on hot streaks, with powerful offenses.
Those interested in the stands, back in San Diego, or elsewhere, had to wait over two hours extra to see how it turned out.
It turned out heavily in the Tritons' favor.
The 22nd-ranked University of California San Diego walloped Point Loma, 22-3, to open the 2018 NCAA Division II Championship West Regional at Cougar Baseball Complex on Thursday night, and actually on into Friday morning. Azusa Pacific University is serving as the host for a second straight year.
Third-seeded UC San Diego improved to 39-15 overall. Fourth-seeded Point Loma fell to 33-17. The sides were meeting for the first time since an elimination game of the 2015 NCAA West Regional in Walnut, which ended in a 7-5 victory for the Tritons.
The teams entered as two of the hotter outfits in the land, with the Tritons winners of eight straight and 18 of their last 20, and the Sea Lions victors of 16 of their previous 18, having won 16 in a row before dropping two final regular-season contests at Azusa Pacific.
UC San Diego advances into the winner's bracket, to take on fifth-seeded California Baptist (34-17) at 7 p.m. on Friday night, May 18. CBU outlasted second-seeded host APU, 7-4, in 15 innings to begin the day, which pushed the remaining two start times back considerably. Point Loma will face elimination at 3 p.m. against top-seeded Cal State Monterey Bay, which defeated Chico State, 10-7, in Thursday's middle game.
The start of Thursday night's matchup was delayed until 9:14 p.m. due to the length of the first two games. The final outs came at exactly 12:38 a.m., as freshman shortstop Shay Whitcomb gathered a ground ball, stepped on second base and fired to junior Rj Prince at first base for the game-ending 6-3 double play.
Zander Clarke, the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Most Valuable Player, CCAA Newcomer of the Year and CCAA Championship Most Valuable Player, made the big statement, and he made it early, going 3-for-3 with two home runs and seven RBI over the first three frames alone. The junior rightfielder finished 3-for-5 with the two blasts, two runs and season-best seven RBI. Clarke pushed his league-best average back up over .400, to .404, and now has a share of the CCAA lead in long balls, with CSUMB senior Hayden Duer, who also hit his 17th Thursday night in Azusa.
After the lengthy wait for the first pitch, Clarke wasted little control in waking up the crowd. In the home first, he took one ball before hammering his team-best 16th home run deep to left center on the second pitch of his regional. That was after fellow junior Tyler Durna battled back from a 1-2 deficit to work a seven-pitch walk. Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS) then lined out sharply to center on another hard-hit ball, and Whitcomb was hit by the first pitch of his at-bat, before running into the third out.
Senior second baseman Justin Beck opened the second with a solid opposite-field single to left. With one gone, redshirt freshman designated hitter Blake Baumgartner likewise went the other way and laced a single to right. Two were away when another redshirt freshman, centerfielder Brandon Stewart, drew a huge walk to bring up the heart of the Triton order with bases full. Durna took his second seven-pitch free pass in as many plate appearances to force in Beck, and Clarke dumped his third grand slam of the season, and unbelievably the Tritons' eighth as a team, over the wall in left center for 7-0. It was their 72nd in all, temporarily matching the single-season record.
UC San Diego broke it further open through a four-run third. Beck led off with a walk ahead of redshirt sophomore leftfielder Keenan Brigman's double just between the left field line and Sea Lion third baseman's reach. Baumgartner picked them both up with a single up the middle, for a second straight Triton hit on an 0-2 count. With two away, Durna smoked a single that the first baseman could not handle, and Clarke squeezed an RBI single up the middle to score Baumgartner. An outfield throwing error enabled Durna to follow him home. The sequence gave Durna three runs in three innings, and a league-best 64 for the campaign.
Around that offense, senior right-hander Mitch Hickey (6-3) went 6.0 innings and allowed two runs on five hits and two walks. He struck out a career-high 12, including the side in each of his last three frames. Hickey started the night by throwing three straight called strikes past John Balliet as his initial batter. He posted his first shutdown inning after the first Clarke bomb, working around a pair of singles with a groundout and two swinging strikeouts.
The third was Hickey's lone 1-2-3 frame, as Durna made two great unassisted putouts over at first ahead of a third right-sided groundout to Beck. Durna smothered the first one and barely beat Balliet to the bag, and then dove to his left to rob Colby Kaneshiro of a base hit. Hickey struck out the side in the fourth, all swinging, around a one-out single, in the fifth around a leadoff single, and in the sixth around a one-out walk and two-run Adrian Collazo home run, his fourth.
Senior catcher Michael Palos hit for Clarke in the eighth after the first two Tritons were retired, to ignite a seven-run rally as UC San Diego batted around for a second time. Palos' seventh double hit halfway up the wall down the left field line, his latest bid for a first collegiate career narrowly denied. After Eliopulos walked, an opposite-field RBI single through the right side by Whitcomb, RBI single up the middle by Beck, and opposite-field RBI single to right center by Brigman, all came with two strikes. It was a third single to right by the right-handed Brigman in as many innings.
Beck trotted home on a wild pitch, and Steven Schuknecht pulled his seventh double into the gap in right center to plate Brigman. Redshirt freshman Aaron Kim then strided to the plate to pinch hit, and promptly deposited UC San Diego's single-season record-breaking 73rd home run deep to left center to cap the Triton scoring at 22.
Baumgartner remarkably saw just seven pitches, one of them a ball, to generate his perfect 4-for-4 night with four singles, two runs and three RBI, before being pulled for a pinch-hitter in the seventh. It was his second four-hit game. Brigman produced a career-high four hits, finishing 4-for-6 with his eighth double, three runs and an RBI to pull his average up to a season-best .324. The three runs matched his career best.
Beck was 3-for-4 with his 13th double, two walks, two RBI and season-high four runs. Durna finished 1-for-3 with the three runs, two walks and one RBI. Whitcomb went 2-for-5 with a hit-by-pitch, two runs and an RBI, while Eliopulos wound up 1-for-4 with two walks and two runs. All nine Triton starters reached base safely at least once.
Antonio Barrios and Ted Stuka worked a scoreless seventh and eighth, respectively, with senior Tom Simpson taking the ninth and escaping a jam with the double play. Each right-hander had one strikeout.
Durna had a tremendous night defensively, also snaring a hot-shot liner down the line by Tyler Flores to end the first.
Garrett Irvin (7-2), named Wednesday as both the Pacific West Conference (PacWest) Pitcher of the Year and PacWest Freshman of the Year, gave up 11 runs, 10 of them earned, on nine hits, four walks and a hit-by-pitch over 3.0 frames. The left-hander struck out four. It was his shortest outing, having gone at least 5.0 innings in each of his first 13 starts. The hits, runs and earned runs were all season highs. Irvin had allowed no more than four scores in a single game, and a total of just 16 earned runs.
Triton Notes: UC San Diego is now 30-18 over its 10 NCAA Championship appearances, including 2-0 against Point Loma ... The Tritons are 19-9 away from home in 2018, including 5-0 at neutral venues ... UC San Diego is 46-39-1 all-time against Point Loma ... The Tritons have won five consecutive West Regional games ... Alex Eliopulos is the only Triton to start or even appear in all 54 games ... Brandon Stewart batted leadoff and Shay Whitcomb fifth for the 10th time this season and ninth game in a row ... Mitch Hickey made his 14th appearance, drawing his 12th start as a Triton ... Hickey became the second Triton to strike out 10-plus batters in a game, after Preston Mott's 10 at home against Cal Poly Pomona on March 2 … Hickey's 12 strikeouts are the most by a Triton since current assistant coach Adrian Orozco had 12, also in six, against CSUMB on March 12, 2017 ... Zander Clarke (81) and Eliopulos (69) remain 1-2 in the CCAA in RBI ... With three more home runs and four more doubles, UC San Diego continues to lead the CCAA in both categories over Cal State Monterey Bay, 73-53 and 117-111, respectively ... The Tritons have hit at least one double in 21 straight games, with 68 total in this stretch ... Clarke's 81 RBI rank No. 2 on the program's single-season chart, now only three back of Brandon Gregorich's 84 in 2010 ... Clarke’s 17 home runs are third on the single-season list, one back of former major leaguer and UC San Diego Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Bob Natal (1987) ... The Tritons scored 20-plus times for the third time in 2018, in double figures for the 22nd time, and reached 20-plus hits for the fourth time ... UC San Diego drew 10 walks, getting to double figures for the seventh time this year as the league leader, and in fact now is just six back of national leader Catawba, whose season is done ... The Tritons got to 20 runs in a postseason game for the first time since a 20-5 win at home over Cal Poly Pomona on the second night of the 2014 West Regional ... Aaron Kim's eighth-inning home run was his second of the year and first since Feb. 11 ... Clarke moved up from fourth to second nationally in RBI with Thursday's effort ... Former Triton slugger Richard Seigel (2012-13) was among those in attendance.
2018 NCAA Division II Championship West Regional
Cougar Baseball Complex • Azusa (Double Elimination)
Thursday, May 17
Game 2: No. 5 California Baptist 7, No. 2 Azusa Pacific 4 (15 innings)
Game 1: No. 1 Cal State Monterey Bay 10, No. 6 Chico State 7
Game 3: No. 3 UC San Diego 22, No. 4 Point Loma 3
Friday, May 18
Game 4: Chico State vs. Azusa Pacific (elimination game), 11 a.m.
Game 5: Cal State Monterey Bay vs. Point Loma (possible elimination), 3 p.m.
Game 6: California Baptist vs. UC San Diego, 7 p.m.
Saturday, May 19
Game 7: Teams TBD, 11 a.m.
Game 8: Teams TBD, 3 p.m.
Game 9: Teams TBD, 7 p.m.
Monday, May 21
Game 10: Teams TBD, 12 p.m.
Game 11: Teams TBD, if necessary
B1: ZANDER CLARKE! An absolute bomb to left center on the 2nd pitch of his Regional after taking a ball. That was after Tyler Durna battled back from 1-2 deficit for 7-pitch walk. That ball was hit HARD!— UCSD Triton Baseball (@UCSDbsb) May 18, 2018
2-0 🔱#GoTritons #NCAAD2West pic.twitter.com/dQV5x01klq
Here’s that grand slam by Zander Clarke. Incredibly #UCSanDiego’s 8️⃣th of the season. Zander’s 3rd. Brandon Gregorich’s single-season school record of 84 RBI (2010) is officially on notice. Zander has 8️⃣0️⃣. 💪💣 #ZanderBomb— UCSD Triton Baseball (@UCSDbsb) May 18, 2018
7-0 🔱#GoTritons #NCAAD2West #RoadToCary pic.twitter.com/JNrgzQwcS4