CARY, N.C. - The 22nd-ranked University of California San Diego couldn't string anything together in falling to No. 8 Columbus State, 6-0, in a winner's bracket game of the 2018 NCAA Division II Championship at the USA Baseball National Training Complex on Tuesday night.
The eight-team, eight-day, double-elimination tournament is being co-hosted by the University of Mount Olive and the Town of Cary, back in Cary after a one-year move last season to Grand Prairie, Texas.
Third-seeded UC San Diego, the designated home team as the result of a coin toss, dropped to 43-16 overall. The result snapped a 13-game win streak for the Tritons, who have still taken 23 of their last 26. Second-seeded Columbus State of Georgia, the Southeast Region champion, moved to 47-13 with a fifth consecutive victory.
UC San Diego next faces an elimination game on Wednesday, May 30, at 4 p.m. PT (7 p.m. ET), against fourth-seeded Southern New Hampshire. Columbus State is sitting pretty as one of two teams left at a perfect 2-0. Six teams remain alive in the tourney.
After both teams went down in order in the opening frame, a four-pitch, one-out walk and ensuing double down the left field line put the Cougars in business in the visitor second. Junior left-hander Preston Mott got the next batter to swing through a low offering, with his catcher Nick Kitzmann doing a fine job of keeping the ball from skipping through him. The No. 8 batter, senior second baseman Gunar Drinnen, roped a two-run double that just got over the leaping Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS) at third base, however, for the first runs scored against UC San Diego in the tournament.
The Tritons staged a two-out rally to threaten to get at least one of those runs back in the home second. Justin Beck was hit to become UC San Diego's first base-runner of the evening, and Keenan Brigman did well to work an eight-pitch walk, fouling off two 3-2 tosses before taking ball four. A fielder's choice groundout ended the inning.
Columbus State added to its lead with a two-out, opposite-field RBI single through the left side after a one-out single and two-out single had put two more runners on. With Cougars at second and third following a wild pitch and stolen base, Mott dropped a 3-2 pitch into the zone to get Robert Brooks looking and avoid further trouble.
Kitzmann drew a five-pitch walk to lead off the home third and took second on a one-out wild pitch, but a foulout and a groundout left him stranded.
Mott worked around a two-out walk in the fourth, and the Tritons put something together again in the home half through a one-out Shay Whitcomb single, their first hit of the game that dropped just in front of the charging centerfielder in right center. Beck followed with a six-pitch walk. A deep flyout by Brigman and a strikeout kept UC San Diego looking for its first run of the contest.
Columbus State widened the gap further with a two-run fifth. Back-to-back hits on 1-2 pitches, the latter a flared single into right center to score two, followed a leadoff single and a lineout to center. That activity chased Mott in favor of Blaine Jarvis. The redshirt sophomore right-hander walked his initial batter on four tosses, but on his very next pitch, dialed up a 4-6-3 double play.
Kitzmann battled back from an 0-2 deficit, fouling off a 1-2 toss, to work a seven-pitch leadoff walk in the bottom of that inning. A first-pitch Brandon Stewart sacrifice, which the speedy leadoff man nearly beat out, preceded two flyouts.
Columbus State kept adding to its lead, producing a two-out rally in the sixth through a single and an RBI double, with the Tritons narrowly missing out on making the play at the plate.
Eliopulos started the home sixth with a roped single to right, but was left at third as Brigman lined out sharply to deep left after a Whitcomb flyout and Beck groundout. Kitzmann's single to center with one away in the seventh, also turned into nothing.
After seeing starter Perez Knowles off, the Tritons loaded the bases in the eighth on a leadoff walk to Zander Clarke, ensuing single by Eliopulos that put men at the corners, and a one-out walk to Beck. In a sign that it just wasn't their night, Brigman hit a hard ground ball right to the shortstop for an easy 6-3 inning-ending double play.
Even in the ninth, UC San Diego got back-to-back walks for openers by Blake Baumgartner and Kitzmann to bring up the top of the order, but again got nothing out of it, stranding 12 on the night. Senior Michael Palos pinch-hit for Stewart and flew out to right, Tyler Durna stung one right at the first baseman as both teammates advanced, and a groundout ended the game.
The Tritons had at least one reach base safely in every inning but the first, with at least one man advancing into scoring position in all but one of those, the seventh, but ultimately were shut out for just the second time in 2018. They came in averaging 8.6 runs per game, and yet have managed just four scores in 18 innings thus far in Cary.
Mott (8-2) went 4.1 innings and allowed five runs on eight hits and two walks. He struck out four. Mott posted a quick 1-2-3 frame in the first. Sophomore right-hander Ted Stuka produced UC San Diego's next perfect inning, in the eighth, getting his fourth strikeout, a flyout, and then pouncing on a bunt and firing to first for the out. Stuka totaled 2.1 shutout frames, retiring seven of eight. Junior right-hander Jonah Dipoto turned in a 1-2-3 ninth with a pair of strikeouts following an infield pop-up.
Durna, the Tritons' junior first baseman, went down to his left to gather a sharply-hit grounder and made the unassisted putout for the first out in the third on Grant Berry. Eliopulos came up with a tough play to end the seventh, corralling a grounder and firing to Durna at first in a fluid motion to get the third out with a man at second.
Eliopulos had two of the Tritons' four hits on the night. Beck reached base three times, with two walks and a hit-by-pitch. Kitzmann was actually a perfect 4-for-4 in finding his way to first base, with a career-high three walks and a single.
Knowles (8-3) gave up just three singles, four walks and a hit-by-pitch in 7.0 scoreless innings. The senior left-hander fanned seven, including two in a perfect first.
The Cougars' first five runs were driven in by Drinnen and Chase Brown, who entered the game with the two lowest RBI totals in their starting lineup.
Triton Notes: UC San Diego is 34-19 over its 10 NCAA Championship appearances, including 10-6 at the finals site and 6-4 in Cary ... Tuesday marked the first-ever meeting between the teams ... The Tritons are 23-10 outside of La Jolla, including 8-1 in neutral-site contests after suffering their first such defeat ... Alex Eliopulos is the only Triton to start or even appear in all 59 games ... Brandon Stewart batted leadoff and Shay Whitcomb fifth for the 15th time this season and 14th game in a row ... UC San Diego lost for the first time with Stewart in the leadoff position, now 14-1 in those games ... Preston Mott drew his team-leading 15th start ... Stewart's fifth-inning sacrifice was his team-best 10th ... The Tritons saw their streak end of hitting at least one double in 25 straight games, with 74 total in that stretch ... UC San Diego's postseason win streak also ended at nine in a row, a program record at least for Division II days ... The original start time of the game was 7 p.m. ET, but was pushed back to 8:30 p.m. ET due to adverse weather, and began at 8:42 p.m. ET.