Reinvigorating! No. 14 UC San Diego Turns Fortunes Around With Resounding Doubleheader Sweep of No. 16 CPP
LA JOLLA, Calif. - It's all about how you respond.
On the heels of four punchless losses in succession culminating in getting no-hit Friday night in Pomona, University of California San Diego head coach Eric Newman's club responded in a big way and punched right back.
Fourteenth-ranked UC San Diego swept Saturday's California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) baseball doubleheader over 16th-ranked rival Cal Poly Pomona, to come away with a split that seemed quite improbable the night before. Game scores were 6-0 and 9-2 in the seven-inning nightcap as the Tritons conceded runs in only one of the 16 frames played on a big day for the two-time defending West champions.
With the two wins, UC San Diego improved to 9-4 overall and an even 4-4 in the CCAA. The Tritons' first four-game slide since late March of 2016 had followed the program's best start, at 7-0, of the NCAA Division II era. Cal Poly Pomona, a winner of six in a row at the start of the day, fell to 8-6 overall and 6-2 in league play. The Broncos had won 5-2 on Thursday and 9-0 via Tim Holdgrafer no-hitter on Friday in Pomona.
The teams have split the last four West Region trophies, with the Broncos champions in 2015 and 2016 ahead of UC San Diego's titles the past two years. The Tritons are the CCAA preseason favorites, with CPP right behind in second.
Sophomore Noah Conlon (2.0 IP) and junior Teddy Stuka (7.0) combined on a six-hit shutout in the first game. Junior right-hander Brandon Weed (Lemon Grove/Southwestern College/Grossmont HS) fired five-plus strong innings in his initial start as a Triton in the nightcap to improve his win-loss record to 2-0.
UC San Diego had nine extra-base hits over the two contests, including a season-best six in the shorter one, to none by the Broncos. The Tritons totaled 19 hits after managing only four in Pomona.
UC San Diego remains home for a four-game CCAA series against visiting Sonoma State next Friday through Sunday, March 1-3. The primetime opener on Friday night is set for a 6 p.m. first pitch at Triton Ballpark on East Campus in La Jolla. Those unable to attend can watch all four contests on UCSDtritons.tv for a per-day fee of $5.99.
Game One - No. 14 UCSD 6, No. 16 CPP 0
Stuka (1-1) was the story for UC San Diego to begin the day, and arguably for the day. The big 6-foot-7 right-hander out of Newport Beach, the 39th-round selection of the Baltimore Orioles during the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft who opted to return to the Tritons for a third college season, was purely magnificent.
Conlon was only scheduled to go the first two innings as he continues to work his way back from an injury that cut his rookie effort short at five outings in 2018. The Placentia native had tossed just the first inning last Sunday. Against CPP, he got himself in and out of trouble in the opening frame, firing up his dugout.
Following a first-pitch strike, Conlon threw four straight balls to walk leadoff man Nick Peifer. Nic Hernandez singled to center on the first pitch he saw, and on Conlon's next offering, Ryon Knowles laid down a perfect bunt. Just like that, seven pitches in, the bases were full. Conlon rallied, getting cleanup man Brennan McKenzie and Drew Cowley swinging around a popup by Cesar Lopez to set the tone for the doubleheader. He actually went 3-0 to Lopez, one ball outside the zone from the game's first run.
Conlon erased a leadoff single in the second with a 6-4-3 double play, before handing it over to Stuka. Stuka allowed a leadoff single and a walk in the third, the latter coming in between his first pair of swinging strikeouts to end any threat.
All three hits against Stuka were singles. He retired nine straight between a one-out Jeremy Conant single in the fourth, and a one-out walk to Angel Ortiz in the seventh, with five on strikes and the other four via grounders. Three of his strikeouts came in the fourth around that Conant hit. No Bronco advanced past second after the first. Stuka's career-best ninth strikeout was to end his longest outing, and the contest. He had needed just seven pitches in a perfect fifth, and 11 in the 1-2-3 sixth.
The Tritons conspired to not score in the first three innings despite a four-pitch walk to lead off the first, a hit-by-pitch and single to open the second, and two baserunners in the third. Two double plays and a caught stealing were among the culprits.
When Aaron Kim rolled a first-pitch, opposite-field single through the right side after Nick Kitzmann was hit with an 0-2 pitch to begin the second-inning, that was UC San Diego's first hit since Brandon Stewart's triple to lead off the fifth on Thursday night.
Freshman Ryan McNally fouled off three 2-2 offerings and walked with one gone in the third, ahead of a bloop single by Stewart that landed in front of the rightfielder, but a twin killing ended a second successive frustrating frame.
Finally in the fourth, the Tritons broke through for their first run since the eighth inning on Thursday. Blake Baumgartner singled up the middle for openers, and Kitzmann worked a five-pitch free pass. Kim got the sacrifice down, to bring up Keenan Brigman, who was unable to bunt two teammates over in his previous plate appearance in the second. The redshirt junior utility made up for that in a big way, slapping an opposite-field, two-run triple just inside the right field line for 2-0. Junior rightfielder Alex Athanacio then fouled off an 0-2 toss, took two balls, and provided a sacrifice fly to plate Brigman.
The Tritons got an insurance run in the seventh as Athanacio went to the opposite field again for a leadoff double down the right field line. It was his first extra-base hit as a Triton. Shay Whitcomb's flyout advanced him to third, and McNally picked a genuinely fine moment for his first collegiate hit, a sharp first-pitch RBI single up the middle through the drawn-in infield for 4-0. He was 0-for-8 on the year at the time.
Baumgartner's leadoff walk sparked a final two-run rally in the eighth. With one away, Kim also went to the opposite field again, drilling an RBI single into the gap in right center. Brigman followed by looping a single into left center.
The eighth could have been Stuka's last frame, as he fell behind 3-1 to McKenzie with Ryon Knowles already on second and just one away, but he got the Bronco junior to ground out to Whitcomb, and Lopez to ground out to McNally to get out of the inning.
Brigman finished 2-for-4 with a triple and run scored, matching his single-game career high of three RBI. Kim was 2-for-3 with a double, sacrifice, run and RBI.
Game Two - No. 14 UCSD 9, No. 16 CPP 2 (7)
Both teams put up a crooked number in the first inning, capitalizing on one infield error apiece as two of the five combined tallies were thus unearned.
Three straight one-out singles got to Weed for a run in the top half. An awry throw by Whitcomb on a fielder's choice groundout enabled Knowles to score.
Stewart led off a third consecutive game with a walk, and this time, the Tritons got him around. Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS) singled ahead of Baumgartner's RBI single into center. Kitzmann walked to fill the bags. With the first out finally registered by senior starter Dylan Francis (1-2), Brigman hit a sharp grounder right at McKenzie at first base, who booted it to give UC San Diego a 3-2 edge. Brigman was given an RBI.
Kim led off a four-run fourth with a double into the left field corner on an 0-2 pitch. It was the first of four Triton hits in the big frame as 10 men came to the dish. Brigman worked a five-pitch walk, and Athanacio slung together another solid at-bat, taking a called strike, fouling off three straight, accepting a ball, and roping an opposite-field RBI double into right center. On the next pitch, Whitcomb lifted an opposite-field sacrifice fly to right for 5-2, with Athanacio also advancing a base to third. That brought up McNally, who took an 0-2 pitch right over the shortstop's head for 6-2.
Following the game's first pitching change, Stewart singled up the middle, and Baumgartner took a four-pitch walk to load the bases with two away. Kitzmann was plunked with the count full, to force in McNally for 7-2.
A two-out rally made it 8-2 in the fifth, as Eliopulos was struck with a 1-2 toss, and Baumgartner roped a double down the left field line for his team-best 14th RBI.
Kim capped his solid day and the scoring by ripping his first home run of the season over the left field wall to lead off the sixth. Up 8-2, the redshirt sophomore fouled off two 3-2 pitches, got the one he wanted, and didn't miss, smacking a no-doubter.
Weed wound up allowing the two runs, one of them earned, on three singles and three walks, striking out two. Fellow right-handers Blaine Jarvis and Jonah Dipoto each tossed a clean inning. Jarvis took over after Weed walked the leadoff man in the sixth. He in turn walked his first batter, but came back to induce a comebacker, and with Broncos at second and third, got successive swinging strikeouts. Dipoto produced his second perfect frame of the series in the seventh, with one strikeout.
Baumgartner reached base all four times, going 2-for-2 with two walks, his double, a run and two RBI. Kim went 2-for-4 with the home run, double, two runs and one RBI.
McNally stuck with it and made a tough play for the first out in the fifth, retrieving the ball after taking it off the chest and firing in time to retire Logan Gopperton.
Triton Notes: UC San Diego leads the all-time series, 50-39, including 32-25 over the last 57 meetings since 2009 ... The Tritons swept a doubleheader over the Broncos for the first time since another home twin bill on March 20, 2016 ... That date, ironically, led directly into UC San Diego's last four-game skid, March 21-26, all on the road ... The teams split their regular-season series for the second year in a row ... Alex Eliopulos started his 88th and 89th straight games, all at third base ... Game One: Noah Conlon drew his third career start on the mound ... Alex Athanacio started in right field for the first time as a Triton after previously serving as the starting designated hitter Thursday night in Pomona ... The Tritons welcomed back redshirt junior catcher Nick Kitzmann, who started as the designated hitter after missing the first two games of the series due to illness ... Stuka's previous collegiate highs were 4.1 innings and eight strikeouts, both in his 2018 debut in relief at home against Concordia Irvine on Feb. 10 ... Brandon Stewart and Keenan Brigman were each caught stealing for the first time in 2019 ... Brigman's triple was the seventh of his career ... Aaron Kim, Brigman and Athanacio each provided his first extra-base hit of the season from the Nos. 5-7 spots of the order ... UC San Diego produced a shutout for the first time since its opener at the 2018 NCAA Division II Championship in Cary, N.C., last May 27 ... Game Two: Brandon Weed earned his first start in his fifth appearance as a Triton ... Kitzmann was back behind the plate ... Brigman was pinned with a second caught stealing after swiping 10 bases on 11 tries in 2018 ... Kim's third career home run, second at Triton Ballpark and first to left field at home, was the only long ball of the entire series.
B4: Kim got the bunt down, and after failing on sacrifice attempt last at-bat, Brig makes up for it in a BIG way with 2-R TRIPLE down RF line! Seventh of his career. #Tritons lead for first time in series!— UC San Diego Baseball (@UCSDbsb) February 23, 2019
🐎 0#GoTritons #UCSanDiego #RoadToCary #CCAAbsb #D2Baseball pic.twitter.com/DavnZo9XCd
B7: First college hit? FIRST COLLEGE HIT! Ryan McNally. Freshman beats drawn-in infield after Athanacio dropped 2B (first XBH as Triton) in front of RF to lead off, moved to third on Shay's flyout. BIG insurance!— UC San Diego Baseball (@UCSDbsb) February 23, 2019
🐎 0#GoTritons #UCSanDiego #RoadToCary #CCAAbsb #D2Baseball pic.twitter.com/dG2gm9aGoi
About UC San Diego Athletics
With 30 national team championships, nearly 150 individual titles and the top student-athlete graduation rate among Division II institutions in the United States, the UC San Diego intercollegiate athletics program annually ranks as one of the most successful in the country. The Tritons sponsor 23 intercollegiate sport programs that compete on the NCAA Division I and II levels and, in summer 2020, will transition into full Division I status as a member of the Big West Conference. UC San Diego student-athletes exemplify the academic ideals of one of the world's preeminent institutions, graduating at an average rate of 91 percent. A total of 80 Tritons have earned Academic All-America honors, while 36 have earned prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships. In competition, more than 1,300 UC San Diego student-athletes have earned All-America honors.
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