Photo by: Derrick Tuskan
Michael Fuhrman (center without sunglasses) ignited the first-game comeback and subsequent doubleheader sweep.

Punch Back! No. 8 UC San Diego Awakens From Brief Slumber and Sweeps Twin Bill Over Chico State

UC San Diego

LA JOLLA, Calif. - The No. 8 University of California San Diego baseball team rallied in the opener ahead of a shutout in the nightcap to post a riveting doubleheader sweep over rival Chico State Saturday at Triton Ballpark. Scores were 7-5 and 5-0.

With the wins, UC San Diego improved to 19-5 overall and 14-5 in the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA). The Tritons remain half a game back of league leader San Francisco State, which swept a doubleheader of its own at Cal State LA. Chico State fell to 15-10 overall and 11-9 in CCAA play. The Wildcats were winners of 11 of their last 12 at the start of the day, and a perfect 10-0 on the road.

Chico State had taken a three-hit, 3-0 shutout in Friday night's series opener, and appeared to be cruising again, up 4-0 through six innings of Saturday's initial tilt. Sophomore shortstop Shay Whitcomb's two-run home run woke the Tritons up, and woke them up in a big way, as they outscored the 'Cats 12-1 over the rest of the day.

A five-run eighth completed the comeback, as UC San Diego turned that 4-0 deficit into a 7-4 advantage before denying a serious Chico State comeback bid in the ninth.

Sophomore right-hander Cameron Leonard and senior left-hander Preston Mott combined on a four-hit, seven-inning shutout in the nightcap. Redshirt senior third baseman and preseason All-American Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS) celebrated his 100th consecutive start by hammering a three-run home run in the first inning and driving in the first four Triton runs before scoring the capper.

On a day in which UC San Diego honored its 2009 squad for it being the 10-year anniversary of the program's first Division II West Region championship and trip to Cary, N.C., the Tritons remarkably swept their sixth twin bill of the current campaign.

UC San Diego will go for a third straight CCAA series win on Sunday, March 31. First pitch for the finale is set for 12 p.m. at Triton Ballpark on East Camps in La Jolla. Parking is free. Those unable to attend can watch for free on UCSDtritons.tv.

Game One - No. 8 UCSD 7, CSUC 5
UC San Diego sent 10 men to the plate in the five-run eighth after finally denting the scoreboard on Whitcomb's blast the inning prior. The Tritons only notched three hits for those five runs, and took advantage of Chico State losing sight of the strike zone, drawing four walks. The Wildcats fell behind all 10 batters, and in fact threw first-pitch balls to 12 straight Triton hitters from late in the seventh through the eighth.

After three doubles Friday and a two-out Ryan McNally double down the left field line in the second Saturday, UC San Diego finally registered its first single of the series in the fourth, courtesy of senior rightfielder R.J. Prince with a two-out infield knock.

Still without a run however after 15 frames against the 'Cats, UC San Diego head coach Eric Newman went to his bag of tricks and came up with Michael Fuhrman as a one-out pinch-hitter in the seventh. The true freshman out of Rolling Hills Estates paid huge dividends for the skipper and his Tritons. Fuhrman first drove a 1-1 pitch into center for a single, and with two gone, was the beneficiary of Whitcomb's sixth home run to halve the deficit to 4-2. Fuhrman, as it turned out, was only getting started.

Incidentally, Whitcomb thought the fourth pitch in that at-bat was ball four, taking a step or two toward first base. He was called back as the plate umpire disagreed, and pulled starter Andrew Lopez's very next offering over the left field wall. Lopez had been brilliant to that point, and was lifted immediately having made 100-plus tosses.

UC San Diego loaded the bases on three free passes to begin the eighth, around a second Chico State pitching change. Prince then sent an RBI single into left field. McNally's fly ball was too shallow to score Blake Baumgartner from third, but Fuhrman returned to the dish, worked the count to 3-1, and laced a bases-clearing, opposite-field triple into the right field corner. He pumped the fist emphatically after sliding in safely with his first collegiate extra-base hit at the most opportune time. Following another mound swap and a popout, the Tritons picked up Fuhrman as well, with Whitcomb beating out a two-out infield single just inside the third base line.

The drama wasn't over. Senior right-hander Kyle Lucke came on, only to be greeted by back-to-back-to-back Wildcat singles to close back to within 7-5 and put the tying run at first base. Alex DeVito then absolutely smoked a ball that Eliopulos went down to his left to snare, before getting up and firing to McNally at second to double up Brandon Hernandez. A flyout ended the game and gave Lucke his third save.

All of that likely would have been for naught if it weren't for a magnificent performance by junior Ted Stuka. A 39th-round Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft selection of the Baltimore Orioles last June who opted to return to school, the 6-foot-7 right-hander made himself some money with 5.1 shutout innings in front of several scouts who popped up seemingly out of thin air behind home plate with radar guns as he took the hill. The Newport Beach product touched as high as 96 or 97 miles per hour on those guns. He struck out six and allowed four hits and a walk.

Stuka plainly kept the Tritons in the contest and allowed them to figure out their offensive woes, rightfully earning the winning decision to move to 4-1. He came on with bases full in the third and threw one pitch that came right back to him in the form of a soft liner to keep it 4-0 game. It would stay that way until Whitcomb's shot.

Stuka ducked around a two-out double in the fourth. He then bookended strikeouts in the fifth and sixth, unbothered by a one-out double and one-out infield single, respectively, stranding a runner at second in all three frames. Stuka was perfect in the seventh. The eighth began with a leadoff single, sacrifice bunt and pinch-hit walk, but Stuka buckled down one more time to get a fielder's choice groundout to Eliopulos at third, and with 'Cats at the corners, a groundout to McNally at second. The freshman made a nice play, corralling the ball behind the bag and making the strong throw.

Game Two - No. 8 UCSD 5, CSUC 0 (7)
Leonard drew his first collegiate start in finally making a much-anticipated season debut, still recovering from injury. He was scheduled to only go the first two innings, and looked good doing it. The Hemet native threw 28 pitches, 21 of them strikes. Leonard's only strikeout was on his first batter, looking. He then made a tough, athletic play on the next hitter, reaching high to nab the ball with his back toward the plate before making a strong throw to Baumgartner at first for a 3-1 putout. Leonard worked through a two-out infield single in that frame ahead of a perfect second, going up 0-2 against all three batters for two infield groundouts and an infield lineout.

Mott (4-1) took over as planned, and was perhaps the best he’s looked all year in firing five three-hit frames with one walk and four strikeouts. He needed just seven pitches to get through the sixth. Mott began his outing with a 1-2-3 third, getting two swinging strikeouts around a deep flyout to junior leftfielder Alex Athanacio right up against the wall. He erased a leadoff Jorge Perez double in the fifth with two groundouts around a flyout.

Offensively, UC San Diego got all it needed in the opening frame, taking advantage of the only error charged to either team on the day. Athanacio beat out an infield single deep to shortstop with one away. Baumgartner then seemingly grounded into an inning-ending double play, but Perez booted the ball and both Tritons were safe, extending the frame for Eliopulos to then work the count full and smack his third home run of 2019 inside the right field foul pole. He had fouled off a pair of 3-2 pitches before finding one he liked.

Eliopulos was also involved in both Triton insurance runs in the sixth. Logan White, Jr., who redshirted as a true freshman at Division I Coastal Carolina last year, pinch hit for Athanacio to lead off, and dropped a 1-1 pitch in front of Hernandez in center for his first collegiate hit. He was lifted for senior Christopher Schasteen, who had scored what proved to be the game-winning run as a pinch-runner in the first game. With one gone, Schasteen scored easily as Eliopulos lined a triple into the gap and to the wall in right center, on an 0-2 toss, no less. Redshirt sophomore Aaron Kim picked up Eliopulos with a sacrifice fly to left. It looked like it might be too shallow, but leftfielder Turner Olson absolutely sailed his throw over the home plate area.

Eliopulos finished a perfect 3-for-3 with a home run, triple and single, all two-strike hits, with two runs and a season-high four RBI. It was his first multiple-hit and multiple-RBI game since March 1. He now has two triples and 12 RBI on the year.

Redshirt junior left-hander Grant Larson (4-1), a 2015 graduate of San Diego's High Tech High, tossed a six-inning complete game and thus gave up all five runs, four of them earned, on six hits and one walk. He struck out four in taking his first loss.

Triton Notes: UC San Diego leads the all-time series, 47-42, including 35-24 over the last 59 meetings, 36-34 in CCAA regular-season contests and 23-18 in La Jolla ... Alex Eliopulos started his 99th and 100th straight games, all at third base ... Nick Kitzmann entered the first game as a defensive replacement to begin the ninth, after missing the previous seven games, and started the nightcap behind the plate ... UC San Diego is 16-3 at home ... Game One: Noah Conlon drew his fifth mound start of 2019 and sixth of his career ... Aaron Kim's 11-game hit streak, the team's longest thus far of 2019, was snapped ... Game Two: Cameron Leonard earned his first collegiate mound start in his season debut after 14 relief appearances as a true freshman in 2018 ... Brandon Stewart grounded into a double play for the first time as a college player in the second, after 245 official at-bats last year and so far this season ... The shutout was UC San Diego's third on the year.

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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For complete coverage and information regarding UC San Diego Athletics, follow the Tritons online at UCSDtritons.com and through social media on Twitter (@UCSDtritons), Instagram (@ucsdtritons) and Facebook (UCSDtritons). For more information on UC San Diego Baseball, follow on Twitter (@UCSDbsb) and Instagram (@ucsd_baseball). Head coach Eric Newman is also on Twitter (@CoachEricNewman).

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