Photo by: Mike McGinnis
Aaron Kim's first college walk-off came through his team-leading ninth home run of 2019, with two of them grand slams.

No. 7/1/8 Tritons Salvage Day and Series Splits on Aaron Kim's Walk-Off Grand Slam, Clinch Postseason Berth

UC San Diego

LA JOLLA, Calif. - Redshirt sophomore catcher Aaron Kim launched a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the seventh inning to salvage the split of both a Saturday doubleheader and four-game California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) baseball series for No. 7/1/8 University of California San Diego against Cal State LA at Triton Ballpark. The game score was 7-3. The visiting Golden Eagles had blasted five home runs of their own to take a 10-7 decision to open the twin bill.

Cal State LA had won the opener this week, 11-5 on Thursday night, with UC San Diego returning the favor through that exact same score the next night, both in Los Angeles.

The Tritons move to 28-9 overall and 23-9 in the CCAA. They continue to top the standings, ahead of Cal State Monterey Bay (28-18, 26-14 CCAA), which put the finishing touches earlier in the day on a key 3-1 series victory at another contender in San Francisco State. Cal State LA is now 18-23 overall and 17-20 in league play.

The rally in the nightcap meant home win No. 20 for the Tritons in 2019, now 20-4, reaching that mark for the second straight year after a 20-6 La Jolla ledger in 2018.

In addition, combined with Cal Poly Pomona's loss earlier in the afternoon at Chico State, the salvaged split punched UC San Diego's ticket to the CCAA Tournament for a sixth consecutive season. Eighth-year head coach Eric Newman's club will be back in Stockton as the defending and record seven-time champion of the event, May 8-11.

The shortened, seven-inning nightcap was largely a pitchers' duel until the final frame, the Tritons having nursed a 2-1 edge to that point behind junior right-hander Brandon Weed (Lemon Grove/Southwestern College/Grossmont HS). The thorny Golden Eagles maintained plans that did not involve going away quietly, however, and they scored twice to gain a sudden upper hand heading into the last half.

Redshirt freshman Logan White, Jr., a first-year transfer from Division I Coastal Carolina making just his third start as UC San Diego's designated hitter, ignited the momentous rally by smacking a single up the middle. He actually went down 0-2 in the count, and alternated two fouls with two balls before finding something he liked. With freshman Ryan McNally running for White, senior centerfielder Christopher Schasteen got the bunt down. Following a first pitching change for Cal State LA away from effective starter Micah Hee, senior rightfielder R.J. Prince drew a five-pitch walk.

Sophomore shortstop Shay Whitcomb's check-swing effort then glanced off the top of pitcher Alec Daily's glove, and bounded toward the outfield grass, with nobody able to make a play. With the bases full, redshirt senior third baseman Alex Eliopulos pulled a ground ball to the right side that plated McNally with the tying run, as Cal State LA thankfully was barely unable to turn the double play. Redshirt sophomore first baseman Blake Baumgartner worked a five-pitch walk to fill the bags once more.

Kim then jumped all over a 1-0 toss from Daily (4-3), belting it to the opposite field and just over the wall in right center for the 7-3 final. It was his second big blast of the series, team-leading ninth on the year, and first walk-off hit as a Triton. That's now four grand slams for UC San Diego in 2019, and four walk-offs. Kim has two slams.

UC San Diego faces a third successive week with a four-game, split-venue series against a Southern California rival. The Tritons will head to Carson early Friday for the first two contests, that day and Saturday, both at 3 p.m., at Toro Field. The series wraps up on Senior Day at Triton Ballpark on Sunday, April 28, at 12 p.m. Eight outstanding Triton seniors will be recognized in between games of the twin bill.

Game One - CSLA 10, No. 7/1/8 UCSD 7
The UC San Diego pitching staff began the day having surrendered just four home runs over the first 35 games this season. It was somehow battered for five long balls in this one, three by senior rightfielder Adam Gordon.

The Tritons were actually still at No. 2 nationally in Division II in team earned run average when the series began on Thursday night in Los Angeles, at 2.54, but by the end of the day, had given up an uncharacteristic 29 runs to the Golden Eagles over four meetings, 25 of them earned. Their ERA still barely sits under 3.00, at 2.99.

UC San Diego had gone 70 games without allowing double-digit runs, before doing so twice this week, on Thursday and again to start off Saturday's doubleheader.

The Tritons produced single tallies in the first and third to take a 2-0 lead. They were up just two batters in. Alex Athanacio battled back to a full count after falling behind 0-2, and on the ninth pitch of his at-bat, blooped his eighth double to the opposite field in right into no man's land. The junior expertly took third on a great ball-in-dirt read, and scored easily on Whitcomb's two-strike single through the left side.

Schasteen singled on the first pitch of the third, stole both second and third, and came home on Baumgartner's two-out, identical-looking hit through the shortstop hole.

Gordon's leadoff blast in the fourth put Cal State LA on the board. Junior right-hander Luke Mattson then also allowed a one-out walk and ensuing single, but got around those with a swinging strikeout and first-pitch groundout to Baumgartner. Mattson had retired the first six batters in succession, and erased back-to-back singles to open the third through a flyout and pair of ground balls.

Both teams posted crooked numbers in the sixth, the Tritons answering a four-run frame with three of their own to make for a 5-5 deadlock. Gordon's second led off the top half, with Spencer Sundahl adding a two-run shot on new pitcher Jonah Dipoto's (3-2) second offering.

It took UC San Diego just four pitches to respond. A second-pitch Kim single, first-pitch single by freshman second baseman Michael Fuhrman, and first-pitch, three-run bomb by Prince got the home side back even in a hurry. It was only Prince's second home run as a second-year Triton, the first one coming Thursday night in Los Angeles. Both of them went to left center.

Unfortunately, the Golden Eagles pulled away and managed to still win the contest, getting two unearned tallies in the seventh due to a costly error, one in the eighth on Aaron McCann's first home run, and two more in the ninth on Gordon's third.

UC San Diego could only get two of them back, on an opposite-field Fuhrman sacrifice fly in the seventh, and an RBI Prince double in the ninth. The Tritons actually brought the tying run to the plate with one away, but a flyout and popout ended the game.

Schasteen, a second-year transfer from Skagit Valley College, began the day with seven hits and three steals at UC San Diego. He collected Triton bests of three hits (3-for-5) and four steals, taking over the team lead in the latter category with six, on seven tries. The Walnut Creek native fell a stolen base short of matching at least the program's Division II-era record of five by John Bologna on Feb. 10, 2002, also against Cal State LA. Schasteen in fact had the most steals by a Triton in over 16 years, since Bologna swiped four himself on Feb. 16, 2003, at Cal Poly Pomona.

Prince was 2-for-5 with the home run, double, run and career-high four RBI. Mattson went five-plus innings with four runs on seven hits and a walk, striking out one.

Fuhrman made a stellar play sprinting to his left and sliding toward the lip of the outfield grass to corral a ground ball in the third, before bounding up and making the strong throw in time for the final out, saving a run with Golden Eagles at the corners.

Fuhrman later also fought off the sun to make the tough grab of a pop-up to open the fifth. Schasteen followed that immediately with a difficult catch of his own, on a full sprint to track a ball visibly tailing toward the gap in right center.

Game Two - No. 7/1/8 UCSD 7, CSLA 3 (7)
Weed mostly cruised through the first five frames, putting up zeroes in each. The sixth began pretty incredibly with Gordon's fourth home run of the twin bill, pulled just inside the foul line in right to halve the visitors' deficit down to 2-1. All six of Golden Eagle knocks Saturday went out to right.

The action then ramped up in the seventh. A pinch-hit, one-out single got things going for Cal State LA. An infield single was then compounded as Weed threw past Baumgartner's reach at first, leaving men at second and third. Senior closer Kyle Lucke entered the fray, but couldn't prevent either run from scoring, setting up the dramatic bottom half. Lucke (4-0) did strand the bases loaded through an easy unassisted groundout to Baumgartner, and earned his second win of the series.

In the end, though Weed did not figure in the decision, UC San Diego has still now won all 11 contests in which he's thrown a pitch, with seven as a starter and four in relief.

The Tritons trotted out to a 2-0 lead just like they did in the first game. Prince, batting leadoff for the first time, drew a five-pitch walk in the initial frame, moved to second on a one-out wild pitch, and scored on Eliopulos' 10th double, roped over the centerfielder's head. Baumgartner opened the fourth with his eighth double of 2019, and sprinted around third on Fuhrman's RBI single up the middle with one gone.

Weed navigated around a couple of one-out singles in the first, a problem spot for the local product. It was a fielder's choice groundout and flyout that did the trick. He fanned a season-high five in his 6.1 innings, falling two outs shy of a second seven-inning complete-game victory in a row. Weed allowed season highs of 10 hits and three earned runs. He did not walk a batter, and was perfect in the fourth.

Eliopulos made arguably one of the greatest plays ever seen at Triton Ballpark to end the sixth. With the tying run at second in a 2-1 game, he went airborne toward the third base line to snare a scalded shot off the bat of Jordan Myrow, somehow, though it wasn't even entirely clear to the naked eye just how. Eliopulos initially looked to be diving toward that line to try to corral it, but the ball misdirected such that he actually had to reach back, and up, and still had a very difficult play just to get up and fire across the diamond to Baumgartner in time. It was simply an unbelievable play.

Gordon doubled his home run total over the course of the day, from an already-team-leading four to begin the set, to eight. Cal State LA had 18 as a team before Saturday.

Triton Notes: Alex Eliopulos started his 112th and 113th straight games, all at third base ... The Tritons are now 27-3 in 2019 when scoring at least three runs, and 18-2 when they connect on a home run, with both defeats coming this weekend against Cal State LA ... Game One: Junior outfielder Alex Athanacio was in the leadoff spot for the second straight game ... Senior centerfielder Christopher Schasteen drew his fourth start of the year and first since Feb. 11 ... Luke Mattson made his team-best ninth mound start, marking his 10th appearance as a Triton ... Aaron Kim's seventh-inning caught stealing was his fourth in 14 attempts ... Game Two: R.J. Prince started in the leadoff position for the first time as a Triton ... Redshirt freshman Logan White, Jr., earned a third start in a row as the designated hitter ... Brandon Weed made his seventh mound start in his 11th outing as a Triton, with UC San Diego having won all 11 of those games.

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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