Fixed It! No. 5 Tritons Romp 21-2 at Cal State East Bay to Clinch First CCAA Regular-Season Title Since 2012
HAYWARD, Calif. - Redemption, and a just reward for a remarkable season. After several near-misses in recent years with late-season hiccups or in the case of last May, a tiebreaker, No. 5 University of California San Diego clinched its first California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) regular-season title since 2012 through an emphatic 21-2 romp over Cal State East Bay Thursday at Pioneer Baseball Field.
UC San Diego put up crooked numbers offensively in the second through fifth innings, and for a final time in the ninth, on the way to totaling season highs of 21 runs, 17 hits, and nine extra-base knocks. Four of them were home runs, as the Tritons increased their league-leading total now to 40 long balls.
With a fourth consecutive victory, UC San Diego improved to 32-10 overall and 27-10 in the CCAA. Seventh-place Cal State East Bay fell to 22-25 overall and 19-22 in league play, now on the brink, if not officially eliminated from postseason contention.
The 2012 campaign was Eric Newman's first in charge of the Tritons, as double champions that year of the regular season and CCAA tournament. This is the program's fifth regular-season banner, the first four coming consecutively from 2009-12. Thursday's result also marked Newman's 200th CCAA win, itself a noteworthy milestone in arguably the nation's toughest Division II conference.
UC San Diego has thus also now locked up the top seed for the 2019 CCAA Tournament in Stockton as the defending and record seven-time tourney champion. The Tritons will open the four-day, double-elimination event on Wednesday, May 8, at 11 a.m. at Banner Island Ballpark. Their opponent is yet to be determined.
Though the offense was plenty loud, also making considerable noise Thursday was Noah Conlon on the mound. In his 10th appearance of the year and seventh start, given a big assignment by Newman, the true sophomore right-hander went a career-long six-plus innings and had faced the minimum of 18 through six complete before exiting during a two-run seventh. He retired the first 10 Pioneers in order, on just 26 pitches, and was perfect in the first, second, third, fifth and sixth. Conlon (2-2) needed only 48 tosses over those first six frames, and earned his second win in five days.
UC San Diego opened the scoring in the second. Blake Baumgartner hit a 2-1 pitch high to the opposite field and down the right field line, and it fell beyond the reach of a charging Robert Lujan. The Triton first baseman made it all the way to second, and the play was oddly credited as a fielding error. After a hard flyout by fellow redshirt sophomore Aaron Kim, Michael Fuhrman sent the second pitch he saw into the gap in left center for an RBI double. It was the first of his career. Senior Keenan Brigman followed with a hard-hit groundout to the right side to move Fuhrman to third. The freshman scored the Tritons' second run on an infield error, as the throw skipped and was unable to be handled by the Pioneer first baseman. Steven Schuknecht had walked on four pitches before that at-bat by centerfielder Christopher Schasteen. A fourth straight senior, R.J. Prince, was then plunked by true freshman right-hander Blake Corsentino on a 1-1 pitch to load the bases, and a five-pitch walk to sophomore shortstop Shay Whitcomb forced Schuknecht home for a 3-0 advantage.
Conlon came right back out and produced his second straight 1-2-3 frame, and first of the shutdown variety, on a solitary six pitches. Senior third baseman Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS) snared an opening low liner to his back hand, and after a groundout to Fuhrman at second, Schasteen charged in and made a shoestring catch.
The Tritons immediately doubled their lead in the third. Kim was hit with one away, and Brigman accepted a four-pitch walk with two gone. Schuknecht then drilled a 2-2 toss into the right field corner for his second triple of the season and fourth of his career, and scored on the very next pitch as Schasteen laced his first extra-base hit of 2019, a first-pitch double, inside the left field line.
Whitcomb went to the opposite field with an 0-2 offering and found the right field line to begin the fourth. He scored on Eliopulos' 12th double of 2019, also to the opposite field and into the gap in left center, going all the way to the fence. Baumgartner followed with an RBI double of his own, his ninth, for the day's first pitching change.
New arm Michael Espino struck out his first batter, but walked Fuhrman on five pitches, and Brigman came through with an RBI single through the left side. With two outs, Schasteen reached via error a second time, to load the bases, and back at the top of the order, Prince rolled a two-run single through the left side for an 11-0 bulge.
UC San Diego put up a fourth straight crooked number in the fifth, as Eliopulos dropped a single in front of the leftfielder on a 2-2 pitch, and two tosses later, Baumgartner went deep over the wall in left center for his ninth home run of the season, third in three games, 14th of his college days, and first in Northern California.
Another infield error and an eight-pitch walk to Fuhrman during which he fell behind 0-2, took three straight balls and fouled off a pair, preceded Brigman's first collegiate blast, of the three-run variety to left on a 1-0 offering.
True freshman Ryan McNally, who entered the game defensively at second base in the home sixth as UC San Diego went to a slew of substitutions, followed Brigman's lead and belted his first college home run, also to left on a 1-0 pitch, to begin the seventh. McNally and Brigman are Bay Area natives from Moraga and San Jose, respectively.
The Tritons still had one big inning left in them, a four-run frame in the ninth. The major blow was junior rightfielder Alex Athanacio's three-run home run to left center with one away. It was a third on the year for the first-year transfer from Cañada College and native of nearby San Mateo. Tyler Leskiw had reached base with one gone on a fifth credited error, and gone to third on a first-pitch single pulled through the right side by redshirt freshman Logan White, Jr. Schasteen lifted an RBI single to left.
Conlon wound up allowing two runs on three hits and two walks, with one strikeout. He navigated through an eight-pitch first on a foul flyout to Prince in right, a flyout to Brigman in left, and a groundout to Whitcomb, with Baumgartner digging out his throw in the dirt. Conlon was perfect until a sharp one-out single in the fourth. He promptly wiped that out with a 4-6-3 double play, and was at just 33 pitches through four. The third inning saw three easy groundouts, Fuhrman making no mistake on the first two, and Whitcomb handling the third one. Conlon needed six pitches in the fifth.
Zach Tresemer, another Northern California product out of Elk Grove, took over for Conlon after the seventh began with a single, first-pitch RBI triple, and a pair of five-pitch walks. The redshirt sophomore right-hander minimized the damage there and was brilliant in registering the final nine outs, for his first save as a Triton. His stint began with a bullet lineout to right that didn't score the Pioneer runner from third with the bases full. After a strikeout, he was drilled in the backside by a comebacker that went down as an RBI infield single, with another flyout ending the seventh.
Tresemer posted a 1-2-3 eighth with his second strikeout. After a one-out single in the ninth, McNally picked up pinch-hitter Jacob Eder's looper on the short hop, and with the runner, senior Kyosuke Ushimaru, freezing with the ball in the air, the Tritons had no trouble turning the game-ending 4-6-3 double play. Freshman reserve first baseman Blake FitzGerald squeezed that final out to trigger their first of a hopeful four dogpiles, or even five under the NCAA Division II's new postseason format.
Eliopulos finished 4-for-7 with a double, two runs and one RBI. It was a season high in hits, all coming on two-strike counts, and matching the best single-game output of his career. Brigman was 2-for-3 with his home run, a walk, three runs and a career-high four RBI. The three scores equaled his best. Baumgartner went 2-for-4 with a double, long ball, three runs and three RBI. Fuhrman wound up 1-for-2 with a double, game-high two walks, season-high three runs and an RBI. He now has five two-walk performances in his last eight games. Athanacio drove in three.
Schuknecht was 1-for-3 with his triple, a walk, two runs and two RBI. Schasteen had two hits and two RBI, and also ended the sixth with another terrific diving grab.
Corsentino (3-5) gave up nine runs, six of them earned, on six hits, four walks, two hit-by-pitches and a wild pitch over three-plus innings, striking out one. He issued a six-pitch walk to Prince to begin the game, but quickly bounced back to get a flyout and a 4-6-3 double play. The Pioneers used six arms on the afternoon.
UC San Diego and Cal State East Bay continue their series with a noon doubleheader at Pioneer Baseball Field in Hayward on Friday, May 3. Admission is free.
Triton Notes: Alex Eliopulos started his 118th straight game, all at third base ... Eliopulos, first baseman Blake Baumgartner and shortstop Shay Whitcomb are the only Tritons to start all 42 games in 2019 ... Sophomore right-hander Noah Conlon earned his seventh mound start this season and eighth of his career ... Senior rightfielder R.J. Prince was in the leadoff spot for the sixth straight game ... Senior Steven Schuknecht was in the starting lineup for the first time since April 19, as the designated hitter ... The Tritons are 10-6 on the road ... The Tritons are 31-4 in 2019 when scoring at least three runs, and 21-2 when hitting a home run ... UC San Diego reached the 20-run mark for the first time since a 22-3 triumph over city rival Point Loma on the first night of the 2018 NCAA West Regional in Azusa last May 17 ... The Tritons had defeated East Bay 25-2 in last year's series opener in La Jolla on March 29 ... Eric Newman's CCAA record now stands at 200-111 (.643).
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 37 have earned prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships. In competition, more than 1,300 UC San Diego student-athletes have earned All-America honors.
Follow the Tritons
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).