Leave No Doubt: Fifth-Ranked CCAA Champion Tritons Complete Road Series Sweep Over Pioneers
HAYWARD, Calif. - Fifth-ranked University of California San Diego scored in every inning but the ninth and completed its four-game California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) series sweep over Cal State East Bay, 17-12, Saturday at Pioneer Baseball Field.
With a seventh straight victory to conclude the regular-season slate, UC San Diego improves to 35-10 overall and 30-10 in the CCAA. The Tritons had already clinched their fifth CCAA regular-season title with a 21-2 romp in the series opener on Thursday afternoon, and an eighth series win for 2019 through Friday's doubleheader sweep, 8-3 and 4-1 in seven innings. Cal State East Bay concluded its campaign at 22-28 overall and 19-25 in league play.
This marks a second straight year with 30 CCAA wins for eighth-year UC San Diego head coach Eric Newman and his club. The four-game sweep is a fourth for the Tritons in league action. They did not suffer a single series defeat in 2019, ending at 8-0-4.
Saturday's victory also ensured that even if UC San Diego had been able to play its four games with San Francisco State that were canceled due to weather and field conditions in San Francisco in March, and somehow been swept, the Tritons would still have finished as CCAA regular-season champions by a game over Cal State Monterey Bay. Incidentally, the program has not been swept in a four-game series in over 15 years, since a trip to now-Division I UC Davis, April 2-4, 2004.
UC San Diego's 18 hits were a season high, though Cal State East Bay's 12 runs and 15 hits were both highs for a Triton opponent in 2019. Five of those runs were unearned.
Senior rightfielder R.J. Prince was hit in the back of the head by Jacob Nelson's second offering. He stayed in the game and took his base. Nelson's second toss to Shay Whitcomb skipped in the dirt well before the plate, to send Prince into scoring position. The sophomore shortstop proceeded to accept a five-pitch walk, with ball four coming on another wild pitch, this one sailing high of the Pioneer catcher, to put Prince at third. The visitors then opened the scoring as Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS) rolled a right-sided RBI fielder's choice groundout to plate Prince.
After a 1-2-3 home first, Triton leftfielder Keenan Brigman was hit by the third pitch of the second frame. He moved to second on a right-sided groundout by fellow redshirt junior Steven Schuknecht. True freshman second baseman Ryan McNally, an area native of Moraga, then fell behind Nelson 0-2 before slapping a single through the left side for the game's first hit, putting men at the corners for a second straight inning. A second right-sided RBI ground ball, this time by senior centerfielder Christopher Schasteen, scored Brigman for 2-0.
After two successive outs to begin the third around the afternoon's first pitching change, first baseman Blake Baumgartner connected for his 10th home run of the campaign, over the fence in left center, to match fellow redshirt sophomore Aaron Kim, who had homered Friday, for the team lead and a 3-0 edge.
The home third began with back-to-back walks to the hitters at the bottom of the Pioneer order. On his Senior Day, senior second baseman Dakota Conners then connected on his just first home run all year, a game-tying blast to left on an 0-1 toss.
The Tritons began to build it back up in the fourth, also thanks to the bottom of their order, loading the bags with nobody out on an opposite-field leadoff single to left by Schuknecht, infield single by McNally, and hit-by-pitch to Schasteen. An RBI fielder's choice groundout by Prince at the top of the order, regained a 4-3 edge as Schuknecht came across. Whitcomb worked a six-pitch walk to fill the bags once more, forcing a mound visit ahead of Eliopulos' plate appearance. Eliopulos likewise worked the count full, and found the right field line for a pulled, two-run single and 6-3 advantage.
UC San Diego added to its lead in the fifth, finding the scoreboard for a fifth consecutive frame. Redshirt junior catcher Nick Kitzmann found the left field corner for a leadoff double, moved to third on Michael Fuhrman's right-sided groundout, and scored on Kim's solid pinch-hit single to left. McNally singled hard off the pitcher, and Schasteen beat out another infield single, before Prince provided another RBI groundout to the right side for an 8-3 bulge.
Whitcomb walked to fill the bags, and Conners was unable to handle a hot shot by Eliopulos to score two more for 10-3. It went down as the first error of the contest.
After Cal State East Bay pulled one back in the fifth on an RBI single up the middle by Ryan McSwain, Kitzmann led off a second straight frame with a double to left. Back-to-back two-out RBI singles by McNally and Schasteen made it a 12-4 game.
The Pioneers capitalized on a leadoff infield error on a routine play and turned it into a lengthy inning with five unearned tallies to close back to within just three at 12-9.
Eliopulos got one of those back as UC San Diego managed to score for a seventh straight inning, smacking a solo shot with one away over the fence in right. It was his sixth on the year, second of the series, third in six games, and 25th of his Triton career.
Sophomore right-hander Cameron Leonard (1-1) went a season-long 3.0 innings and allowed three runs on two hits and two walks. He struck out one, and was perfect in the first through a trio of flyouts. Leonard ducked around a leadoff infield single in the second through a pair of unassisted groundouts to Baumgartner at first, around his only strikeout.
Brigman made a nice catch sprinting into the gap in left center and reaching up, for the second out of the home first.
Nelson gave up two runs on one hit, one walk, two hit-by-pitches and three wild pitches over 2.1 frames. The senior right-hander struck out three before exiting early.
UC San Diego will open defense of its record seventh CCAA Tournament crown from a year ago, this Wednesday, May 8. The Tritons will play the opening game of the four-day, six-team, double-elimination event, at 11 a.m. at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton. The opponent is No. 6 seed Cal Poly Pomona, with whom they split their four-game series to end February.
The other Wednesday matchups are No. 2 seed Cal State Monterey Bay against No. 5 San Francisco State at 3 p.m., and third-seeded Chico State against No. 4 Stanislaus State in the primetime slot at 7 p.m.
UC San Diego flies home to San Diego on Saturday night, and will bus back to Northern California to Stockton early Tuesday, May 7, in time for its 4 p.m. practice at the venue.
Triton Notes: Alex Eliopulos started his 121st straight game, all at third base ... Eliopulos, first baseman Blake Baumgartner and shortstop Shay Whitcomb are the only Tritons to start all 45 games in 2019 ... Senior rightfielder R.J. Prince was in the leadoff spot for the ninth straight game ... Ryan McNally made his first start back at second base since April 7 in Turlock ... Cameron Leonard drew his fourth mound start of the year and college career ... The Tritons are 13-6 on the road ... The Tritons are 34-4 in 2019 when scoring at least three runs, and 24-2 when hitting a home run ... UC San Diego concluded the 2019 regular season with eight series victories and four splits, for an 8-0-4 mark in sets ... Baumgartner's third-inning home run was the 15th of his college career, and fourth in his last six games ... Nick Kitzmann's doubles to lead off the fifth and sixth gave him three on the year and 14 for his career ... It was Kitzmann's first collegiate two-double effort.
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.
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