No. 6 UC San Diego Drops Game 1 of NCAA West Super Regional at No. 24 Azusa Pacific
AZUSA, Calif. - No. 6 University of California San Diego ran into a buzz saw of a lineup in its home comforts Friday afternoon at Cougar Baseball Complex, falling to No. 24 Azusa Pacific University, 13-2, to begin the West Super Regional of the 2019 NCAA Division II Championship.
With the loss, second-seeded UC San Diego drops to 38-14 overall. Top seed Azusa Pacific improves to 40-13.
The two-time reigning West Region champion Tritons will now need to win twice on Saturday, May 25, to defend their back-to-back titles and earn a return trip to Cary, N.C. They will serve as the designated home team in the second meeting between the teams in Azusa at 12 p.m. Should UC San Diego take that matchup, the if-necessary finale would begin about 45 minutes following the last out of Saturday’s first game.
Nothing came of an infield single by R.J. Prince to lead off the game, as the senior rightfielder moved to second on a two-out balk, but was stranded there.
After star rightfielder Cole Kleszcz popped up in his first at-bat for the home side, sophomore third baseman Osvaldo Tovalin hit a solo home run, his 18th, to the opposite field in left for an early 1-0 edge.
UC San Diego started Brandon Weed (Lemon Grove/Southwestern College/Grossmont HS) on the mound, who is the Division 2 Conference Commissioners Association (D2CCA) and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) West Region Pitcher of the Year, as well as the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Most Valuable Pitcher. Likewise a junior transfer, Kleszcz is the D2CCA and NCBWA West Region Player of the Year, as well as the Pacific West Conference (PacWest) Player and Newcomer of the Year.
Azusa Pacific continued to use the long ball like it has all season, in the second. A one-out hit-by-pitch preceded a batter's interference, but No. 9 hitter Casey Dykstra and Kleszcz hit home runs on back-to-back pitches, just inside the right field line, and out to left, respectively, for 4-0. The first-pitch shot by Kleszcz was No. 26 for the UC Santa Barbara transfer, and APU's 100th as a team, both totals leading all NCAA divisions.
In the third, UC San Diego showed it can provide some heft as well. Prince worked a five-pitch walk with one away, and sophomore shortstop Shay Whitcomb, the CCAA Most Valuable Player, lifted a 1-0 pitch over the short porch to the opposite field in right to halve the deficit at 4-2. It was the Newbury Park native's 10th.
Azusa Pacific added four runs in the fifth. Tovalin doubled down the right field line with the first pitch of the frame, and scored on an opposite-field single, also just inside the third base line, by Griffen Herrera. An eighth home run of the season by senior catcher Justin Gomez, was pulled off the netting in right center for a 7-2 lead. With two gone, Joseph Kim added a solo shot to right, his fifth.
A second straight four-run inning put the result out of reach in the sixth, the big blow a three-run blast by Gomez to the opposite field in left center.
Weed (10-2) went 5.0 innings and allowed a season-high eight runs on 10 hits, no walks and a hit-by-pitch, striking out two. He had a 12-pitch, shutdown 1-2-3 frame in the third after the Whitcomb blast, with a groundout and two flyouts to leftfielder Alex Athanacio, the latter in foul territory as the junior sprinted over and reached up to make a tough grab. Having retired six straight through two quick outs in the fourth, Weed surrendered back-to-back singles to the bottom of the Cougar order, but managed to get Kleszcz to fly out to senior centerfielder Christopher Schasteen
Redshirt sophomore right-hander Zach Tresemer struck out PacWest Freshman of the Year Tido Robles with men at second and third to end the seventh after the Cougars had tacked on a 13th run through a bases-loaded RBI groundout. Tresemer posted the final seven outs for the visitors, with a season-best three strikeouts. He got Dykstra swinging with the bases full to end the sixth, and registered a perfect eighth. Redshirt junior right-hander Blaine Jarvis saw action between Weed and Tresemer.
Prince reached base in all four plate appearances, finishing 2-for-2 with a walk, hit-by-pitch and run scored. He thus extended his team-best reached-base streak to 19 games. Redshirt junior second baseman Keenan Brigman singled in each of his first two trips to the dish, and wound up 2-for-3 on the day. Whitcomb had the only other knock for UC San Diego.
Sophomore left-hander A.J. Woodall (8-2), who spent the 2017 season at UC Santa Barbara, gave up two runs on five hits, two walks and a hit-by-pitch over 8.0 frames. He struck out six. Woodall worked around a single in each of the first two innings, and retired the Tritons in order for the first time in the sixth on two groundouts and a popout. Woodall won a pretty epic showdown with Whitcomb in the eighth, getting him swinging to end a 12-pitch at-bat that saw seven foul balls. After a leadoff hit-by-pitch in that eighth, he struck out the 2-3-4 batters in the UC San Diego lineup in order. Woodall was perfect in the seventh, and Hayden Jorgenson likewise in the ninth.
The 13 runs were the most against UC San Diego in 2019, as were the six home runs. In fact, the six long balls were the most off the Tritons in at least their entire NCAA Division II era, since 2001. They had only given up multiple home runs in a game one other time this season, with Cal State LA connecting on five in La Jolla on April 20. UC San Diego only gave up 16 blasts over the first 51 games heading into Friday's contest. APU had hit five apiece in back-to-back home romps over Cal Poly Pomona last weekend. The Cougars have scored 47 runs over their last three times out.
Triton Notes: UC San Diego is now 37-22 (.627) in its 11th NCAA Division II Championship appearance ... Azusa Pacific leads the all-time series, 23-15 ... UC San Diego had won four of five previous NCAA tournament meetings, including the last three in Azusa over the past two years ... The Tritons are thus 4-2 now against the Cougars in NCAA postseason action ... Alex Eliopulos started his 128th straight game, all at third base, on his 23rd birthday ... Eliopulos, first baseman Blake Baumgartner and shortstop Shay Whitcomb are the only Tritons to start all 52 games in 2019 ... Senior rightfielder R.J. Prince was in the leadoff spot for the 16th straight game ... Brandon Weed drew his 12th start of the season as a first-year Triton, making his 16th appearance ... UC San Diego head coach Eric Newman posted the same lineup as the first three games of the NCAA West Regional #2 last week in La Jolla ... The Tritons are 13-9 away from home, including 13-7 in road games ... Whitcomb's third-inning home run was the 15th of his college career ... Baumgartner's third-inning walk was his league-best 44th ... UC San Diego is now 14-2 when Weed throws a pitch ... Friday was the Tritons' largest margin of defeat since a 21-10 loss at Cal State East Bay on March 1, 2015, and the first time they were downed by double-digit runs since an 11-1 home decision against Colorado Mesa last Feb. 9, 2018 ... UC San Diego had won eight consecutive games in Azusa through back-to-back, perfect four-game runs through the 2017 and 2018 NCAA West Regional in its previous format.
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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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