CHICO, Calif. - The University of California San Diego was defeated by Chico State, 4-2, in the finale of a California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) baseball series Monday afternoon at Nettleton Stadium.
The result meant a first series loss of the 2018 season for the Tritons, who dropped the four-game set, three games to one.
UC San Diego fell to 20-13 overall and 16-12 in the CCAA. Chico State improved to 21-15 overall and 17-13 in league play, winning a series for the first time in over a month, since the first week in March. The Tritons are the reigning NCAA Division II West Region champions, while the Wildcats are defending CCAA regular-season and tournament champs.
With action concluded on Monday, which was only necessitated by Friday rain postponements in the Bay Area, UC San Diego is still tied for second place, now with two other teams in Sonoma State (20-14, 16-12) and Cal State LA (19-14, 16-12 CCAA). The Tritons are a full four games back now, however, of Cal State Monterey Bay (26-8, 20-8 CCAA). Just three games separate second through ninth in a tightly-packed race for the six CCAA Championship spots.
After a pair of junior right-handers dueled over the first three innings, UC San Diego cracked the scoreboard in the fourth. First baseman Tyler Durna launched his fifth home run of the season to right to lead things off. Fellow junior Zander Clarke followed with a single to right. A lineout preceded a couple of defensive miscues that extended the inning with Tritons at the corners, but a flyout ended the threat.
Perfect through three, Jonah Dipoto also got the leadoff man in the fourth, benefitting from a terrific play by third baseman Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS), who back-handed a hard smash toward the line that was destined for extra bases. Over an ensuing span of five pitches, however, Dipoto hit Louie Canjura and walked Cameron Santos on four tosses, which set up Alex DeVito for his team-best fifth home run, just fair down the left field line.
Down 4-1 after a single Chico tally in the fifth, the Tritons got that one back on Nick Kitzmann's third home run of the year, a two-out solo shot in the seventh.
Durna and Kitzmann both went 1-for-4 with their home run, run and RBI. Justin Beck and Clarke were each 2-for-4. They accounted for UC San Diego's six hits. The Tritons also held the 'Cats to just six hits, but DeVito's big knock proved to be the difference.
Dipoto (2-3) went 4.0 innings and allowed three runs on one hit, two walks and a hit-by-pitch, striking out four. He set the 'Cats down in order in the first on a deep flyout to left, a swinging strikeout and a punch-out. Dipoto was also perfect through two on a flyout, chopped comebacker and strikeout, and three via three groundouts.
Mitch Hickey threw the final four innings, with one run against him on five hits. The senior right-hander struck out four and did not issue a walk for his second successive outing.
Eliopulos and Durna combined nicely again on a leadoff bunt attempt in the third, the former charging hard and the latter displaying his usual footwork to corral the throw. Beck then made a tough, sliding back-handed stab at a hard shot up the middle and completed the play to Durna for the second out of the inning.
Christian Stiegele (1-0), making his first start for the Wildcats, gave up one run on three hits and no walks over 4.0 frames. He fanned two. Stiegele retired the Tritons in order in the first on two deep fly balls to the warning tracks in right center and left center, around a swinging strikeout. He produced another 1-2-3 inning in the third.
Anthony Baleto took over in the fifth and struck out his first two hitters in a perfect inning. The senior right-hander retired his first five batters before issuing a two-out walk to Eliopulos in the sixth. Jae Wagner notched his second save, coming on to clean up a leadoff Beck single in the ninth against Baleto, to induce a first-pitch, 5-4-3 double play. An infield error brought the tying run to the plate a second time in the frame, but a strikeout ended the contest.
UC San Diego flies home on Monday evening and will play 10 of its final 16 regular-season games within the friendly confines of Triton Ballpark. That stretch begins with a critical four-game home series against Stanislaus State (20-16, 16-14 CCAA), with a primetime opener under Friday night lights on April 13 at 6 p.m.
Triton Notes: Alex Eliopulos and Zander Clarke are the only two Tritons to start all 33 games ... Justin Beck's second-inning single extended his reached-base streak to 19 games ... Shay Whitcomb's reached-base streak was snapped at 31 games to begin his college career, as the freshman shortstop finished 0-for-4.