Road to Cary Begins Thursday in Azusa for No. 22 Tritons
The No. 22 University of California San Diego baseball program departs East Campus by bus on Wednesday afternoon, May 16, with the destination this week being the 2018 NCAA Division II Championship West Regional in Azusa. The West Regional is being hosted by Azusa Pacific at its Cougar Baseball Complex for the second year in a row. The third-seeded Tritons (38-15, 30-14 CCAA) are headed back again as defending champions of the West, having swept through their four games there last season. UC San Diego opens the six-team, double-elimination tournament against fourth-seeded city rival Point Loma (33-16, 29-11 PacWest) in primetime on Thursday night, May 17, at 7 p.m., to conclude the first day of action.
The other opening-round games include ninth-ranked and second-seeded host APU (39-9, 29-9 PacWest) against fifth-seeded Pacific West Conference (PacWest) foe California Baptist (33-17, 26-14 PacWest) to kick things off at 11 a.m. on Thursday. Seventeeth-ranked top seed Cal State Monterey Bay (38-16, 30-14 CCAA), the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) regular-season champion, goes up against CCAA rival and No. 6 seed Chico State (31-22, 26-18) at 3 p.m.
Should UC San Diego win Thursday, it would play again at 7 p.m. Friday night against the winner between APU and CBU. If the Tritons fall to the Sea Lions, they would face elimination Friday at 3 p.m. against the winner between CSUMB and Chico State. The West Regional championship game is scheduled for 12 p.m. on Monday, May 21. An if-necessary nightcap would start approximately 30 minutes after the conclusion of that contest. No games will be played on Sunday.
UC San Diego is a winner of eight straight and 18 of its last 20, and is 18-9 this season outside of La Jolla. The Tritons are 5-5 against the five squads participating in the West Regional, having only faced league foes Cal State Monterey Bay (3-2) and Chico State (2-3). The 56-team field for the 2018 NCAA Division II Baseball Championship is broken up into eight regionals of either six, seven or eight teams, across the country. The eight regional winners head again to Cary, N.C., after a one-year hiatus.
The Tritons are atop the CCAA again in batting (.313), just ahead of CSUMB (.311). They are also up to second in team ERA (3.83), behind only Chico State (3.45), and continue to lead in fielding percentage (.974). UC San Diego leads the league in several offensive categories, including runs (448), doubles (113), home runs (70), slugging (.504) and walks (291).
TICKET PRICES AND PARKING
Single-day ticket prices are $10 for adults, $7 for military and seniors (55 and older), and $5 for students with identification. Children aged two and younger will be admitted free. Tickets are good for day-of-games only, and will be available for purchase 60 minutes prior to the start of the first game each day. Parking is free, and will be available in Lot A, about 50 yards north of Cougar Baseball Complex.
All games of the West Regional will feature live stats and a live video stream with audio commentary, free of charge with no subscription required, courtesy of APU Athletics here. Veteran Chico State play-by-play voice Michael Baca will also be on hand for audio calls of the sixth-seeded Wildcats' activity here. Fans can access live coverage from the Schedule/Results page, or by clicking on the links above. Starting lineups, live between-inning updates and other in-game news and notes can be found by following Triton Baseball at their own Twitter handle (@UCSDbsb). Fans are encouraged to also still follow @UCSDtritons. Tune in to the #NCAAD2West hashtag throughout the week.
UC San Diego is making its 10th NCAA Division II Championship appearance, with a previous record of 29-18 (.617). The Tritons are back in the field for the fourth time in the last five years, and fifth in seven seasons under head coach Eric Newman. They have been one of the last two teams left standing in the West, in each of their last three turns, in 2014, 2015 and 2017. UC San Diego swept through its four games of the 2017 regional in Azusa, before going 4-2 at nationals in Grand Prairie, Texas, to finish as the runner-up, matching the program's best effort. The Tritons previously made six straight trips from 2007-12. Triton Ballpark has hosted the West Regional twice, in 2011 and 2014, with Sonoma State and Chico State advancing, respectively. UCSD finished 3-2 both at home in 2014 and in Walnut in 2015, reaching the finals both times. The Tritons lost twice to West Region champion Chico State in 2014, and then battled back from dropping their 2015 opener to APU with three wins, before losing the final to host CPP, 7-4. UCSD went 1-2 in its previous appearance under Newman in 2012, losing twice to Dixie State in Keizer, Ore. The Tritons advanced out of the 2010 West Regional with three consecutive wins over Hawai'i Pacific, Cal State Dominguez Hills and HPU in Compton at the MLB Urban Youth Academy. UCSD moved on to the NCAA Championship in Cary, N.C., and finished as the national runner-up. UCSD also advanced out of the West in 2009 in Keizer, Ore., with wins over Cal State Dominguez Hills, Western Oregon and Sonoma State. The Tritons fell in the national semifinal game to Emporia State that season to finish third overall. UCSD previously went 9-15 (.375) over five trips (1986-87-89-92-94) to the NCAA Division III Championship, also with a pair of regional crowns in 1987 and 1994.
THE FIELD BY THE NUMBERS
Thursday's opening-round matchup for UC San Diego pits the CCAA's top hitting team (.313), against the PacWest's No. 2 pitching side, Point Loma (3.98). By all accounts and measures, Cougar Baseball Complex is an offense-friendly park, so look for a lot of runs and home runs this week. That should suit the Tritons just fine, as for the second year in a row, they enter having scored the most runs of anyone in the field (448), and also for the second straight regional, are second only behind host APU's 81, with 70 long balls. That total includes 16 already in eight games in May. However, UCSD managed just two Brandon Shirley home runs last year in Azusa, to bookend its four-game sweep, and got the job done from the mound, allowing just 11 runs, eight of them earned (2.00), while scoring 28. The Tritons got a pair of complete games to begin the week by current assistant coaches Troy Cruz and Adrian Orozco. UCSD's .974 fielding percentage is tops among this week's teams, with Point Loma bringing up the rear at .953.
UC SAN DIEGO AGAINST THE #NCAAD2WEST FIELD
|1. CSUMB||2. APU||4. PLNU||5. CBU||6. CSUC|
|Series||(38-16, 30-14)||(39-9, 29-9)||(33-16, 29-11)||(33-17, 26-14)||(31-22, 26-18)|
On Nov. 27, UC San Diego was officially invited to become a member of the NCAA Division I Big West Conference. The Tritons will begin a four-year reclassification period starting in the fall of 2020. They will play a full Big West schedule that season and will be eligible for the NCAA Championship in men's volleyball, men's and women's water polo, and fencing. For the 2024-25 academic year, all sports will be eligible to compete in Big West and NCAA Division I championships. Read the full press release here.
UC San Diego was at No. 7 in the preseason edition of Collegiate Baseball Newspaper's NCAA Division II top-40 poll (Dec. 20). The Tritons were No. 4 and No. 19 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and Perfect Game preseason polls, respectively. They returned to the CBN poll on April 30, at No. 26, for the first time since March 19, and are No. 22 this week, with Azusa Pacific No. 9, Cal State Monterey Bay No. 17, and Point Loma receiving votes.
|Tritons in the Polls|
|Collegiate Baseball Newspaper||No. 22||No. 7||N/A|
|NCBWA||No. 14||No. 4||No. 2|
|Perfect Game||NR||No. 19||N/A|
LAST TIME OUT
UC San Diego swept straight through its four games at the CCAA Championship, bringing home its record seventh banner following a 5-1 victory Saturday over fourth-seeded rival Cal Poly Pomona. The second-seeded Tritons routed Cal State LA, 19-1, and top seed Cal State Monterey Bay, 13-5, around a 5-2 victory over 2016 and 2017 tournament champion Chico State on Thursday night. They got two-run home runs by Justin Beck and Zander Clarke against the 'Cats. Clarke was later named the Tournament MVP, and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Beck, Tyler Durna, Alex Eliopulos and Cameron Kurz. Kurz was on the mound for the final out against Chico State, earning his ninth save, and Cal Poly Pomona, escaping out of a bases-loaded, one-out situation with two called third strikes.
POINT LOMA CONNECTIONS
Second-year UC San Diego pitching coach Justin James came over from Point Loma ahead of the 2017 season. A 2004 PLNU graduate, James played there with current 11th-year head coach Joe Schaefer in the 2002 and 2003 seasons. He also assisted Schaefer from 2010-16, the last two of those years as his pitching coach. The two remain close friends. Also, UC San Diego head coach Eric Newman's wife, Melissa, is an associate professor of communciation in the Department of Communication & Theatre at Point Loma Nazarene University.
UC San Diego matched the program record from 2015, of 11 student-athletes recognized in some capacity with postseason CCAA awards. Zander Clarke is both the CCAA Most Valuable Player and CCAA Newcomer of the Year, while Shay Whitcomb is the CCAA Freshman of the Year. Clarke was joined on the All-CCAA First Team by fellow juniors Tyler Durna, Alex Eliopulos and Preston Mott. Seniors Justin Beck and Cameron Kurz made the second team, while Whitcomb, Blake Baumgartner, Keenan Brigman, Mitch Hickey and Nick Kitzmann earned All-CCAA honorable mention.
CLARKE ACHIEVES CCAA TRIPLE CROWN FOR LEAGUE SEASON
First-year Triton rightfielder Zander Clarke completed his CCAA Triple Crown for the league season, as he led the league over the 44-game CCAA slate in hitting (.409), RBI (61) and home runs (13-tied). He had 11 more RBI than the next closest player, teammate Alex Eliopulos, and 16 more than the rest of the field, despite missing two games through injury. Clarke was the only CCAA player to bat .400 in league action. He is still also pursuing a CCAA Triple Crown for all games, as he leads in average (.399) and RBI (74), and is fourth in home runs (15), just one behind. Clarke is first in the CCAA with his .697 slugging percentage as well.
SHAY SETTING THE TABLE
True freshman shortstop Shay Whitcomb's incredible 31-game reached-base streak to begin his college career, was snapped through an 0-for-4 performance in the series finale at Chico State on April 9. It was the sixth-longest such streak in UC San Diego's Division II era, since 2001. The Newbury Park native has missed a single contest and started the other 52 at shortstop, with 43 of those 52 in the leadoff position of the batting order. Whitcomb is eighth in the CCAA in on-base percentage (.447), third in walks (40), third in runs (55) and tied for ninth in hits (66). In addition to that team-best reached-base streak, he also owns the team's only double-digit hit streak of 2018 (14 games through May 5).
NAVIGATING THE BIG THREE
The Nos. 2-4 hitters in the Triton order, Tyler Durna, Zander Clarke and Alex Eliopulos, have been difficult, to say the least, for opponents to contend with. They are all batting .325 or better, led by Clarke at .399. They have combined for 36 of UC San Diego's league-best 70 home runs. Together with Shay Whitcomb, 213 of UCSD's 448 runs (.475), and 231 of 417 RBI (.554), have come from that formidable quartet. Durna is second in the league with his .493 on-base percentage.
UC San Diego used seven home runs in its four-game series with Cal State East Bay, including six in the opener, to move clear of Cal State Monterey Bay atop the league. With 13 against Cal State San Bernardino, nine versus CSUSM and seven at the CCAA Championship, the Tritons now have 70, just two away from tying the single-season program record of 72 from 2007. Seven of them have been grand slams. UC San Diego's league-best 53 long balls last season included 11 in a four-game series against CSUSB to wrap up the regular season, and 11 more in six contests at the CCAA Championship. The Tritons topped the league thanks to a late-season outburst that saw them hit at least one long ball in a Division II-era (since 2001) program-record 11 straight games (May 4-18), with multiple blasts in eight of them, and 26 in all over the last 20 contests. The 53 were more than what UCSD managed in the previous three years combined (41).
In his seven starts since returning to the starting rotation, fourth-year senior right-hander Jack Rupe, Jr. (San Marcos/Mission Hills HS), is 6-0 with a 3.10 ERA, 40.2 innings pitched and 40 strikeouts against nine walks (4.44 K/BB ratio). He has gone at least 5.0 frames in these last seven outings, with a minimum of five strikeouts in the first six. Rupe has won four straight postseason starts going back to the 2017 CCAA Championship.
Fourth-year Triton right-hander Cameron Kurz struck out 10 consecutive batters over two outings, with all six in a two-inning stint at Cal State San Bernardino on April 21, and all four against Cal State LA on April 26 for a four-out save. It is likely a program record, though that mark has not been tracked over the years. At CSUSB, 19 of Kurz's 28 pitches went for strikes, and 14 of 21 against CSULA. He is 4-1 with nine saves and a 0.98 ERA over his 19 appearances and 27.2 innings. Kurz has fanned 46, against 11 walks, with opponents batting just .162. The nine saves are third in the CCAA and tied for 17th nationally. The San Diego product did not give up an earned run between March 4 and April 27, striking out 21 against a single walk over seven stints and 11.1 innings. Kurz's most recent save came against Chico State on May 10 at the CCAA Championship, giving him 14 for his career, which matches Keith Noe's program standard.
GRAND SLAM COUNTER: SEVEN
UC San Diego has remarkably blasted seven grand slams this season. The first two were by Alex Eliopulos, against then-fourth-ranked Colorado Mesa at home on Feb. 11, and at Sonoma State on March 9. Zander Clarke and Tyler Durna both got in on the act on March 29 at home against Cal State East Bay. Clarke added his second to break open the series opener at home with Cal State San Bernardino on April 19. Steven Schuknecht got one in the ninth inning of the 26-8 romp at CSUSB on April 21. Shay Whitcomb contributed the most recent one, in the fourth inning at Cal State San Marcos on May 3.
CLARKE'S POWER STROKE
Junior rightfielder Zander Clarke, a first-year transfer from UCLA, homered in each of the first three games of the Cal State Monterey Bay series, and added his first two-home-run game as a Triton, including a grand slam, in the opener against Cal State East Bay on March 29. Having tallied seven long balls in the month of March, he opened his April account with a three-run shot at Chico State on April 8. Clarke has 15 on the season, first on the team and fourth in the CCAA, though just one off the lead. The Newbury Park native drove in nine runs against the Otters and seven versus the Pioneers. He is first in the CCAA with 74 RBI, just ahead of teammate Alex Eliopulos' 69, and is batting a league-best .399. Clarke earned the season's final CCAA Player of the Week award on May 8, and is actually just 10 RBI from matching Brandon Gregorich's single-season program record from 2010.
Seven Tritons were recognized between games of the Senior Day doubleheader on May 5 in La Jolla, in Justin Beck, Mitch Hickey, Cameron Kurz, Jesse Moore, Michael Palos, Jack Rupe, Jr., and Tom Simpson.
UC San Diego swept its series in three out of the last four weeks of the regular season, around a split with Cal State LA. Those sweeps came back to back over Stanislaus State and Cal State San Bernardino, on the heels of its first series loss at rival Chico State, and then in the last week against city foe Cal State San Marcos. The Tritons had previously won three CCAA sets by 3-1 counts, and split the other three. That was after a three-game sweep and two-game split in non-conference action. They were thus 7-1-5 in sets in 2018.
GREAT WEEK FOR BECK
Senior second baseman Justin Beck parlayed an outstanding series against Cal State San Bernardino, into his first CCAA Player of the Week award on April 24. The senior second baseman on April 23 was also one of seven standouts, the only one from the Division II ranks, named among the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Players of the Week. Beck hit .600 (9-15) with 10 runs, nine hits, three doubles, three home runs, 13 RBI and 21 total bases, all team highs. He slugged 1.400 with a .632 on-base percentage, and also fielded all 20 of his defensive chances cleanly. Beck scored three runs and drove in four, season bests, in each of the final three games of the series, with a double among multiple hits in each and three total home runs. He improved his season average by 42 points over that weekend, from .280 up to a season-best .322. Beck had reached base safely in 27 consecutive games before that streak was snapped on April 26. He is now batting .309 with 12 doubles and nine home runs.
UC San Diego's 26 runs at CSUSB on April 21 are second-most in the CCAA this season, only behind San Francisco State's 27-2 win at CSUSB on April 13. The Tritons also scored 25 at home against Cal State East Bay on March 29. Those two UCSD totals are tied for 14th and 26th nationally, respectively. The Tritons hit six home runs in both of those games, tied for 19th in the nation, tied for second in the West Region, and tied for first in the CCAA. UCSD's 17 walks in that same game against CSUSB are tied for third in the country and tied for first in the CCAA and West. Delta State and Colorado Christian are the only other teams in the country with two games of 25 or more runs scored.
DURNA LEADS SWEEP
On April 17, Tyler Durna was named the CCAA Player of the Week for the second time this year and fourth for his career, and later the NCBWA West Region Player of the Week for the first time. He hit a team-best .571 (8-for-14) with team highs of five runs (tied), eight hits (tied), four doubles, seven RBI, four walks, an .857 slugging percentage and .632 on-base percentage, in leading UC San Diego to its first sweep of the season, at home over Stanislaus State. Durna's one-out single ignited a two-run game-tying rally in the sixth inning on April 13. He bookended the weekend by reaching base in all five trips in Sunday's 9-4 win, going 4-for-4 with a walk, two doubles, two runs and three RBI.
EAST BAY OPENER SUPERLATIVES
UC San Diego's 25-2 victory over Cal State East Bay on March 29 marked the second-best run output of its NCAA Division II era, since 2001. The Tritons had won 26-5 in a seven-inning doubleheader nightcap at Cal State Monterey Bay on April 15, 2007, and have since posted a 26-8 decision at CSUSB on April 21. UC San Diego managed two grand slams, by Zander Clarke and Tyler Durna, and back-to-back-to-back shots, by Durna, Clarke and Alex Eliopulos, among six home runs, tying its D-II-era record from a 14-7 win at Cal State San Bernardino on April 2, 2010. Durna finished with career highs of five runs and eight RBI, which both equal D-II-era program standards. Justin Rahn had knocked in eight during a 20-5 home victory over Cal Poly Pomona in the NCAA West Regional on May 16, 2014. He also had a grand slam among two home runs that night.
FIRST WEEKLY HONORS FOR MOTT AFTER LIGHTS-OUT START
On March 6, junior left-hander Preston Mott was selected the CCAA and NCBWA West Region Pitcher of the Week, both for the first time in his career. The awards came thanks to seven shutout innings against then-14th-ranked Cal Poly Pomona in a 6-4 home victory on March 2, with a career-best 10 strikeouts. Mott scattered three singles and a walk. He had two perfect frames and also struck out the side twice. Mott had won three starts in a row prior to a no-decision at Sonoma State on March 9. He allowed just two runs over four outings from Feb. 17-March 9, in 24.0 innings for a 0.75 ERA. Mott is 7-1 over his 13 starts, with a season ERA of 2.82, and is tied for fifth in the CCAA with 75 strikeouts. Mott improved on his single-game career best in strikeouts three times in 2018, and had at least five in each of his first seven appearances. That season total is against 25 walks, for a 3.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
BIG WEEK NETS ELIOPULOS SEVERAL AWARDS
For the week of Feb. 19-25, Alex Eliopulos was named among the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Players of the Week, with the other 11 all being from Division I, as well as the CCAA Player of the Week for the first time, and then NCBWA West Region Player of the Week. That all came after a Cal State Dominguez Hills series in which he hit .600 (9-15) and slugged 1.467, with a .714 on-base percentage, four home runs, one double, six runs, eight RBI and six walks. The La Jolla native produced back-to-back two-home-run games at home on Feb. 23 and in Carson to begin the Feb. 24 doubleheader, and in fact has three of them on the season, as well as a pair of grand slams. Eliopulos' 14 home runs, all to right field, are second on the team and fifth in the CCAA. His seventh-inning home run at CSUSM on May 3 was his first since March 29, but he has four in his last eight games. Eliopulos is the only Triton to start or even appear in all 53 games in 2018.
TOP 50 IN NATIONAL STATISTICS
As of the NCAA Division II statistical report from May 13, Zander Clarke (74) and Alex Eliopulos (69) are fourth and tied for seventh, respectively, in total RBI. Nick Kitzmann is tied for 18th with 18 hit-by-pitches. Cameron Kurz is tied for 17th with his nine saves. Tyler Durna is tied for 19th in base on balls (42), 21st in base on balls per game (0.88), tied for 17th in runs (61), and 11th in runs per game (1.27). Clarke is 43rd in batting average (.399), tied for 25th in hits (79), tied for 33rd in home runs (15), 46th in home runs per game (0.29), sixth in RBI per game (1.45), 50th in slugging (.697), and tied for 23rd in total bases (138). Eliopulos is tied for 47th in home runs (14), 17th in RBI per game (1.30), and 43rd in toughest to strike out (13.1). Shay Whitcomb is tied for 23rd in base on balls (40) and 46th in base on balls per game (0.77). The Tritons as a team are eighth in fielding percentage (.974). They are now second in base on balls (291), 16 behind Catawba, whose season is over. UC San Diego is 40th in batting average (.313), ninth in double plays (49), 16th in double plays per game (0.92) and doubles (113), 17th in doubles per game (2.13), 21st in ERA (3.83), 28th in hit-by-pitches (75),10th in hits (574), 22nd in hits allowed per nine innings (8.49), 13th in home runs (70), 20th in home runs per game (1.32), 11th in on-base percentage (.423), ninth in runs (448), 15th in scoring (8.5 runs per game), 18th in slugging (.504), 43rd in strikeouts per nine innings (8.9), 34th in WHIP (1.40), and 19th in win-loss percentage (.717).
Tyler Durna leads the CCAA in base on balls per game (0.88), runs (61) and runs per game (1.27). Zander Clarke leads in batting average (.399), RBI (74), RBI per game (1.45), slugging percentage (.697) and total bases (138). As a team, UC San Diego paces the conference in base on balls (291), batting average (.313), double plays (49), doubles (113), doubles per game (2.13), fielding percentage (.974), hits allowed per nine innings (8.49), home runs (70), home runs per game (1.32), on-base percentage (.423), runs (448), scoring (8.5 runs per game), slugging percentage (.504), strikeouts per nine innings (8.9), and win-loss percentage (.717).
DURNA NAMED CCAA PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Junior first baseman Tyler Durna was named the CCAA Player of the Week on Feb. 13. Durna hit .524 (11-21) and slugged .810 (2B, 3B, HR, 17 TB) with a .615 on-base percentage, all team bests, producing 11 hits, seven runs and 10 RBI. He walked five times without a single strikeout, and handled all 39 defensive chances cleanly. Durna reached base at least twice in each game.
The UC San Diego pitching staff finished with a 3.67 ERA a season ago, 24th in the nation, fourth in the West Region and third in the CCAA. The Tritons have thus placed among the top three in the CCAA in ERA in five of the past six years. The UCSD staff in fact threw the most total innings in all of Division II in 2017, at 557.1, with fellow national semifinalist St. Thomas Aquinas closest at 530.1. The Tritons are up to second in the CCAA with a 3.83 ERA. They produced a 1.75 ERA (seven earned runs over 36.0 innings) over their four games at the CCAA Championship, with just a 1.86 mark for the bullpen (four runs on seven hits in 19.1 frames).
UC San Diego continues a tradition of being strong defensively, first in the CCAA and West Region and eighth nationally with a .974 fielding percentage. The Tritons fielded at a .974 clip in 2017, ninth nationally and second in both the West and CCAA behind Division II-leading Chico State's .983. UCSD had finished at .970 for two straight years in 2015 and 2016, topping the CCAA and ranking 20th in Division II in the latter. The Tritons were second in the CCAA, behind only Cal Poly Pomona (.971), and 21st in Division II, in 2015. UCSD has been in the top 30 nationally and top three in the conference in fielding for each of the past eight seasons. The Tritons were also second in the CCAA (behind Chico State) in 2014 with a .974 clip, and fifth in the country. In 2013, they were second in the league behind Chico State and 11th nationally (.972). They were 29th in Division II in 2012 (.966) and third in the conference. UCSD led the nation with a Division II- and school-record mark of .984 (1611-673-38) in 2010 and was fifth in 2011 (.972), pacing the CCAA both years. Only one program in the country has even fielded at a .980 rate since 2010, and that was Chico State a year ago, falling just short of the Tritons' D-II standard.
UC San Diego wound up second in the CCAA South in 2017 behind Cal Poly Pomona (27-11) for the second year in a row, with a league record of 24-13, qualifying for a fourth consecutive CCAA Championship. That's when the Tritons caught fire, winning three straight elimination games at the CCAA Championship in Stockton before dropping a winner-take-all final to rival Chico State, and then sweeping through the NCAA West Regional with two victories each against higher seeds Dixie State and host Azusa Pacific. In its first return to the NCAA Championship since 2010, UC San Diego dropped a heartbreaker in its opener, only to take four more elimination games within a five-day span, and make it to the final round. Needing to beat West Chester of Pennsylvania twice on that final day of the season on June 4, the Tritons fell by a score of 5-2 in the initial meeting. Their final overall record stood at 44-19, marking the second-most wins in program history.
Last year, the Tritons were NCAA Division II West Region champions for the first time under head coach Eric Newman and third since moving up to Division II for the 2001 season. They were previously crowned in back-to-back years in 2009 and 2010, finishing as national runners-up in the latter season, as well as in 2017. UC San Diego also won a pair of West titles in Division III, in 1987 and 1994.
UC San Diego head coach Eric Newman, the 2017 American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA)/Diamond NCAA Division II West Region Coach of the Year, has 19 returners and 16 newcomers to form a 35-player roster for 2018, after last season's edition posted a 44-19 overall record and secured the program's first regional crown since 2010. It marked UCSD's second-best win total all-time, as Newman's club went 12-4 in postseason play, including 7-2 in elimination games.
The Tritons are led by junior first baseman Tyler Durna, who produced the opposite of a sophomore slump and took a star turn a year ago, with his team-best .363 batting average, dazzling defense, a memorable 28-game hitting streak, and a stretch of 41 straight contests in which he reached base safely. Redshirt junior Alex Eliopulos, a La Jolla native (La Jolla HS) and second-year transfer from San Diego Mesa College, should be across the diamond from Durna again at third base. Jack Rupe, Jr. (San Marcos/Mission Hills HS), is a fourth-year senior right-hander, and Preston Mott a junior left-hander who was the Opening Day mound starter in 2017.
Among the prized incoming contingent are a pair of notable transfers from Pac-12 Conference powerhouses in redshirt junior power-hitting outfielder Zander Clarke from UCLA and senior right-handed starting pitcher Mitch Hickey out of Oregon State. Clarke, who bats from the right side, slammed 15 total home runs over an incredible summer as the Great West League (GWL) Player of the Year with the Portland Pickles, adding a second straight GWL All-Star Game appearance and in fact, GWL All-Star Game Most Valuable Player distinction as well. All of that netted the Newbury Park native an outfield spot on the 2017 Perfect Game/Rawlings Summer Collegiate All-America First Team. Hickey was one of 13 arms who saw action for Oregon State during a historic 2017 campaign that finished at 56-6 at the College World Series. That staff completed the year with a 1.93 team ERA. Hickey, a product of Morgan Hill in Northern California, compiled a 4.91 ERA over seven relief appearances, with one save.
Not to be outshone is an exciting crop of true freshmen, highlighted by the likes of right-handers Noah Conlon and Cameron Leonard, and shortstop Shay Whitcomb. In late September, Whitcomb and Conlon made Perfect Game's Top NCAA Division II Freshmen list at No. 7 and No. 8, respectively, among 34 total prospects recognized. UC San Diego was one of four programs with multiple freshmen honored, but the lone one from the West Region, and the only one nationally with two in the top 10.
UC San Diego's 2018 schedule consisted of 49 regular-season games, including 26 at home. Having contested four of just five non-conference dates in La Jolla, including two top-10 matchups with No. 4 Colorado Mesa, the Tritons dove right into league play with a four-game home split against San Francisco State, Feb. 16-18. UCSD also split a four-game set with then-14th-ranked 2015 and 2016 West Region champion Cal Poly Pomona, March 1-4. The Tritons traveled north for a four-gamer at two-time reigning CCAA tournament champion, 2017 CCAA regular-season champion and league favorite Chico State. The CCAA Championship will be held in the neutral-site city of Stockton for the sixth year in a row, returning to Banner Island Ballpark of the minor-league Stockton Ports, May 9-12. UCSD has clinched a fifth successive trip.
DURNA LOCKED IN
Tyler Durna finished fifth in the league with his team-best .363 batting average as a sophomore a year ago. He started each of the last 54 games at first base, reached safely in all but one, and had a hit in all but eight of them, including a 28-game streak from March 4-April 29 that was a record for UCSD's Division II era (since 2001), and likely a program standard. It is tied for the third-longest hit streak in the CCAA's unofficial record book. Durna had multiple hits in 16 of those 28 contests. He was fourth in the CCAA in on-base percentage (.469).
Nick Kitzmann has a team-best 18 hit-by-pitches (third in CCAA), after six all of last year, and on Feb. 11 against Concordia Irvine became the first Triton to be hit by a pitch three times in the same game, since Nick La Face at Cal State LA on April 1, 2011 ... The 18 runners the Tritons stranded in their CCAA opener with SF State on Feb. 16 were their most since leaving 19 at Chico State over a decade ago on May 14, 2005, in a 12-inning, 7-6 triumph for the program's first CCAA tournament title ... UCSD's first 10 home runs of 2018 were all to right field ... The Tritons' biggest frame this year has been eight runs, in the sixth inning of a 25-2 home romp over Cal State East Bay on March 29, the fifth inning of a 26-8 decision at Cal State San Bernardino on April 21, and the second inning of a 19-1 win over Cal State LA to open the CCAA Championship on May 9 ... The largest inning they have surrendered was a seven-run fifth at Cal State Monterey Bay on March 25 ... UCSD is 6-1 in season openers under Eric Newman and 15-3 since moving to Division II status for 2001 ... UCSD is 5-2 in CCAA openers with Newman in charge, having this year had its five-game win streak snapped by SF State, 4-1, since another 4-1 loss to Chico State in La Jolla on Feb. 17, 2012 ... The Tritons are 10-8 in CCAA openers all-time (since 2001), and 10-1 with seven splits in sets to begin the league season ... UCSD was picked to place second in the 2018 CCAA race by the league's head coaches, as announced on Jan. 29, with defending CCAA regular-season and tournament champion Chico State the favorite for the sixth time in seven years.
The CCAA baseball landscape changed again, and after having two six-team divisions, North and South, the past two seasons, there are no divisions in 2018. The top six teams, by straight winning percentage, in the final standings, have qualified for the 2018 CCAA Championship. The CCAA also went away from a 38-game league slate, with four-game sets within the division and three-gamers against the opposite division. Each team played a four-game series with the other 11 squads, for a 44-game schedule. UC San Diego was either entirely at home or away against the six northern teams, and faced split-venue sets with the southern ones. The automatic qualifier into the NCAA West Regional is still the winner of the CCAA tournament, which remains a four-day, double-elimination event.
UC San Diego returns two all-conference performers from 2017 at the corners in All-CCAA First Team first baseman Tyler Durna and third baseman Alex Eliopulos, who earned honorable mention ... Durna was also a unanimous All-West Region selection by ABCA/Rawlings (First Team), the NCBWA (First) and D2CCA (Second) ... Eliopulos represented the Tritons on the NCBWA's preseason All-West Region Second Team ... All but five players on the 35-man 2018 roster, senior Jesse Moore (Port Orchard, WA) and newcomers Warren King (Bainbridge Island, WA), Garett Lake (Henderson, NV), Nick Senicka (Oak Brook, IL) and Tom Simpson (Port Orchard, WA), are California natives ... There are four San Diego products in senior Jack Rupe, Jr. (San Marcos/Mission Hills HS), redshirt juniors Eliopulos (La Jolla/San Diego Mesa College/La Jolla HS) and Cameron Kurz (Encinitas/La Costa Canyon HS), and freshman Evan Ianniciello (San Marcos/San Marcos HS) ... Junior right-hander Jonah Dipoto is the son of Jerry Dipoto, who pitched eight seasons for three Major League Baseball organizations, and is the general manager of the Seattle Mariners ... Redshirt sophomore utility Keenan Brigman (San Jose/UOP) is the younger brother of former University of San Diego shortstop and current Seattle Mariners top-30 prospect (No. 27) Bryson Brigman, a third-round selection in the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft ... True freshman right-hander Noah Conlon is the younger brother of PJ Conlon, a former left-handed ace for the University of San Diego who is currently the No. 24 prospect in the New York Mets organization, and in fact made his major-league debut in Cincinnati on May 7.
Over the first week of UC San Diego's season, redshirt freshman Antonio Barrios, Blake Baumgartner, Aaron Kim, Kyle Selor and Brandon Stewart, and true freshmen Noah Conlon, Garett Lake, Cameron Leonard and Shay Whitcomb, all earned their college debuts. Transfers Justin Beck, Zander Clarke, Mitch Hickey, Rj Prince, Mark Quinby, Christopher Schasteen and Tom Simpson made their first appearances as Tritons. Junior left-hander Nick Senicka recovered from injury and took the mound for the first time as a Triton on May 5.
HEAD COACH ERIC NEWMAN
Eric Newman is in his seventh season as the UC San Diego head coach. The 2017 ABCA/Diamond Division II West Region Coach of the Year and 2012 CCAA Coach of the Year has a 246-140 record (173-101 CCAA) in charge of the Tritons and 341-212 overall in his nine-plus seasons as a head coach. Newman guided UCSD to the 2012 CCAA regular-season and tournament titles in his first go-around in La Jolla, and a subsequent trip to the NCAA Division II West Regional. His Tritons won a record sixth conference tourney crown in May of 2014 in Stockton, to again nab the CCAA's automatic bid into the NCAA Championship. With UCSD earning the region's top seed, Triton Ballpark played host to the 2014 NCAA West Regional. After reaching the finals of the West Regional in both 2014 and 2015, UCSD won its first West crown since 2010 last year in Azusa. Newman has led the Tritons to four CCAA banners, including this year's tourney one, five NCAA postseason berths and one regional championship in his seven years, as well as seven plus-.500 and six 30-win campaigns. Last year's was his first 40-win squad. He earned win No. 200 in charge of UCSD against Chico State, 13-4, on the final day of the 2017 CCAA Championship on May 13. Newman won his 100th CCAA contest at home against Cal State San Bernardino, 9-4, on Feb. 26, 2016. He previously went 95-72 in three seasons at the helm of Dallas Baptist University from 2005-07. Newman was the fifth-round draft choice of the San Diego Padres out of Texas Tech in 1994, pitching professionally for eight years with four different organizations.
Eric Newman has Justin James back on his staff for a second year as the pitching coach, and J.T. Bloodworth for a sixth season in the UC San Diego dugout, now in his fourth year as the Tritons' recruiting coordinator. Jeff Calhoon is in his third go-around with Newman, who has also retained two former star right-handed Triton pitchers and Chula Vista natives who graduated in 2017 in Troy Cruz and Adrian Orozco. Bloodworth coaches third base and Calhoon is again at first base.
ABOUT THE SEA LIONS
Fourth-seeded Point Loma (33-16, 29-11 PacWest) is making just its second NCAA Championship appearance. The Sea Lions are 0-2 in the NCAA tournament with the second of those losses coming at the hands of UC San Diego in the most recent matchup between the teams. PLNU, like UCSD, is arguably one of the hottest teams in the land. The Tritons are winners of 18 of 20 and eight straight, while the Sea Lions reeled off 16 consecutive wins before dropping their last two at Azusa Pacific. The series split in Azusa left Point Loma one game back of APU in the PacWest standings. Sophomore Micah Pries (.401) won back-to-back PacWest Player of the Week awards to end the regular season. Thursday's matchup will also pit the three top RBI-getters in the West Region this year in Zander Clarke (74) and Alex Eliopulos (69) of UC San Diego, and senior Tyler Flores (62) of Point Loma. Flores has hit a program-record 20 home runs this year. On Thursday, the Tritons will likely see freshman left-handed phenom Garrett Irvin (7-1), whose 1.63 ERA is best in the PacWest and sixth in the nation. Irvin in fact on Wednesday was named PacWest Pitcher of the Year and PacWest Freshman of the Year. The Sea Lions are 11-9 outside of San Diego in 2018, and 5-6 against the regional field. Joe Schaefer is in his 11th season in charge at his alma mater.
The Tritons lead the all-time series between the crosstown rivals, 45-39-1. They most recently eliminated Point Loma, 7-5, at the NCAA West Regional in Walnut on May 15, 2015. The Sea Lions earned a 9-8 triumph in La Jolla on Feb. 17 earlier that same season, rallying from a 7-2 deficit after six innings. They produced a six-run seventh. The teams met three times in 2013. UCSD took a 6-5 extra-inning decision in walk-off fashion in La Jolla on Feb. 12, with Point Loma edging the Tritons on its home turf, 3-2, on April 2. The Tritons nabbed the rubber game, 7-3, back in La Jolla on April 9. The teams had contested a pair of preseason exhibitions the two years prior, with UCSD posting shutout victories of 6-0 and 5-0 at Triton Ballpark on Jan. 30, 2012, and Jan. 29, 2011, respectively. The previous regular-season matchup came in La Jolla on Feb. 2, 2010, with the Sea Lions besting then-third-ranked UCSD, 8-6.
Triton Ballpark on East Campus at UCSD was given a brand-new look outside the foul lines in 2015. Some of the main features of the extensive renovation included a permanent grandstand to seat just over 500, a press box, new sunken dugouts, an area for food trucks, and restrooms, among several other amenities. Read details here. Perhaps most significant is the Marye Anne Fox Clubhouse down the right field line, which was introduced to the players on March 17, 2015. The official Triton Ballpark re-opening and clubhouse dedication took place on April 10, 2015. View photo galleries from the ballpark construction, Opening Day and dedication.
For the latest in Triton athletic gear, make sure to visit ucsdtritonsgear.com. Run by UCSD Athletics' online partner, Advanced-Online, the site provides an on-demand option for Triton athletic apparel and merchandise. Fans have access to over 600 products that can be processed and shipped within 24 hours.
FOR THE YOUNGER CROWD
Got some young Triton fans in your family? If they are in eighth grade or under, check out the Junior Triton Club. Membership includes a free t-shirt, admission to over 100 UCSD home athletic events, and much more!
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Eight regionals will be contested in the coming week, with two of the eight-team variety, four seven-teamers, and a pair with six to make up 56. The West Region champion will be joined by the other seven regional winners in Cary, N.C., for the NCAA Division II Baseball Championship at the USA Baseball National Training Complex. The event was held there for eight straight seasons before a one-year relocation a year ago to Grand Prairie, Texas. That final round takes place May 26-June 2.