Unfinished Business: Seventh-Ranked Reigning West Region Champion Tritons Reloaded for Another Run
The seventh-ranked University of California San Diego baseball program opens the 2018 season and begins defense of its 2017 NCAA Division II West Region championship this Thursday, Feb. 8. The Tritons will play the first of five games in a four-day span this week, all to quickly round out the non-conference schedule, on the road, making the short trip north to Irvine to face Concordia (1-2) at 2 p.m. at Eagles Field. Opening Day at Triton Ballpark on East Campus in La Jolla is then this Friday, Feb. 9, featuring a marquee showdown with No. 4 Colorado Mesa (0-0) at around 1 p.m. after full introductions. UC San Diego will take on Concordia two more times, both at home, on Saturday, Feb. 10, at approximately 5:30 p.m., and also to conclude the busy week on Sunday, Feb. 11, at 3 p.m. In between, the 2017 West Region champion and national runner-up Tritons face off once more with the 2017 South Central Region champion and fellow national semifinalist CMU Mavericks on Sunday, Feb. 11, at 11 a.m.
Colorado Mesa and Concordia Irvine will also contest a pair of neutral-site games at Triton Ballpark, on Friday, Feb. 9, slated for a 4:30 p.m. start, and then right back again to kick off the action on Saturday at 2 p.m. Admission will be free to the Friday meeting, but not on Saturday.
ADMISSION POLICIES FOR TRITON BALLPARK
General admission tickets to all regular-season home dates at Triton Ballpark are $5, whether a single game or doubleheader. UC San Diego students are admitted FREE with valid identification. Dogs and other pets are not allowed, nor are coolers. UCSD Concessions is on site for all home contests.
Parking on the UCSD campus is free on weekends, but a permit is required for weekday contests. They can be purchased at the machine near the entrance to the Triton Ballpark parking lot. Please be aware of the danger of foul balls to your vehicle when parking. For Opening Day in particular this Friday, Feb. 9, with a rare weekday afternoon home game, fans are encouraged to arrive early, as parking on campus will be a challenge at that hour. Overflow parking is available further down Voigt Drive beyond the right field wall.
A majority of UC San Diego home games at Triton Ballpark feature live online video on UCSDtritons.tv. All broadcasts are in high definition, and can be viewed from smartphones and tablets. Viewing is subscription-based, though it is free from UCSD campus IP addresses. The single-day fee is $5.99 (24-hour window), meaning doubleheaders are two-for-one. The primary play-by-play announcer will again be local radio personality Ted Mendenhall (@TedMendenhall), but Miles Himmel (@mileshimmel) will be on the call for Friday's matchup with Colorado Mesa. Events are archived. Some road contests also have video and/or audio, but not this Thursday's opener in Irvine. All games have live stats. 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 this year primarily by following Triton Baseball all season long at their own Twitter handle (@UCSDbsb). Fans are encouraged to also still follow @UCSDtritons. Finally, check out the CCAA live scoreboard here to keep up on results around the league.
PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS
Subject to change.
Thurs: RHP Mitch Hickey (0-0, 4.91 ERA in 2017 at Oregon State) vs. TBA
Fri: RHP Jack Rupe, Jr. (5-2, 3.19 ERA in 2017) vs. RHP Kyle Leahy (13-0, 1.41 in 2017)
Sat: LHP Preston Mott (8-4, 3.82 ERA in 2017) vs. TBA
Sun: G1 RHP Jonah Dipoto (1-3, 3.74 ERA in 2017) vs. LHP Chris Ramirez (10-1, 3.38 ERA in 2017)
Sun: G2 RHP Noah Conlon (College Debut) vs. TBA
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. D2 Baseball News has yet to unveil its initial prognostication. Regionally speaking, UCSD is listed No. 1 in the West by the NCBWA, with six of eight first-place votes, and No. 2 by D2 Baseball News (Jan. 29).
|Preseason National Polls|
|Publication||UCSD Rank||CMU Rank||Date||Link|
|Collegiate Baseball Newspaper||No. 7||No. 4||Dec. 20||Poll|
|D2 Baseball News||TBA||TBA||N/A||Poll|
|NCBWA||No. 4||No. 3||Feb. 1||Poll|
|Perfect Game||No. 19||No. 5||Jan. 25||Poll|
UC San Diego wound up second in the California Collegiate Athletic Association (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. 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 in Omaha, Neb. 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. He has a lone season of college eligibility remaining.
Not to be outshone is an exciting crop of true freshmen, highlighted by the likes of right-handers Noah Conlon and Cameron Leonard, and Shay Whitcomb, the favorite to take over the shortstop position from four-year standout Tyler Howsley. 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 consists of 49 regular-season games, including 26 at home within the friendly confines of Triton Ballpark. After contesting four of just five non-conference dates in La Jolla, including two top-10 matchups with No. 4 Colorado Mesa, the Tritons dive right into league play with a four-game home set against San Francisco State on Friday night, Feb. 16. UCSD hosts 2015 and 2016 West Region champion Cal Poly Pomona, March 1-2, with a doubleheader in Pomona on March 3 to wrap up that series. The Tritons travel north for a four-gamer at two-time reigning CCAA tournament champion, 2017 CCAA regular-season champion and league favorite Chico State, April 6-8. 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 earned four successive trips.
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).
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.
UCSD continues a tradition of being strong defensively. The Tritons posted a .974 fielding percentage in 2017, ninth nationally and second in both the West and CCAA behind Chico State's leading .983. UCSD had finished at .970 for two straight years in 2015 and 2016, leading 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.
UCSD led the CCAA with 53 home runs last season, including 11 in a four-game series against Cal State San Bernardino to wrap the regular season, and 11 more in six contests at the CCAA Championship. The Tritons topped the league thanks to a late-season surge that saw the Tritons hit at least one long ball in a D-II-era (since 2001) program-record 11 consecutive games (May 4-18), with multiple blasts in eight of them, and 26 in all over the last 20 contests. It was the most home runs by a UCSD squad since the Tritons had 60 in 2010. The 53 were more than what UCSD managed in the previous three years combined (41), and is the fourth-largest single-season total in the program's D-II history.
UCSD is 5-1 in season openers under Eric Newman and 14-3 since moving to Division II status for 2001 ... UCSD is 5-1 in CCAA openers with Newman in charge, with five straight wins after a 4-1 loss to Chico State in La Jolla on Feb. 17, 2012 ... The Tritons are 10-7 in CCAA openers all-time (since 2001), and 10-1 with six 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 has 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, will qualify for the 2018 CCAA Championship. Third-year member and city rival Cal State San Marcos is eligible for the postseason for the first time. The CCAA has also gone away from a 38-game league slate, with four-game sets within the division and three-gamers against the opposite division. Each team will now play a four-game series with the other 11 squads, for a 44-game schedule. UC San Diego will be either entirely at home or away against the six northern teams, and face 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 double-elimination event.
UCSD returns two all-conference performers from 2017 in All-CCAA First Team first baseman Tyler Durna and 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 true 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. 28) 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. 23 prospect in the New York Mets organization.
HEAD COACH ERIC NEWMAN
Eric Newman enters 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 208-125 record (143-87 CCAA) in charge of the Tritons and 303-197 overall in his nine 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 week in Azusa. Newman has led the Tritons to three CCAA banners, four NCAA postseason berths and one regional championship in his six years, as well as six plus-.500 and five 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 welcomes Justin James back to his staff for a second year as the pitching coach, while J.T. Bloodworth returns for a sixth season in the UCSD 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 will coach third base and Calhoon will be at first base.
ABOUT THE EAGLES
Concordia (1-2) is a member of the Pacific West Conference, and in its first full season of NCAA Division II membership following the completion of a three-year transition, meaning the Eagles are eligible for the first time for the NCAA Championship. They already opened last weekend at home, defeating Cal State San Marcos, 9-5 thanks to a five-run seventh, on Friday. Sophomore right-hander Mike Killeen was the starter on the mound, going the first 3.1 frames with three runs allowed on seven hits. The likely starter on Thursday, he was 4-6 with a 4.67 ERA and team bests of 12 starts and 79.0 innings as a freshman. Concordia then suffered a doubleheader sweep to the Cougars on Saturday. Final scores were 2-1 and 9-5. Joe Turgeon is in his third season as the Eagles' head coach.
UCSD leads the all-time series, 32-11-1. The Tritons are 12-4 against the Eagles since moving up to Division II for the 2001 season, including a 3-1 split-venue victory a season ago, as the sides split a doubleheader in Irvine in between two UCSD home wins. The teams played a four-game set in 2016, all in La Jolla, with UCSD rallying for a 3-1 series victory after being blanked 5-0 to start things off. Before that, the sides had last faced off over a decade ago, on Feb. 11, 2004, with the Tritons taking a 7-4 victory in La Jolla. They contested a home-and-home set early that season, with UCSD also winning 11-4 in Irvine one week prior on Feb. 4. The Tritons swept the two-game series in 2003 as well, with scores of 13-6 in Irvine and then 8-1 at home. The 2002 series saw a doubleheader split in La Jolla, with UCSD winning 11-5 before dropping the seven-inning nightcap, 2-1. A twin bill in Irvine in 2001 ended in another split, UCSD taking the opener, 8-3, and CUI returning the favor, 6-4. Both games were seven innings.
ABOUT THE MAVERICKS
Colorado Mesa (0-0), formerly known as Mesa State College, is located in Grand Junction, Colo., and is the defending regular-season and tournament champion of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC). The Mavericks are thus the unanimous preseason favorites. They in fact have won the last six regular-season and last four tournament titles in the RMAC. CMU finished a remarkable 50-12 overall a year ago, leading the nation in wins, and 32-4 in conference play and 23-7 away from home. The Mavericks, like the Tritons, were one of the last four teams remaining in Grand Prairie, Texas, last June, also being eliminated by national champion West Chester, 1-0. They were 2-2 in Texas. CMU has a top-five ranking in all three of the preseason polls that have been released to date. The Mavs are ranked first in the South Central Region by the NCBWA as the reigning champs. They lost their best position player, Bligh Madris,who signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates after batting .422 with 17 home runs as a redshirt sophomore. Friday's projected starter on the mound, junior right-hander Kyle Leahy, is a preseason NCBWA All-American and the preseason RMAC Pitcher of the Year. He compiled a Division II-leading 13 wins, without a loss, and a 1.41 ERA during an All-American 2017 campaign for which he was named the RMAC Pitcher of the Year. Senior shortstop Zach McLeod is the RMAC Preseason Player of the Year. They are joined on the preseason All-RMAC team by junior right-hander JR McDermott. As of Friday, they will have opened four of their last eight campaigns in La Jolla. Colorado Mesa was the 2014 national runners-up, falling to Southern Indiana, 3-2, in their first-ever appearance in the title game in Cary, N.C. Chris Hanks enters his milestone 20th season as the head coach at his alma mater, approaching 800 wins (788).
The all-time series history is tied at 7-7, with UCSD 6-3 at home after suffering a pair of 2-0 shutout defeats to the Mavs in La Jolla early in the 2015 season, Feb. 6-7. The Tritons won a three-game set, 2-1, as both teams opened the 2013 campaign, with UCSD No. 23 and CMU No. 20 in preseason polls. They met four times in 2012 in Grand Junction, Colo., with the then-29th-ranked host Mavericks taking a 3-1 series victory. The Tritons salvaged the final game of the set, 11-7, after dropping the Friday opener, 14-4, and getting swept in a doubleheader the following day, 6-4 and 3-2. UCSD previously posted a four-game series sweep of the Mavericks, then named Mesa State, at Triton Ballpark, Feb. 11-13, 2011. The first-ever meeting came in 2007 when the Mavericks knocked off the Tritons, 5-4, at the NCAA Division II West Regional in Los Angeles.
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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UCSD begins the 44-game CCAA slate at home with a four-game set against San Francisco State that begins in primetime on Friday, Feb. 16, at 6 p.m.