IRVINE, Calif. - The No. 7 University of California San Diego baseball team wriggled out of a number of jams and pulled out a 5-3 victory over Concordia University Irvine in its 2018 season opener Thursday afternoon at Eagles Field.
With the result, reigning NCAA Division II West Region champion UC San Diego opens its title defense at 1-0. Concordia, which began its campaign last weekend, also at home, drops to 1-3.
Shay Whitcomb, a true freshman shortstop from Newbury Park (Newbury Park HS), singled to lead off for his first collegiate hit in his first at-bat in the top half, but nothing came of that initial frame for the Tritons.
After a groundout began the home portion, Concordia's Haloa Dudoit reached on an infield error and wound up on second. What followed was a single, an RBI double and a run-scoring infield single to give the Eagles a quick 2-0 advantage on Mitch Hickey, a senior transfer from Oregon State making his UC San Diego debut. A lineout double play got the right-hander out of it without any further damage.
Redshirt freshman designated hitter Aaron Kim hit an opposite-field double down the right field line with one gone in the second, but the Tritons were unable to bring him around. Hickey then went right back out and struck out the Eagles in order, swinging, looking and swinging.
Durna, evidently unhappy with having grounded into a double play in his first plate appearance, followed Whitcomb's one-out walk in the third with the Tritons' first home run of 2018, pulling a game-tying two-run shot out to right
Hickey notched the shutdown frame, with a high degree of difficulty. A one-out single, walk and wild pitch put two Eagles in scoring position, but redshirt junior third baseman Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS) gathered a grounder and Michael Palos made the play at the plate for the second out, and Hickey then bounded over to the bag to take Durna's toss on an inning-ending groundout.
A promising fourth, with two Tritons reaching base, was ended prematurely by a third Concordia double play over the first four innings.
Hickey saw Eagles reach second and third with one away for a second straight frame in the home fourth, and once again, he got out of it unscathed, fielding a bunted comebacker, and then inducing another groundout from leadoff man Dillon Millar.
UC San Diego had multiple men on base for the fourth consecutive inning in the fifth, and finally took its first lead of the day. Whitcomb drew a one-out walk and Durna beat out an infield single. Though Whitcomb was thrown out on the bases, Zander Clarke, a junior transfer from UCLA, came up big with his first hit as a Triton, an RBI double down the left field line that sent Durna sprinting home for 3-2.
The Tritons added a run in the sixth as Kim singled to left for starters and moved to second on a Palos sacrifice, ahead of a walk to Justin Beck. Steven Schuknecht, who missed most of the 2017 season due to injury, pinch hit for Rj Prince, and dropped an RBI single into right for 4-2. Still with men at the corners and one out, UCSD could extend the lead no further.
Kyle Lucke replaced Hickey to start the home sixth and after walking his first batter, produced a pair of called third strikes around a fielder's choice comebacker and a two-out walk. Lucke also shut down a threat in the seventh as Concordia opened with a Millar single and Dudoit walk, but a flyout, swinging strikeout and foulout held the Triton advantage intact at 4-2.
The sides traded single runs in the eighth to round out the scoring. The Tritons' tally came in unorthodox fashion. Beck walked to lead off but was thrown out at the plate on Christopher Schasteen's pinch-hit triple. Schasteen was then turned away on a fielder's choice grounder. Durna made some of that sting go away, smacking a two-out RBI single to right. UCSD still loaded the bases, but Eliopulos grounded out.
Concordia managed to find a breakthrough in the bottom half off newcomer Mark Quinby. A leadoff double and hit-by-pitch preceded a popout and a strikeout as Quinby nearly also escaped, but Miller singled to right to make it a 5-3 game. With the bases loaded, the junior right-hander got Davis Tominaga to fly out.
Redshirt junior right-hander Cameron Kurz (Encinitas/La Costa Canyon HS) hit his first batter in the ninth, only to rally for a swinging strikeout, foulout and called third strike to shut the door and earn his first save since May 19, 2016.
Hickey (1-0) went 5.0 innings and gave up two runs, one of them earned, on five hits and two walks. Two of the hits were of the infield variety. He struck out three, and posted a second 1-2-3 frame in the fifth before exiting on an early-season pitch count.
Hickey (1-0) went 5.0 innings and gave up two runs, one of them earned, on five hits and two walks. Two of the hits were of the infield variety. He struck out three, and posted a second 1-2-3 frame in the fifth before exiting.
"Mitch Hickey pitched really well for us," said UC San Diego head coach Eric Newman after presiding over his seventh season opener. "We didn't help him much in that first inning, but he kept pitching and got out of it, and from that point was pretty dominant. The bullpen did a nice job of coming in late and getting key outs."
Durna went 3-for-5 with the home run, two runs scored and three RBI. Kim was a perfect 4-for-4 with a double, hit-by-pitch and a run. Whitcomb was 1-for-2 with three walks and a run. Clarke was 1-for-3 with two walks, a double and an RBI. Beck reached base in each of his first four trips via three walks and a hit-by-pitch.
"The offense did a pretty good job of capitalizing on their opportunities and grinding out at-bats," continued Newman. "Aaron Kim was really locked in and the rest of the guys showed really good discipline. We made quite a few mistakes defensively and our communication wasn't great, but we were able to overcome and compete through those mistakes. It was good to get a win, but we will need to learn from those mistakes moving forward."
Sophomore left-hander Alex Zalasky went 4.0 innings for Concordia and allowed two runs on four hits, three walks and a hit-by-pitch. Jack He struck out a pair. Ruegge (0-1) took the loss. Dudoit finished 1-for-3 with a walk, a hit-by-pitch and a run.
UC San Diego returns home for Opening Day at Triton Ballpark on East Campus in La Jolla on Friday afternoon, Feb. 9. First pitch for the marquee top-10 showdown with No. 4 Colorado Mesa is slated for 1 p.m., after full introductions at 12:48 p.m. Fans are encouraged to arrive early, as parking on campus will be a challenge at that hour. Those unable to attend can watch in high definition on UCSDtritons.tv.
Triton Notes: UC San Diego is 6-1 in season openers under head coach Eric Newman, and 15-3 in its NCAA Division II era, since 2001 ... The Tritons were beginning the season away from home for the first time as a Division II program, and first time since a doubleheader split at Cal State LA on Jan. 30, 1999 ... UCSD leads the all-time series, 33-11-1, including 13-4 since moving to Division II ... Tritons making their collegiate debuts were true freshman Shay Whitcomb and redshirt freshmen Aaron Kim and Brandon Stewart, all in the starting lineup ... UCSD debuts came from transfers Zander Clarke, Justin Beck, Rj Prince and Mitch Hickey, all starters, as well as Christopher Schasteen and Mark Quinby ... Only three of the nine Tritons in the starting lineup were in the UCSD order a season ago ... Tyler Durna's home run was the eighth of his college career ... Steven Schuknecht's sixth-inning plate appearance was his first since March 4, 2017, when he suffered a season-ending injury at Cal State East Bay.