Double Comeback on Road To Cary: No. 6 Tritons in Driver's Seat as Host of West Regional #2
LA JOLLA, Calif. - Sixth-ranked University of California San Diego overturned a pair of deficits to win two dramatic games Friday as the West Regional #2 of the 2019 NCAA Division II Baseball Championship resumed at its own Triton Ballpark.
Two-time reigning West Region champion UC San Diego, this year's No. 2 seed in the West, first eliminated No. 6 seed Montana State Billings, 7-5, having trailed 4-0 before a seven-run sixth. The Tritons then struck for three in the sixth to tie, and six more in the seventh en route to an 11-4 decision over city rival Point Loma in primetime.
Friday's early result that knocked out MSU Billings, set up a best-of-three series with Point Loma in the double-elimination sub-regional. The Tritons and Sea Lions will thus meet again at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, May 18, with UC San Diego this time serving as the host team. Should Point Loma win that game, the if necessary would start at around 7 p.m. with the Sea Lions back as the designated home team.
The two results improved UC San Diego's overall record to 37-12, including a formidable 24-4 at home. Point Loma is now 31-20, while MSU Billings completed the campaign, its very first with an NCAA postseason berth, at 33-20.
The Tritons had already remarkably swept a total of nine doubleheaders during this current 2019 season, before securing two more successes on Friday.
Friday's nightcap pitted for the first time, UC San Diego head coach Eric Newman and first-year Point Loma skipper Justin James, his pitching coach the past two years during back-to-back runs to the NCAA Championship.
A key moment on the day was redshirt senior third baseman Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/San Diego Mesa College/La Jolla HS) notching milestone career hit No. 200 in a big way in the middle of the late contest's big seventh frame. It came in the form of a three-run triple, pulled just inside the right field line to make it a 9-4 bulge.
Parking is free all day Saturday on East Campus in La Jolla.
Game One: No. 6 UCSD 7, MSUB 5
UC San Diego faced a rather daunting 4-0 deficit through five Friday against the Yellowjackets, regular-season and tournament winners of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) and therefore automatic qualifiers. Leadoff man Wyatt Setian had a pair of one-out, two-strike, run-scoring hits to get things going, with a two-run single in the second and an RBI single in the fourth.
In the seven-run sixth, UC San Diego sent 11 men to the plate, but generated just three hits, taking advantage of four walks, one hit-by-pitch and two wild pitches. The main blows were two of those hits early, a two-run single smacked to left by redshirt sophomore first baseman Blake Baumgartner, and a two-run double off the very top of the wall by junior leftfielder Alex Athanacio. Both were with the bases full.
UC San Diego had initially filled the bags through a sharp single by R.J. Prince to center to lead off, and successive walks to Shay Whitcomb and Eliopulos. Baumgartner worked the count full ahead of his 11th two-bagger, to left. Fellow redshirt sophomore Aaron Kim drew a base on balls to load the bases once more, ahead of Athanacio's heroics, also with count full. After that, a bases-loaded free pass to Prince gave the hosts the lead for the first time, and two straight wild pitches made it 7-4.
Before that frame, the Tritons had managed a mere three runs over their previous 23 innings, coming in the way of three solo home runs. UC San Diego tallied 50 runs in a four-game sweep at Cal State East Bay to round out the regular season.
Junior Brandon Weed, (10-1) was back in the win column after a one-start hiatus, going 7.0 innings and allowing season highs of 10 hits and five runs.
Fourth-year senior right-hander Jonah Dipoto retired the final six batters in order to pick up his second save.
Game Two: No. 6 UCSD 11, PLNU 4
For the second game in a row, UC San Diego truly capitalized on opponent miscues. One of three Sea Lions was by rightfielder John Balliet in the sixth, leading to all three unearned runs.
UC San Diego sent 10 the plate in that frame. Of those 10, The first run came across on a throwing error, followed by Nick Kitzmann's RBI single. Eliopulos was waiting to pounce. The final run was via wild pitch, a fourth on the contest.
Maybe none of that could have been possible if not for redshirt junior second baseman Keenan Brigman's hustle double to lead off the three run sixth. He pulled one of four hits through the left side on a 1-2 count, and seeing leftfielder Brett O'Toole going through the motions, never stopped, sliding safely into second to stir his club.
Brigman now has three collegiate four-hit games, and two this year,
Senior left-hander Preston Mott drew his 53rd mound start, now tied for second in that category with Kirby St. John (2007-10), likewise a two-time West Region champion. Like Weed before him, Mott provided 7.0 innings, giving up four runs, two of them earned.
True freshman right-hander Michael Mitchell handled the final six outs.
Triton Notes: Alex Eliopulos started his 124th and 125th straight games, all at third base ... Eliopulos, first baseman Blake Baumgartner and shortstop Shay Whitcomb are the only Tritons to start all 49 games in 2019 ... Senior rightfielder R.J. Prince was in the leadoff spot for the 12th and 13th straight games ... Game One: Brandon Weed drew his 11th mound start of the year, making his 15th appearance as a Triton.
About UC San Diego Athletics
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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For complete coverage and information regarding UC San Diego Athletics, follow the Tritons online at UCSDtritons.com and through social media on Twitter (@UCSDtritons), Instagram (@ucsdtritons) and Facebook (UCSDtritons). For more information on UC San Diego Baseball, follow on Twitter (@UCSDbsb) and Instagram (@ucsd_baseball). Head coach Eric Newman is also on Twitter (@CoachEricNewman).