No. 6 UC San Diego Edged Late by No. 19 Mercyhurst, 6-5, in Cary Elimination Game
CARY, N.C. - The No. 6 University of California San Diego jumped out to a 5-1 lead but ultimately suffered a tough 6-5 defeat to No. 19 Mercyhurst University in an elimination game Wednesday at the 2019 NCAA Division II Baseball Championship.
Coleman Field at the USA Baseball National Training Complex is the venue for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons, and second straight year for the Tritons. The University of Mount Olive and the Town of Cary are again serving as hosts.
With the loss, three-peat West Region champion and sixth-seeded UC San Diego ended the year at 41-16 overall. The Tritons were the designated home team, having won a coin flip following Tuesday’s activity. Seventh-seeded Mercyhurst, the Atlantic Region champion, improved to 36-15. The two teams were the only returners to Cary from a year ago, of the eight regional winners in 2019.
Mercyhurst survives and advances to take on third-ranked, second-seeded Tampa in effectively the semifinal round on Thursday, June 6. The Lakers will need to beat the Spartans twice in order to advance to the finals.
Senior right-hander Christian Young had retired the first four Tritons in order when junior centerfielder Alex Athanacio dropped down a bunt single in his first plate appearance in Cary. True freshman second baseman Michael Fuhrman made it back to back as he poked a single of his own through the left side of the infield. Senior designated hitter Steven Schuknecht then rolled a 2-2 pitch through the right side for a single to load the bases.
Keenan Brigman, the Tritons' redshirt junior leftfielder, made it four straight singles, finding the hole between shortstop and third base to score Athanacio and Fuhrman for a quick 2-0 advantage. They would settle for just those two after a pitching change.
True sophomore right-hander Noah Conlon retook the hill and fanned a pair for the third straight frame, notching a second consecutive 1-2-3 inning on just 12 pitches. The first two punchouts gave him four in a row, ahead of a routine groundout.
Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS) hammered a 3-2 pitch from reliever Jared Kapturasky three-quarters up the wall in right center to lead off the home third, with the ball bouncing back and enabling the redshirt senior third baseman to sprint to third for his team-leading fourth triple of 2019. With one away, Fuhrman popped up, but the shortstop, Alex O’Donnell, let the ball drop behind him, enabling Eliopulos to trot home for 3-0. Credited as an error, the senior wasn’t even able to gather himself in order to force Athanacio at second, with all Tritons safe.
Schuknecht followed with a second straight singled pulled through the right side, to load the bases once more for his club, still with only one gone. An infield popout and flyout got Kapturasky out of the jam, however, only trailing 3-0.
Following another lengthy stay in the dugout, Conlon gave up singles on each of his first three tosses of the fourth, to score Mercyhurst’s opening run with men still at first and second. The second of those hits was a sacrifice bunt attempt after which the runner was initially ruled out. After the first replay challenge in a game involving UC San Diego of this tournament, the call was reversed and the Lakers had a bunt single.
From there, Conlon curbed the damage, getting a 6-3 double play to Whitcomb off the bat of Josh Surowiec. He then fell behind 3-0 to Luke Baranchak with a man at third, but rallied to catch him looking at strike three.
After failing to do some real significant damage in the previous two frames, it took a two-out rally for UC San Diego to add to its lead in the fourth. Eliopulos belted another extra-base hit to right, this time bouncing his 15th double up against the wall. With rain coming down, redshirt sophomore first baseman Blake Baumgartner then hit a first-pitch, absolute no-doubter to left, tracked at 409 feet, for a 5-1 bulge. It gave him team-leading totals of 13 home runs and 57 RBI on the season.
The sixth started off badly for UC San Diego, as after a leadoff hit-by-pitch, the Lakers got a two-run home run and two doubles on three successive pitches to chase Conlon with the tying run standing at second and nobody out in a 5-4 contest.
Mercyhurst then tied the game with a single tally in the seventh. A leadoff double preceded a single to put Lakers at the corners and force a second Triton pitching change. Fourth-year senior right-hander Jonah Dipoto walked his first batter to load the bases. The equalizer came on a second 6-3 double play started by Whitcomb off the bat of Surowiec, with Dipoto then got Baranchak waving to keep it a 5-5 game.
The eighth began with a spectacular play by Baumgartner, as the first baseman sprinted toward the rail of the visitor dugout and reached over to make the fine grab. Dipoto then wiped away a one-out single with back-to-back strikeouts.
After an hour-plus-long lightning delay, the second stoppage of the afternoon, Mercyhurst cleanup batter Matthew Schneider lifted his 11th home run over the left field fence with two away in the ninth to put the Tritons on the break, down for the frist time in the game at 6-5.
The Lakers notched the first two outs of the final half without any trouble, but then back-to-back infield errors around a passed ball had Eliopulos at third as the tying, and Ryan McNally running for Baumgartner at first as the winner. A strikeout, however, ended the game, and the Tritons’ incredible two-trophy campaign.
Conlon went 5.0 innings and allowed four runs on seven hits, no walks and a hit-by-pitch, striking out a career-high nine. Conlon’s first two pitches of the afternoon were balls before back-to-back swinging strikeouts, as he then ducked around a two-out outfield error via infield popout. He registered a 1-2-3 frame in the second with two strikeouts following an easy 3-1 groundout.
Conlon had two strikeouts in the first, second, third and fifth, and ended the fourth with a called third strike, for his nine on the afternoon.
Baumgartner finished 1-for-5 with his home run, run and two RBI. Eliopulos was 2-for-5 with a double, triple and two runs scored. Brigman went 1-for-2 with a walk and two RBI. Athanacio wound up 1-for-2 with a walk and a run scored. Schuknecht was 2-for-4.
The result marked the end of the remarkable UC San Diego careers of Dipoto, Eliopulos, Kyle Lucke, Preston Mott, R.J. Prince and Christopher Schasteen. Brigman and Schuknecht are also not expected to use their final year of college eligibility.
Conlon, junior right-hander Luke Mattson (two), Dipoto (three) and Lucke (one) combined to strike out 15 Lakers, a season high for the Tritons.
Young gave up two runs on four hits and one walk over 1.2 frames. He struck out one. Young was perfect in the first on two ground balls around a flyout.
Triton Notes: UC San Diego is now 40-24 (.625) after its 11th NCAA Division II Championship appearance ... It was the first-ever meeting between the teams … Alex Eliopulos started his 133rd straight game, all at third base ... Eliopulos, first baseman Blake Baumgartner and shortstop Shay Whitcomb are the only Tritons to start all 57 games in 2019 ... Senior rightfielder R.J. Prince was in the leadoff spot for the 21st straight game ... Prince's second-inning walk extended his reached-base streak to 24 games, the longest by a Triton in 2019 ... Prince's hit streak was snapped at 11 games, matching the longest by a Triton this season ... Noah Conlon drew his 11th start of the season, making his 14th appearance ... Eliopulos' third-inning triple was the fifth of his UC San Diego career ... Eliopulos' four triples in 2019 rank him second in the conference ... Eliopulos' fourth-inning double was the 41st of his Triton days ... Baumgartner's fourth-inning home run was the 18th of his college career ... Baumgartner's home run was UC San Diego's third of the tournament, longest of the week, and league-leading 65th on the year ... The Tritons were 16-11 away from home, including 1-4 in neutral-site games ... UC San Diego was 7-7 against nationally-ranked foes in 2019 ... Temperature at game time was 84 degrees ... The first rain delay of the tournament occurred, for about 26 minutes from 3:30 to 3:56 p.m. ET ... A second rain/lightning delay lasted another 1:12 from 5:08 to 6:20 p.m. ET.
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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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