STOCKTON, Calif. - The No. 21 University of California San Diego trotted out to an early 6-0 lead and went on to defeat No. 6 Chico State, 13-4, to extend Championship Saturday at the 2017 California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Championship at neutral-site Banner Island Ballpark.
Third-seeded UC San Diego, the designated visitor, improved to 36-16 overall. Top seed Chico State, the league's regular-season victor and defending tournament champion, fell to 44-9 and 1-3 against the Tritons this season.
The result forces the now-necessary, winner-take-all final showdown between the same two sides, with an approximate start time of 4:30 p.m. Watch it for free here. UCSD survived a third consecutive elimination tilt, having had to win twice on Friday to stay alive.
Chico State likewise put two on in the first, with its first two batters. Sonny Cortez managed a squibber that just died inside the third base line for a fortuitous single. Preston Mott then tried to get the lead runner on Cody Snider's sacrifice attempt, but was too late with it. The sophomore left-hander rallied, however, to get a flyout to center and then made two exquisite pitches to catch two tough hitters in Dillon Kelley looking at a changeup on the outside corner, and Josh Falco swinging.
The bottom of the order did the majority of the damage in a three-run Triton uprising in the second. Keenan Brigman drew a one-out walk, already Wright's third, and fellow freshman Chad Crosbie roped a single into center. Michael Palos worked the count full and sent an RBI single through the middle to put UCSD on the scoreboard, and senior shortstop Tyler Howsley followed on the very next pitch by dumping an RBI single into right center. That brought Larsen back up with teammates at the corners, and of course he obliterated the first pitch off the top of the wall in right for an RBI double.
As it stood, inches cost UCSD a pair of runs, as Wright to his credit, fought back to throw three past a swinging Shirley, and even after walking Durna to fill the bags, got Eliopulos to fly out.
Mott expertly worked around a two-out double in the second, with a lineout and two swinging strikeouts, and the Tritons tossed up another three-spot in the third.
Hearn and Brigman opened with stung doubles on successive pitches to make it 4-0 and bring about the day's first pitching change. Crosbie could not be more rude to the new guy, Grant Wright, belting his first offering over the wall in right center for his first collegiate home run at the perfect time, and 6-0.
The Tritons gave three of those back in the home half as the tide turned a bit for Mott. Chico State began the inning single, single, double from the top of the order, and the only reason why no runs scored to that point and that the inning wasn't worse in totality, was a veteran move by Howsley. The fourth-year senior deked Cortez on Snider's solid single to right, making him think that Larsen had caught the ball and that he had to retreat to first. Larsen didn't, and Howsley took his throw and applied the tag on the bewildered Wildcat senior. Two batters later, Kelley, the reigning Tournament MVP, lined a two-run single into center, and sprinted all the way to third on a two-base fielding error. Falco's groundout brought him home.
UCSD very importantly denied the shutdown inning in the fourth, as back-to-back singles by Durna on an infield tapper and Eliopulos through the right side, had them at the corners, for Hearn to go opposite field for his CCAA-best eighth sacrifice fly.
Palos sprung to action to turn away a bunt attempt at a leadoff single in the fifth by Snider, gathering and firing in time to Durna. Mott then fought off a 3-0 count to retire Santos on a ground ball to Hearn at second. After Kelley stayed hot with a single to left, Mott got the Tritons back in the dugout with a groundout on Falco, navigating cleanly through the 2-3-4-5 batters that hurt him in the third.
With one gone in the sixth, Shirley's infield single ignited a two-run charge, with Durna drawing a four-pitch walk and the duo pulling off a double steal on Shirley's great jump. Eliopulos, like Larsen in the second, just missed a three-run bomb, settling for an incredibly hard-hit RBI single off the top of the wall in right. Hearn's sharp single to center made it 9-3. What followed was a wild pitch, groundout with the infield in to hold the runners, change on the mound, and walk to Crosbie to load the bases. Palos put a charge into one opposite field down the right field line, but Snider went over and caught it to end the inning.
Mott turned away the Wildcats in order in the home sixth on two swinging strikeouts around a flyout, and the Tritons again filled the bags in the seventh to tack two more runs on to their total. Howsley worked a four-pitch walk, Larsen singled to right, and a third senior, Shirley, skipped an opposite-field RBI single through the right side. Durna picked up a second infield single to load them, and after Eliopulos struck, Hearn made it nine sacrifice flies for 11-3.
Mott fanned Tyler Stofiel to start the home seventh, and after a hit-by-pitch, erased that with a 5-4-3 twin killing, UCSD's second of the contest.
The scoring was capped in the eighth with a third successive two-run frame by UCSD, as Larsen unbelievably launched his fifth home run in as many games at this tourney, to deep right center with two gone, after Palos had walked with one out.
Mott (7-4) allowed three runs, two of them earned, on eight hits, no walks and two hit-ty-pitches over 7.0 innings, matching his season long. The sophomore left-hander out of Clovis who was celebrating a birthday, struck out seven to match his season and collegiate high. He used a 6-4-3 double play to end the fourth after an eight-pitch at-bat netted Andrew Carrillo a leadoff single through the left side. The Tritons had just missed turning a twin killing, settling for a fielder's choice groundout for the first out.
Larsen was 3-for-5 with the home run, double, walk, two runs and three RBI. Crosbie went 2-for-4 with his home run, walk, two runs and two RBI. Hearn finished 2-for-3 with a double, two sacrifice flies, run and three RBI. Shirley added three hits, and Durna two, walking three times and scoring twice. Eliopulos collected two hits, with Palos scoring a pair.
Wright (0-1), a junior right-hander making his first start of the year and only his sixth appearance, lasted just two-plus innings and gave up five runs on six hits and four walks, striking out two.
Triton Notes: UCSD is 29-17 at the CCAA Championship, making its 13th appearance and fourth straight ... The Tritons are 10-3 against Chico State at the CCAA Championship, and have won seven straight meetings at the event ... Tyler Howsley extended his consecutive games played streak to 161 dating back to the 2015 opener ... Jack Larsen has appeared in 116 straight games, all of them starts ... JD Hearn has appeared in 83 games in a row, all of them starts ... Hearn, Howsley and Larsen are the only Tritons to appear in all 52 games this season, with only Hearn and Larsen starting each ... Preston Mott drew his team-best 14th start of the year and 28th of his career ... Larsen's leadoff walk in the first extended his reached-base streak to 34 games ... Larsen's RBI increased his team-leading total to 56, tops in the CCAA ahead of CPP's Daniel Pitts (51), with 22 over his last nine games ... Larsen's second-inning double was his team-best 17th on the year ... Keenan Brigman's RBI double in the third extended his current team-best hit streak to 15 ... Larsen's eighth-inning home run was his team-best 14th on the year, fifth of the tournament in five games, 26th of his career, and seventh at Banner Island Ballpark, all coming over his last seven games there ... Crosbie and Larsen's shots moved UCSD further atop the CCAA in home runs, now with 48 ... The Tritons extended their streak to nine games with at least one home run, with multiple blasts in eight ... UCSD has totaled 21 home runs in those contests ... The win was sixth-year UCSD head coach Eric Newman's 200th in charge of the Tritons ... The winning decision was Mott's first since March 16 at SF State.