STOCKTON, Calif. - The No. 21 University of California San Diego baseball team went up early and hung on behind stellar pitching to down No. 29 Cal Poly Pomona, 7-3, in an elimination game of the 2017 California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Championship at neutral-site Banner Island Ballpark on Friday night.
Third-seeded UC San Diego, the designated home team, improved to 35-16 overall in surviving a second elimination tilt to cap a lengthy but happy 18-inning day of baseball. Second-seeded Cal Poly Pomona fell to 33-20, and will have to wait until Sunday to see if it will be given a chance to defend its back-to-back West Region titles when the NCAA Championship field is announced. CPP had been walked off 8-7 in 10 innings by top seed Chico State to begin the day in the winner's bracket.
UCSD thus advances to Championship Saturday, and must beat the sixth-ranked rival and defending champion Wildcats twice to bring home its record seventh CCAA tournament banner. The first meeting is set for a 12 p.m. start, with the Tritons the visitors in that one. The if-necessary final would begin at 4 p.m. All the action can be watched free, with expert commentary from longtime Chico State radio voice Michael Baca, here, with live stats here.
UCSD scored in each of the first five frames, in fact tallying all seven runs in that stretch. Just 24 hours prior, the Triton bullpen had surrendered leads of 6-4 and 8-6 in the ninth and 10th before succumbing in 11. On Friday night, that bullpen made sure the cushion held up through three innings of shutout relief.
CPP scored first in the opening half. Jack Rupe, Jr. (San Marcos/Mission Hills HS), began with three straight balls before throwing two strikes past Chris Stratton and getting him to ground out. What followed, however, was a first-pitch Cody Martin double to left center, Daniel Pitts single through the left side, and Nic Hernandez RBI single to right center. To the Triton junior right-hander's credit, he fanned the next two hitters, Jason Padlo and Brennan McKenzie, swinging to limit the damage.
UCSD wasted no time getting that run back, the torrid Jack Larsen starting the bottom half by roping a double to left center. Brandon Shirley laid the bunt down, and Tyler Durna lifted a sacrifice fly to center. The three actions needed five pitches.
Rupe (3-2) retired the Broncos in order in the second, two groundouts bookending a lineout. Alex Eliopulos went to ground to his left to make the difficult pickup, and Durna deftly scooped up his throw across the diamond, to cap the frame.
The Tritons went ahead to stay with a two-out, two-run rally in the second. Keenan Brigman singled opposite field to right, but freshman right-hander Jeremy Taylor (4-2) turned away the next two on fly balls. Senior shortstop and No. 9 batter Tyler Howsley sent a clutch single up the middle to advance Brigman to third, and smartly took second on the throw. That brought up Larsen, whose form attracted the unintentional, intentional walk, to load the bases. Shirley chopped a two-run single through the middle to make it 3-1 in favor of UCSD.
CPP manufactured one of those runs back in the third, due in large part to its senior leadoff man. Stratton walked for openers, swiped second and moved to third on Martin's right-sided groundout. Pitts then grounded out to Eliopulos, who checked the runner before throwing to Durna for the out. Stratton broke for home as soon he let go, and slid in ahead of the tag for 3-2.
In the home third, Eliopulos singled through the right side and scooted over to third on JD Hearn's double through the left side that took a wicked hop on third baseman Jason Padlo. Brigman accounted for the first out, but freshman designated hitter Chad Crosbie picked his team up, looping an opposite-field, two-run sigle to left.
Rupe registered the shutdown frame in the fourth, but not without some doing. He fanned Padlo and McKenzie in succession for the second go-around, but back-to-back singles by Frankie Nogales and Bryce Graddy put Broncos at the corners for Jacob Bernardy, who has traditionally been a thorn in UCSD's side, in the nine hole. Graddy in fact fouled off four 3-2 offerings and seven pitches in all during a 12-pitch at-bat. Rupe got the groundout and took his team back into the dugout.
With one away in the next half, Larsen went back to the launching pad, smoking his fourth home run of the tournament in as many games deep to right. Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS) followed suit to lead off the fifth with a shot equally as impressive, if not more, inside the right field foul pole. It was the redshirt sophomore's fifth.
In between, the CPP fifth ended in remarkable fashion, as Shirley sprinted to his back right and while appearing the make the grab of a laser off the bat of Hernandez, ran straight through the wall as a door evidently had not been properly secured. Having disappeared momentarily, the redshirt senior centerfielder reappeared, and presented the ball for the umpires to confirm the out call on arguably his greatest catch among an extensive list of options. The Broncos' sophomore first baseman even tipped his cap as he rounded second.
The game's final run came in the sixth courtesy of a Triton defensive miscue. McKenzie reached with one gone as Howsley's throw was off target, advanced to second on a wild pitch, and after Rupe had struck Nogales out swinging, scored on a first-pitch single to left by Graddy. Rupe froze Bernardy to end the frame.
That's when the bullpen took over. Sophomore right-hander Tim Nelson navigated around a leadoff walk to Stratton and one-out Pitts single in the seventh thanks to a perfectly-timed and executed 5-4-3 double play off the bat of Hernandez. Redshirt freshman right-hander Blaine Jarvis handled the remainder, retiring his last six batters in succession after allowing a Matt Manskar single to start the eighth. To put the exclamation mark on a 1-2-3 ninth, Jarvis induced an unassisted groundout to Durna, who gathered the wall and leapt headfirst to tag first base with his glove.
Rupe (3-2) went a season-long 6.0 innings and gave up three runs, two of them earned, on six hits and two walks, striking out a season-high seven and unofficially exhausting a career-high 115 pitches. He had never before gone over 85 as a Triton.
Larsen was 2-for-2 with his home run, two walks, two runs and one RBI. Eliopulos and Hearn both went 2-for-4, with the former adding a second run before his blast. Shirley and Crosbie each had a two-run single.
Triton Notes: UCSD is 28-17 at the CCAA Championship, making its 13th appearance and fourth straight ... The Tritons are back to an even 5-5 against CPP at the CCAA Championship, snapping a string of three straight losses ... Tyler Howsley extended his consecutive games played streak to 160 dating back to the 2015 opener ... Jack Larsen has appeared in 115 straight games, all of them starts ... JD Hearn has appeared in 82 games in a row, all of them starts ... Hearn, Howsley and Larsen are the only Tritons to appear in all 51 games this season, with only Hearn and Larsen starting each ... Jack Rupe, Jr., drew his seventh start of the year and 14th of his career ... The game started later than the scheduled 7 p.m., at exactly 8:22 p.m., due to the length of the first two contests of the day ... Larsen's leadoff double in the first extended his reached-base streak to 33 games and was his team-best 16th ... Keenan Brigman's leadoff single in the second extended his current team-best hit streak to 14 ... Tyler Durna's reached-base streak of 41 games, matching Jeff Riddle's stretch from 2004 for the longest in UCSD's NCAA Division II history (since 2001), was snapped as he went 0-for-3 with a first-inning sacrifice fly ... Larsen's RBI increased his team-leading total to 55, tops in the CCAA ahead of CPP's Daniel Pitts (51), with 21 over his last eight games ... Larsen's fourth-inning home run was his team-best 13th on the year, fourth of the tournament in four games, 25th of his career, and sixth at Banner Island Ballpark, all coming over his last six games there ... Larsen and Eliopulos' shots moved UCSD further atop the CCAA in home runs over Cal State LA, 46-43 ... The Tritons extended their streak to eight games with at least one home run, with multiple blasts in seven ... UCSD has totaled 19 home runs in those contests.