LA JOLLA, Calif. - Seventh-ranked University of California San Diego's rally from an 8-1 deficit fell just short in an 8-7 loss to Hope International University in exhibition baseball action that was completed on Saturday night at Triton Ballpark.
The first two-plus frames were played to a scoreless tie on Friday night, before heavy fog forced the postponement. Picking things back up on Saturday evening, the visiting Royals produced back-to-back four-run innings in the third and fourth, and held on late for their second exhibition triumph in as many years at UC San Diego.
Ten Triton arms combined to fan 17 HIU batters, with three of them, senior newcomers Mitch Hickey and Tom Simpson, and junior Kyle Lucke, all right-handers, striking out the side, though only Lucke had a 1-2-3 inning, the seventh.
Hope International, located in Fullerton, is ranked No. 8 in the preseason National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) poll after going 35-18 in just its second year in 2017 en route to a Golden State Athletic Conference regular-season title and NAIA World Series appearance.
The Royals had staged a furious five-run rally in the ninth inning of the only previous meeting between the teams, also an exhibition, last Jan. 17, to steal a 5-4 victory in La Jolla. Four Tritons had one-hit HIU through eight frames.
With this edition resuming Saturday in the top of the third with Andrew Diaz at first following a one-out hit-by-pitch, the Royals promptly loaded the bags with two more hit-by-pitches, before Nolan Kraemer roped a two-run single into center to break the deadlock. The next batter, Lee Mutter, executed the hit-and-run perfectly and rolled an RBI single through the spot vacated by Triton second baseman Blake Baumgartner. A Will Davis sacrifice fly made it 4-0.
The Tritons got one of those runs right back in the bottom half, opening with back-to-back walks on eight pitches to Brandon Stewart and Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS). After a strikeout, redshirt freshman designated hitter Aaron Kim squeezed an RBI single right up the middle between the Royal shortstop and second baseman.
HIU put up another four-spot in the fourth via the long ball, as leadoff man Frank Garriola launched a three-run shot and Tristan Hildebrandt followed immediately with a solo blast, both to left. Ted Stuka got his initial batter swinging, and Hunter Cooper beat out an infield single. The Tritons' sophomore right-hander then handled the hard comebacker off the bat of Diaz, which should have turned into an inning-ending 1-6-3 double play. His throw to Eliopulos, however, went awry, and two batters later it was an 8-1 bulge. Garriola jumped on the very next offering.
UC San Diego answered that rally in full in the home fourth, ignited by a home run of its own, senior third baseman Justin Beck sending a 3-2 pitch deep into the La Jolla night in right. Redshirt junior catcher Michael Palos reached on the first of three Royal errors in the inning, in between a flyout and a strikeout. Eliopulos singled sharply to right center to put Tritons at the corners, before Durna fell behind 0-2 and dumped an RBI single into center. A throwing mistake put both Eliopulos and Durna in scoring position. Kim's fly ball to the wall in left was dropped by Mutter for two more scores, with the last three of the unearned variety.
Junior right-hander Jonah Dipoto came out and tossed three balls before rallying to get Davis swinging, and then a flyout and another punchout for a 1-2-3 shutdown.
The Tritons edged two runs closer in the fifth. Beck and Baumgartner were both hit by pitches in between a groundout and a strikeout, the latter bringing with it a wild pitch that advanced the runners. Junior Christopher Schasteen then poked a two-out, two-run, pinch-hit single up the middle to make it a one-run game at 8-7.
UC San Diego still had time to load the bases in that fifth before HIU got out of it. The Tritons then squandered a leadoff double to the wall in center by Steven Schuknecht in the sixth, unable to manufacture the tying score with men at the corners and only one out. UCSD went down in order for the only time in the seventh, with a 4-6-3 double play ending its eighth. Kim had reached second with no outs in that one through a leadoff single and fourth Royal error in the field. Nothing came of a one-out walk in the Tritons' final at-bat.
Eliopulos, Kim and Beck finished with two hits apiece. The Tritons out-hit the Royals, 9-6.
Shawn Dumser, Jr., was credited with the unofficial win, tossing three shutout frames. Erickson Fish handled the ninth and took the exhibition save.
The two staffs combined for 30 strikeouts in all.
UC San Diego will host crosstown foe San Diego Christian College, also of the NAIA, in its final exhibition this Wednesday, Jan. 17. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. at Triton Ballpark on East Campus in La Jolla. Admission is free, though parking permits are required on weeknights. There will be live stats, but no live video until the opener.