LA JOLLA, Calif. - The University of California San Diego baseball team celebrated its first home contest since March 2 in a big, big way, punishing Cal State East Bay to the tune of 25-2 in the opener of a four-game California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) series at Triton Ballpark on Thursday night.
With the victory, UC San Diego improved to 17-9 overall and 13-8 in the CCAA. Cal State East Bay fell to 13-14 overall and 10-11 in league play. The Tritons remain in a two-way tie for third in the conference standings, as the top four teams all won on Thursday. Cal State Monterey Bay and Cal State LA are still one game up at 14-7 each.
UC San Diego produced two grand slams among a season-high six home runs on the night, to get to its season-best run total. The Tritons had 16 hits in the game. They put together six innings of three or more runs, failing to score in only the third and seventh. The eight-run sixth was UCSD's most lucrative frame of 2018.
That sixth included back-to-back-to-back home runs, all of the tape-measure variety, by junior first baseman Tyler Durna, junior rightfielder Zander Clarke, and redshirt junior third baseman Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS). Durna's second home run in as many innings, was the Tritons' second grand slam, that landed to the right of the center field wall. Clarke and Eliopulos followed with solo no-doubters to left and right, respectively.
Clarke had begun the blast brigade with his own grand slam, in the second to give UCSD a 7-1 bulge. That one also went to left. The first-year UCLA transfer now has five home runs in his last five games, seven in March, and nine on the year.
Durna's first was a three-run moon shot that cleared the scoreboard in right center in the fifth. He now has four home runs on the year. The Chino Hills product finished with career bests of five runs and eight RBI. The eight RBI matches the program record for its NCAA Division II era, since 2000, as former slugger Justin Rahn had collected eight RBI in a 20-5 home win over Cal Poly Pomona during the 2014 West Regional on May 16, 2014. Rahn also had a grand slam among two home runs.
Eliopulos' shot was his team-best 10th. Junior first-year transfer Christopher Schasteen capped the haul to lead off the four-run eighth, going out to left. The six home runs equal the D-II-era record. UC San Diego had previously hit six home runs in a 14-7 win at Cal State San Bernardino on April 2, 2010. The 25 runs are the second-most of the Tritons’ Division II days, only behind a 26-5 romp in the seven-inning doubleheader nightcap at Cal State Monterey Bay on April 15, 2007.
Jack Rupe, Jr. (San Marcos/Mission Hills HS), went six complete innings and allowed a solitary run on four hits, all singles, and no walks. He struck out a season-high seven, all swinging, falling one shy of matching his career high. It meant a first winning decision for Rupe, Jr. (1-2), of 2018. With UCSD having played four games on Sunday and Monday and facing a short week, head coach Eric Newman needed a fifth starter, and the fourth-year senior right-hander delivered. Rupe, Jr., had entered the contest with an 11.02 ERA, with his last start coming on March 4.
Rupe, Jr., retired the Pioneers in order in the first, fourth and sixth. His first strikeout stranded a runner at third to end the second after the visitors had pulled a run back to make it 3-1. The local product fanned his final two batters, and set down 10 of his last 11 around a two-out bunt single in the fifth.
Freshman right-hander Cameron Leonard got the final nine outs, he himself notching a season-best six strikeouts, in his longest stint, to earn his first collegiate save.
The Tritons got off to a quick 3-0 start in the very first frame. Clarke followed a one-out, four-pitch walk to Durna by reaching on a costly East Bay error that left men at the corners. A wild pitch advanced Clarke to second, and then a four-pitch stretch saw Eliopulos' RBI groundout plate Durna with the opening run, a Steven Schuknecht single through the left side to score Clarke, a Schuknecht steal thanks to a clever slide, and an RBI single to right by Keenan Brigman, with the throw home too late to get Schuknecht. Schuknecht and Brigman's hits were inside-outed to the opposite field.
UCSD loaded the bags in the second on a leadoff walk to Justin Beck, one-out bunt single by Brandon Stewart, and another four-pitch walk, this one with two gone, to Durna. Clarke worked the count full and cleared them with one swing.
The three-run fourth had an RBI fielder's choice from Durna, an RBI single by Eliopulos, and a Schuknecht sacrifice fly. All three were unearned due to two errors.
Beck led off the fifth with a double, and Stewart drew a one-out walk, ahead of Durna's two-out bomb.
Eleven Tritons went to the plate in the sixth, which eclipsed the seven-run frame they had just produced at CSUMB on Sunday. Shay Whitcomb's bases-loaded walk forced in the first run, just ahead of the fireworks by Durna, Clarke and Eliopulos.
After Schasteen's opener in the eighth, Blake Baumgartner had a sacrifice fly that also almost carried out for a three-run blast, and then Brigman came up with his first triple of the season, into the gap in right center, to chase home UCSD's final two runs.
Durna wound up 2-for-3 with the two home runs, two walks, five runs and eight RBI. Clarke was 2-for-4 with two home runs, a hit-by-pitch, three runs and a season-high five RBI to give him 14 over the last five games, and now the team lead with 37. Stewart reached base in all four plate appearances before taking a seat, going 3-for-3 with a walk, four runs and an RBI. Brigman was 2-for-5 with the triple, walk and three RBI. Eliopulos went 2-for-5 with his home run, run and three RBI. Schuknecht was 2-for-4 with a double, sacrifice fly, two runs, two RBI and a steal. Beck went 1-for-3 with a double, walking three times for the second time this year, and scoring three times.
Beck and Durna teamed up for a nice defensive play in the fifth, as Beck ranged behind the second-base bag to corral a grounder, and made the strong throw, with Durna going full-stretch to reel it in.
East Bay starter Andrew Fernandez (1-4) threw only one frame and took the loss.
The Tritons and Pioneers continue their four-game set with a doubleheader on Friday, March 30. First pitch at Triton Ballpark on East Campus in La Jolla is at 1 p.m. The nightcap will be of the shortened seven-inning variety, with about a 40-minute break in between. Parking will be free all day, due to the Cesar Chavez holiday.
Triton Notes: Alex Eliopulos and Zander Clarke are the only two Tritons to start all 26 games ... Jack Rupe, Jr., drew his first starting assignment since March 4 at Cal Poly Pomona, and fifth on the year ... Shay Whitcomb's bases-loaded walk in the sixth inning extended his team-best reached-base streak, as he has started his college career by getting on base in each of his first 25 contests ... Durna's grand slam marked the first home run hit by a Triton to center field in 2018 ... UCSD reached double figures in runs for the eighth time this year ... This marks the third straight season with the Tritons scoring 20-plus runs in at least one contest ... With Eliopulos' two from Feb. 11 and March 9, UCSD has now blasted four grand slams in 2018 ... Steven Schuknecht's first-inning steal was his first this year ... Nick Kitzmann's sixth-inning hit-by-pitch was his team-best 12th ... In the fifth, Kitzmann was charged with his first error of 2018, after fielding his first 137 defensive chances cleanly ... Freshman Garett Lake's eighth-inning double was his first collegiate hit ... UCSD now has four saves of three-plus innings ... With tonight's six home runs to just one by Cal State Monterey Bay in its 18-7 rout at Cal State San Marcos, the Tritons now hold sole possession of the CCAA home run lead over the Otters, 32-27 ... UCSD's six home runs and 25 runs, and Durna's eight RBI, are all single-game highs in the CCAA for 2018 ... The Tritons drew a season-high 10 walks for the third time this year ... UCSD left just four men on base after stranding a season-low three in its previous game Monday at CSUMB ... The Tritons totaled a season-high 10 extra-base hits.
B2: TOUCH ‘EM ALL, ZANDER CLARKE! #Tritons load bases on leadoff Beck BB, 1-out Stewart bunt 1B, 2-out Durna BB. Zander works count full and lifts 4th home run in 5 games over LF wall! #UCSanDiego’s 3rd #grandslam of 2018. 💪💣 #ZanderBomb— UCSD Triton Baseball (@UCSDbsb) March 30, 2018
7-1 🔱#GoTritons #CCAAbsb #d2bsb pic.twitter.com/poKAGRjJqF