LA JOLLA, Calif. - The University of California San Diego baseball team rallied from a 2-0 deficit and walked off a 3-2 winner in the ninth inning over visiting Stanislaus State in the opener of a critical four-game California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) series at Triton Ballpark on Friday night.
With the victory, UC San Diego improved to 21-13 overall and 17-12 in the CCAA. Stanislaus State fell to 20-17 overall and 16-15 in league play. With all of Friday's activity completed, the Tritons remained in a second-place tie, now just with Cal State LA (20-14, 17-12 CCAA), a 9-4 home winner also on Friday night over Sonoma State (20-15, 16-13 CCAA). UCSD moved a game closer to league leader Cal State Monterey Bay (26-9, 20-9 CCAA), now three back after the Otters lost 10-5 at Cal Poly Pomona.
Redshirt junior third baseman Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS) drove in all three Triton runs to retake the CCAA RBI lead over teammate Zander Clarke, 45-43. He belted a two-run double to the wall in right center in the sixth off CCAA Pitcher of the Year favorite Joe Ryan, and chopped a walk-off RBI single up the middle with the bases full and one out in the ninth. Both hits came with two strikes against him.
Senior right-hander Mitch Hickey threw 5.0 effective innings and allowed both runs on six hits. He struck out five, and did not issue a walk for a third consecutive outing.
Junior right-hander Kyle Lucke (1-3) took over and fired four shutout frames with three singles and a walk against him, and two strikeouts. He earned his first winning decision of 2018.
Ryan, a senior right-hander and first-year transfer from CSUN, gave up two runs on six hits and two walks over 7.0 frames. He fanned eight to up his league-leading season total to an even 100. The next closest has just 69.
It took just eight Hickey tosses for Stan State to grab a 1-0 edge. Junior centerfielder Braeden Oki slapped an opposite-field triple just inside the right field line on a 2-2 offering, and scored his league-best 39th run on a squeeze bunt by Michael Wyatt.
Ryan set down the first seven Tritons in order, three of them looking, before hitting Nick Kitzmann with the first pitch of the redshirt sophomore catcher’s at-bat. It was Kitzmann's team-leading 14th hit-by-pitch.
Hickey settled in and retired seven Warriors in a row after the Oki triple, ahead of an infield single with one away in the third. He got around a leadoff single in the fourth.
Tyler Durna then took two close two-strike pitches for balls for a walk to begin the home fourth, but Ryan was equal to the task and stranded him at second.
Stanislaus State doubled the advantage in the fifth through a two-out rally, producing three straight singles, the last one by Oki to drive in the second run of the contest.
UC San Diego finally notched its first hit of the night in the home half as Beck went opposite field down the right field line for a one-out single.
Lucke wiped out a one-out single in the sixth with an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
The Tritons tied it in the sixth as Durna singled sharply to left with one away, and Clarke and Eliopulos drove successive two-strike doubles to left center and right center, respectively. UCSD still had men at first and second with one gone, but could not push ahead as Ryan got Beck to pop out.
It looked like that excitement for the home support would be short-lived, Stan State loading the bases with one out through a leadoff walk and a pair of one-out singles. Lucke held firm, however, getting a huge foul pop-up to Durna off Oki's bat, and then handling a soft comebacker to put his teammates back to work, still tied at 2-2.
UCSD had two reach base in both the seventh and eighth, with nothing across. Lucke, meanwhile, posted a perfect seventh and eighth, both times with two groundouts preceding a swinging strikeout, and that set the scene for the walk-off heroics.
Jarrett Veiga (1-2) moved from the designated hitter spot to the mound for the Warriors to begin the ninth, and promptly plunked Brandon Stewart to ignite things. Freshman leadoff man Shay Whitcomb fouled off two bunt attempts, but was still trusted to get the job done, and did just that, getting the two-strike bunt down to advance Stewart into scoring position.
With first base open, Stan State opted to walk Durna. Veiga's first attempt, however, got past the catcher, and Stewart scooted over to third. The visitors still put Durna on, and looking for an inning-ending double play, Veiga hit Clarke with a 1-0 offering to fill the bags. Eliopulos took two strikes, then two balls, and ended the game.
Eliopulos finished 2-for-5 with his sixth double and three RBI. Durna was 1-for-3 with two walks and a run scored. The Tritons were out-hit, 9-8.
UC San Diego and Stanislaus State continue their weekend series with a doubleheader on Saturday, April 14. First pitch at Triton Ballpark on East Campus in La Jolla is set for 1 p.m. The shortened seven-inning nightcap will begin about 40 minutes after the conclusion of game one. Parking is free all day, though fans are encouraged to arrive early, as parking will be impacted on campus due to the annual Triton Day event.
Triton Notes: Alex Eliopulos and Zander Clarke are the only two Tritons to start all 34 games ... Mitch Hickey drew his seventh start, his first since March 26 at Cal State Monterey Bay, having contributed a pair of effective four-inning relief outings the past two weeks ... It was Hickey's first series-opening start since March 1 at home against Cal Poly Pomona ... Hickey has tossed 13 complete frames over his last three outings, without walking a batter ... Nick Kitzmann threw out his seventh would-be base-stealer on his 14th attempt this season in the third inning ... Justin Beck's fifth-inning single extended his reached-base streak to 20 games ... Tonight marked the Tritons' third walk-off win of 2018, all in CCAA play, but first via base hit, with the previous ones occurring through an infield error and a passed ball ... Four-year starting shortstop Tyler Howsley (2014-17) was among those on hand.
B9: #WALKOFF! Alex Eliopulos singles up the middle on 2-2 pitch and scores Brandon Stewart with winning run. 3-2 #Tritons as they rally from 2-0 down to take this series opener! 🔱 #GoTritons @goccaa pic.twitter.com/JIGCZyJnrM— UCSD Triton Baseball (@UCSDbsb) April 14, 2018