STOCKTON, Calif. - The No. 25 University of California San Diego overturned a 3-0 deficit and cruised into Championship Saturday at the 2018 California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Championship with a 13-5 defeat of 16th-ranked Cal State Monterey Bay at Banner Island Ballpark on Friday night.
A seventh successive victory and 17th over its last 19, improved second-seeded UC San Diego to 37-15 overall on the year. Top-seeded Cal State Monterey Bay dropped to 38-16. The Otters had eliminated two-time defending CCAA tournament champion Chico State earlier in the day, 8-2. The teams split their regular-season series in Seaside. In fact they completed the 44-game league slate an identical 30-14, with the secondary tiebreaker going in favor of the Otters to earn them the regular-season title and top seed at this tournament.
After a bit of a slow start, and trailing 3-0 through four and a half innings, UC San Diego at least somewhat corrected that bitter taste in its mouth, and sent CSUMB back to Seaside to await its NCAA Championship fate. Both teams should be moving on, regardless of what the Tritons do on Saturday, with an automatic berth on the line.
UC San Diego will meet fourth-seeded Cal Poly Pomona on Saturday, May 12, for the crown. First pitch at Banner Island Ballpark is slated for 12 p.m. CPP stormed back from an 11-1 deficit after six innings, to stun fifth-seeded Cal State LA, 13-11, in an elimination game on Friday afternoon. All of Saturday’s action will be broadcast on Eleven Sports USA and online at baosn.tv, free of charge.
Junior first baseman Tyler Durna laced an opposite-field double with one gone in the first, and moved to third on a passed ball after a deep flyout to right center by Zander Clarke, but Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS) grounded out to strand him there.
Senior right-hander Jack Rupe, Jr. (San Marcos/Mission Hills HS) needed three pitches to get two groundouts to begin the third, giving him seven straight retired, but after battling back from a 3-0 count, leadoff man TJ Dove took a 3-2 pitch the other way for a solo shot, his fifth. A walk and single followed, by Rupe managed to get out of it.
The Otters moved a runner to second with one gone on a leadoff walk and groundout, but redshirt freshman centerfielder Brandon Stewart made two tough grabs in either gap, to save a run. The first one was a hard liner to right center, and he followed that up with an even better catch sliding into left center to Connor Caspersen of an RBI hit.
Two costly errors led directly to a run to start the fifth, as Max Sanderson wound up on second on a dropped fly ball, and scored on a sailed infield throw on the ensuing grounder. After a walk and successful sacrifice, a groundout scored a second unearned run. A fourth free pass on the night preceded an inning-ending groundout.
The Otters returned the favor, if you will, immediately, with the home half starting with two defensive miscues, and the inning blowing up much more against CSUMB than it did UC San Diego, to the tune of six runs on six hits. Keenan Brigman rolled a single through Caspersen at shortstop for openers, with that one being ruled a base hit. Then Blake Baumgartner hit one at Ruben Gonzalez, who had just entered the fray at third base to start that frame after the starter, Reed Oster, had been hit for in the top half. The ball ate up Gonzalez as well, with Tritons safe at first and second.
Nick Kitzmann's single to left loaded the bases, and a wild pitch got the Tritons on the board. Leadoff man Brandon Stewart grounded one to Gonzalez, and this time he made the play, coming home to cut the lead runner down as senior catcher Hayden Duer made the tag in time on Baumgartner. Durna followed by sending an opposite-field flare into left for an RBI single, and Clarke tied the game with a sharp single to left center, advancing to second on the throw. Eliopulos' single through the right side scored Durna and Clarke. With two gone, Justin Beck dropped an opposite-field RBI double just inside the left field line, and a 3-0 deficit suddenly was a 6-3 advantage.
Antonio Barrios took over for Rupe to begin the sixth, and navigated around a leadoff single and one-out walk to register the shutdown inning. The redshirt freshman right-hander fanned Caspersen, as well as Dove, before Kyle Czaplak lined out to freshman shortstop Shay Whitcomb, situated perfectly right behind the second-base bag.
The Tritons put together a four-run rally in their sixth. Baumgartner started it with a single to center, and Kitzmann followed with a week. Stewart tried pretty desperately to lay down his team-best ninth sacrifice, only to freely accept a five-pitch walk to fill the bags for the meat of the order. That trio did not disappoint, as seldom they have.
CSUMB went to its closer, Connor Fabing, and he walked Durna to force in Baumgartner. Clarke came through yet again, and sent a two-run single right up the middle. Eliopulos grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, but that still plated Durna for a 10-3 bulge.
Barrios was stellar in the seventh. Around a one-out walk to Tano Garza, he retired both of the Otters' big sluggers, each at 16 home runs apiece atop the CCAA, in Duer swinging, and Jacob Tonascia on an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
Beck's leadoff walk led to a single tally in the seventh as Brigman hit an infield single and both players advanced an extra 90 feet on a second Otter error in the contest. Baumgartner lifted his third sacrifice fly of 2018.
Barrios retired the first two batters in the eighth on a flyout and called third strike, but UC San Diego got itself in trouble via back-to-back walks, and pinch-hitter Nicholas Napoli pulled two runs back on a triple into the right field corner.
Not that they needed them, but the Tritons got those runs right back and capped the scoring on a humongous two-run blast deep to right off the bat of Eliopulos in the bottom of the eighth. It was Eliopulos' 14th on the year, all to right field, and fourth in his last seven games. It came after a leadoff Durna single.
Rupe (6-2), went 5.0 innings and allowed three runs, one of them earned, on two hits and four walks. He struck out one. Rupe was perfect in the second after dodging a one-out infield error in the first. The Tritons' six-run outburst right after his exit, made a deserved winner of Rupe, now a winner of four consecutive starts, and, dating back to last year's run to the national finals, a fourth straight win in a postseason start.
Durna was 3-for-4 with a walk, three runs and two RBI. Clarke went 2-for-5 with a run and three RBI. Eliopulos finished 2-for-5 with his home run, two runs and two RBI as the prolific 2-3-4 hitters in head coach Eric Newman's lineup performed yet again. Brigman continued his solid second season in a Triton uniform by going 2-for-5 with a run. Stewart and Kitzmann each scored a pair of runs.
Sophomore right-hander Ted Stuka notched the final four outs, in order and all on the infield. That included of course a 1-2-3 ninth, beginning with two strikeouts.
Senior right-hander Gabe Katich (6-5) gave up five runs, four of them earned, on six hits and one walk over 4.1 frames. He struck out two.
Triton Notes: UC San Diego is now 32-18 over its 14 CCAA Championship appearances, including 2-1 against Cal State Monterey Bay ... The Tritons are 17-9 away from home in 2018 ... Alex Eliopulos is the only Triton to start or even appear in all 52 games ... Brandon Stewart batted leadoff and Shay Whitcomb fifth for the eighth time this season and seventh game in a row ... Jack Rupe, Jr., drew his 11th mound start, making his 13th appearance of the year ... With one more home run, UC San Diego increased its league-leading season total to 70, now just two from matching the school record from 2007, and 20 clear of CSUMB (50) in second ... Clarke (73) and Eliopulos (68) remain 1-2 in the CCAA in RBI ... The first-inning error charged against Tyler Durna was just his third this season ... Durna's first-inning double was his team-leading 15th ... With three more doubles, UC San Diego has taken over the CCAA lead in that category as well, 112-111 over Cal State Monterey Bay ... The Tritons have hit at least one double in 19 straight games, with 63 total in this stretch ... Clarke's 73 RBI rank No. 2 on the program’s single-season chart, now 11 back of Brandon Gregorich's 84 in 2010 ... The Tritons have walked 25 over these three tournament games, with only four of them coming around to score, including the most recent two tonight ... UC San Diego pitching has surrendered just 12 hits over 27 inning in this tournament ... The Tritons reached double-figure runs for the 21st time in their 52 games.