No. 22 Tritons Back in Cary Searching for Program's First National Championship Starting Sunday
The 22nd-ranked repeat West Region champion University of California San Diego baseball program traveled all day on Thursday, May 24, and arrived in Cary, N.C., for the 2018 NCAA Division II Championship. The eight-team, double-elimination championship is back at the incredible USA Baseball National Training Complex, having been staged there for eight straight seasons before a one-year move last year to Grand Prairie, Texas. The University of Mount Olive and the Town of Cary serve as hosts. The tournament will begin with two games on Saturday, May 26, with the finals scheduled for the following Saturday, June 2. The Tritons (42-15) were awarded the No. 3 seed, and thus will be the home side in their opener on Sunday, May 27, at 7 a.m. PT (10 a.m. ET) against No. 6 seed Texas A&M Kingsville (41-15). The Javelinas will be making their first appearance as first-time South Central Region champs.
Second-seeded Columbus State (45-13) and No. 7 seed Mercyhurst (36-13) are the other two teams on UC San Diego's side of the bracket. Sunday's winners will face off on Tuesday, May 29, at 4 p.m. PT (7 p.m. ET), while the losers await an elimination game, also on Tuesday, at 12 p.m. PT (3 p.m. ET). The bracket gets a little more complicated after that, but if two teams emerge unbeaten from games on Thursday, May 31, those two clubs will contest a best-of-three final series on Friday, June 1, and Saturday, June 2 (potential doubleheader on Saturday).
UC San Diego is a winner of a season-best 12 straight, its best streak in head coach Eric Newman's seven years in charge, and longest since a 19-game late in the 2011 campaign. The Tritons have also come out on top in 22 of their last 24, and are 22-9 outside of La Jolla, including a perfect 7-0 at neutral venues. Of the seven other region champions in Cary this year, UC San Diego has only ever faced Southern Indiana, that a heartbreaking 6-4 loss, also in Cary, in the 2010 national championship game. UC San Diego was a perfect 3-0 heading into that contest, with USI at 3-1, but the matchup was still a winner-take-all tilt, before the NCAA changed the tournament format to be a true double-elimination event.
The Tritons are atop the CCAA in fielding (.974), and second in both batting (.312) and ERA (3.89). They pace the entire country in walks with 315, a single-season school record at least for the Division II era (since 2001). The only team still in action with a real chance to overtake them, is Sunday's opening-day opponent, Texas A&M Kingsville, which is tied for third (306). UC San Diego last led the country in walks in 2015 (310), and has drawn 310-plus bases on balls in three of the last four years. The Tritons lead the league in several other offensive categories, including double plays (53), doubles (121), home runs (77), runs (492) and slugging (.503).
All seating is general admission. Admission will be $12 per day for adults and $7 per day for children age 12 and under and seniors age 55 and over. All-session tickets will be available for $32. There is no charge for children age 2 and under. Tickets may be purchased in advance by clicking here. Tickets will also be available at the complex on game days. The box office and gates will open one-and-a-half hours before the first game of the day. Parking is free.
All games of the NCAA Championship will feature live stats and live video with audio commentary, free of charge with no subscription required, through NCAA.com. Lincoln Rose and Joe Castellano will again call the action like last year. Games are archived. Fans can access live coverage from the Schedule/Results page, or by clicking on the links above. Starting lineups, live between-inning updates and other in-game news and notes can be found by following Triton Baseball at their own Twitter handle (@UCSDbsb). Fans are encouraged to also still follow @UCSDtritons, and tune into Instagram stories @ucsd_baseball and @UCSDtritons. Tune in to the #D2Baseball hashtag throughout the week.
NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY
UC San Diego is making its 10th NCAA Division II Championship appearance, with a record of 33-18 (.647). That includes 12 wins over its last 14. The Tritons are 24-13 in the NCAA West Regional and 9-5 at the NCAA Championship, including 5-3 in Cary. UC San Diego is the West Region representative at the finals site for the fourth time (2009-10-17-18). It was back in the now-56-team field for the fourth time in five years and fifth in seven seasons under head coach Eric Newman. Prior to their return in 2014 after a one-year hiatus in 2013, the Tritons made six straight trips from 2007-12. Triton Ballpark has hosted the West Regional twice, in 2011 and 2014, with Sonoma State and Chico State advancing, respectively. UC San Diego finished 3-2 both at home in 2014 and in Walnut in 2015, reaching the finals both times, before finally breaking through under Newman at a perfect 4-0 a year ago, and repeating that difficult feat last week, again in Azusa. The Tritons lost twice to West Region champion Chico State in 2014, and then battled back from dropping their 2015 opener to APU with three wins, before dropping the final to host CPP, 7-4. UCSD went 1-2 in its previous appearance under Newman in 2012, losing twice to this Thursday night's opponent, Dixie State, in Keizer, Ore. The Tritons previously advanced out of the West Regional in 2010, with three consecutive wins over Hawai'i Pacific, Cal State Dominguez Hills and HPU in Compton at the MLB Urban Youth Academy. UCSD moved on to the NCAA Championship in Cary, N.C., and finished as the national runner-up (3-1). UCSD also advanced out of the West in 2009 in Keizer, Ore., with wins over Cal State Dominguez Hills, Western Oregon and Sonoma State. The Tritons fell in the national semifinal game to Emporia State to finish third overall (2-2). They dropped a tough opener a year ago in Grand Prairie, Texas, 6-5 in 12 innings to St. Thomas Aquinas, before reeling off four elimination-game victories in five days to make it to the finals. Needing to defeat West Chester twice, UC San Diego fell in the initial meeting, 5-2, matching its program-best national runner-up effort. The Tritons previously went 9-15 (.375) over five trips (1986-87-89-92-94) to the NCAA Division III Championship, also with a pair of regional crowns in 1987 and 1994.
UC SAN DIEGO AGAINST THE FIELD
On Nov. 27, UC San Diego was officially invited to become a member of the NCAA Division I Big West Conference. The Tritons will begin a four-year reclassification period starting in the fall of 2020. They will play a full Big West schedule that season and will be eligible for the NCAA Championship in men's volleyball, men's and women's water polo, and fencing. For the 2024-25 academic year, all sports will be eligible to compete in Big West and NCAA Division I championships. Read the full press release here.
UC San Diego was at No. 7 in the preseason edition of Collegiate Baseball Newspaper's NCAA Division II top-40 poll (Dec. 20). The Tritons were No. 4 and No. 19 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and Perfect Game preseason polls, respectively. They returned to the CBN poll on April 30, at No. 26, for the first time since March 19, and are No. 22 in the most recent edition from May 14.
|Tritons in the Polls|
|Collegiate Baseball Newspaper||No. 22||No. 7||N/A|
|NCBWA||No. 14||No. 4||No. 2|
|Perfect Game||No. 15||No. 19||N/A|
Atlantic - Mercyhurst (36-13)
Central - Augustana (48-9)
East - Southern New Hampshire (39-15)
Midwest - Southern Indiana (36-21) (National Champion in 2010 and 2014)
South - Florida Southern (42-9-1) (Nine-Time National Champion...Last in 2005)
South Central - Texas A&M Kingsville (41-15)
Southeast - Columbus State (45-13) (National Champion in 2002)
West - UC San Diego (42-15)
LAST TIME OUT
UC San Diego swept through the West Regional at 4-0, just like it did a year ago, and also one week prior at the CCAA Championship in Stockton. The Tritons rolled over city rival Point Loma for openers, 22-3, as Zander Clarke drove in seven runs over the first three innings on a two-run home run, grand slam, and RBI single. They rallied from deficits of 6-0 after one and 7-1 after six, to edge California Baptist in a winner's bracket matchup, 9-8. A six-run seventh tied it, and Clarke's solo shot in the ninth broke an 8-8 tie for good UC San Diego surrendered the first two runs, again against the Lancers, on Saturday night, before taking a 5-3 victory, with Blake Baumgartner's two-run home run in the ninth serving as huge insurance in the end. In Monday's final, with host Azusa Pacific having to win twice to advance, the Tritons stormed back from another 7-1 deficit, to walk off as 8-7 winners on senior Michael Palos' pinch-hit, one-out, bases-loaded single through the left side.
NOTES ON CARY FIELD
Three of the eight teams in Cary have previously won national titles in nine-time champion and top seed Florida Southern, though not since 2005, two-time victor Southern Indiana (2010 and 2014), and 2002 champion Columbus State. Like the Tritons, Mercyhurst, Southern New Hampshire and Southern Indiana swept through four games at their regionals, with Florida Southern a perfect 3-0 at its own South Regional. UC San Diego is the only team returning to the NCAA Championship as a repeat regional champ, though only 11 players who were in Grand Prairie, Texas, are in Cary. The Tritons take the longest win streak of the bunch into the tournament by far, at 12 games. Southern Indiana has the top batting average (.319), Augustana the best ERA (2.98), and Florida Southern the highest fielding percentage (.977). UC San Diego has the third-best average (.312) and fielding percentage (.974), fifth-best ERA (3.89), and has scored the most runs (492). The Tritons are in fact just 32 runs off the national lead, and have 28 more than the closest NCAA Championship participant, Sunday opponent Texas A&M Kingsville (464).
UC San Diego head coach Eric Newman and second-year pitching coach Justin James have both coached at the USA Baseball National Training Complex as part of USA Baseball's National Team Identification Series (NTIS). James has participated the last two summers, and will again this year, while Newman coached a side in Cary for the first time a year ago.
UC San Diego has broken single-season program standards in home runs (77), walks (315) and strikeouts (495), now five away from 500 strikeouts for its pitching staff. Zander Clarke is the new single-season RBI king, with 85, surpassing fellow slugger Brandon Gregorich's 84 from the 2010 national runner-up season that also ended in Cary. Senior closer Cameron Kurz has 14 career saves, which matches the school record.
ALL-AMERICA AND ALL-REGION AWARDS
Zander Clarke was announced Thursday as a Division 2 Conference Commissioners Association (D2CCA) All-America First Team selection, having already been chosen to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) All-America Second Team. NCBWA All-West Region picks were Clarke (first team), Tyler Durna (second), Alex Eliopulos (second) and Preston Mott (second). D2CCA All-West Region awards went to Clarke (first), Justin Beck (first), Durna (first), Eliopulos (second), Mott (second) and Cameron Kurz (second). American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA)/Rawlings All-West Region players were Clarke (first), Durna (first), Beck (second), Eliopulos (second), Kurz (second) and Mott (second), with Clarke the ABCA/Rawlings West Position Player of the Year. Mott is a repeat Google Cloud CoSIDA Academic All-District 8 First Team honoree.
UC San Diego matched the program record from 2015, of 11 student-athletes recognized in some capacity with postseason CCAA awards. Zander Clarke is both the CCAA Most Valuable Player and CCAA Newcomer of the Year, while Shay Whitcomb is the CCAA Freshman of the Year. Clarke was joined on the All-CCAA First Team by fellow juniors Tyler Durna, Alex Eliopulos and Preston Mott. Seniors Justin Beck and Cameron Kurz made the second team, while Whitcomb, Blake Baumgartner, Keenan Brigman, Mitch Hickey and Nick Kitzmann earned All-CCAA honorable mention.
TRIPLE CROWN CLARKE
First-year Triton rightfielder Zander Clarke completed his CCAA Triple Crown for the league season, as he led the league over the 44-game CCAA slate in hitting (.409), RBI (61) and home runs (13-tied). He had 11 more RBI than the next closest player, teammate Alex Eliopulos, and 16 more than the rest of the field, despite missing two games through injury. Clarke was the only CCAA player to bat .400 in league action. He is also closing in on a CCAA Triple Crown for all games, as he leads in home runs (tied-18) and RBI (85) with Eliopulos (14 and 71) his only active challenger, and his average is at .394. The second-best average is .380. Clarke is first in the CCAA with his .713 slugging percentage as well, and fifth in on-base percentage (.464). He is in fact third for all levels of the NCAA in RBI, eight back of Delta State's Zack Shannon and one behind Colorado Mines' Mikey Gangwish, both of whom are done. Clarke has knocked in 20 runs in eight games this postseason, and a remarkable 30 for the month of May, with at least one RBI in 11 of the past 12 games.
NAVIGATING THE BIG THREE
The Nos. 2-4 hitters in the Triton order, Tyler Durna, Zander Clarke and Alex Eliopulos, have been difficult, to say the least, for opponents to contend with. They are all batting .317 or better, led by Clarke at .394. They have combined for 39 of UC San Diego's league-best 77 home runs, as well as 169 of UCSD's 492 runs (.343), and 209 of 452 RBI (.462). Durna is second in the league with his .477 on-base percentage, and Eliopulos seventh in slugging .563. Clarke and Eliopulos' 156 RBI together make them the second-most prolific run-producing duo in all of Division II, just two behind Michael Rothmund (83) and Nick Stokowski (75) of Illinois Springfield.
True freshman shortstop Shay Whitcomb has produced UC San Diego's longest reached-base and hit (14) streaks of 2018. The reached-base stretch was an incredible 31-gamer to begin his college career, snapped through an 0-for-4 performance in the series finale at Chico State on April 9. It was the sixth-longest such streak in UC San Diego's Division II era, since 2001. The Newbury Park native has missed a single contest and started the other 56 at shortstop, with 43 of those 56 in the leadoff position of the batting order. Whitcomb is third in the CCAA in both runs (59) and walks (40), and ninth in hits (69).
UC San Diego used seven home runs in its four-game series with Cal State East Bay, including six in the opener, to move clear of Cal State Monterey Bay atop the league. With 13 against Cal State San Bernardino, nine versus CSUSM and seven at the CCAA Championship, the Tritons now have 77. They broke the single-season program record of 72 from 2007, on redshirt freshman Aaron Kim's pinch-hit two-run blast in the eighth inning of the May 17 romp over Point Loma at the West Regional in Azusa. Eight of them have been grand slams, led by Zander Clarke's three. UC San Diego's league-best 53 long balls last season included 11 in a four-game series against CSUSB to wrap up the regular season, and 11 more in six contests at the CCAA Championship. The Tritons topped the league thanks to a late-season outburst that saw them hit at least one long ball in a Division II-era (since 2001) program-record 11 straight games (May 4-18), with multiple blasts in eight of them, and 26 in all over the last 20 contests. The 53 were more than what UCSD managed in the previous three years combined (41).
In his eight starts since returning to the starting rotation, fourth-year senior right-hander Jack Rupe, Jr. (San Marcos/Mission Hills HS), is 6-0 with a 4.07 ERA, 42.0 innings pitched and 42 strikeouts against 11 walks (3.82 K/BB ratio). He went at least 5.0 frames in the first seven of these eight outings, with a minimum of five strikeouts in the first six. The Tritons are a perfect 8-0 in these eight Rupe starts, and have won his last five postseason starts going back to the 2017 CCAA Championship. To boot, Rupe provided two huge shutout frames, the seventh and eighth, in relief in last Monday's West Region title tilt with host Azusa Pacific.
Fourth-year Triton right-hander Cameron Kurz struck out 10 consecutive batters over two outings, with all six in a two-inning stint at Cal State San Bernardino on April 21, and all four against Cal State LA on April 26 for a four-out save. It is likely a program record, though that mark has not been tracked over the years. At CSUSB, 19 of Kurz's 28 pitches went for strikes, and 14 of 21 against CSULA. He is 5-1 with nine saves and a 0.88 ERA over his 20 appearances and 30.2 innings. Kurz has fanned 54, against 11 walks (4.91 K/BB), with opponents batting just .156. The nine saves are third in the CCAA and tied for 17th nationally. The San Diego product did not give up an earned run between March 4 and April 27, striking out 21 against a single walk over seven stints and 11.1 innings. Kurz's most recent save came against Chico State on May 10 at the CCAA Championship, giving him 14 for his career, which matches Keith Noe's program standard.
GRAND SLAM COUNTER: EIGHT
UC San Diego has remarkably blasted eight grand slams this season. The first two were by Alex Eliopulos, against then-fourth-ranked Colorado Mesa at home on Feb. 11, and at Sonoma State on March 9. Zander Clarke and Tyler Durna both got in on the act on March 29 at home against Cal State East Bay. Clarke added his second to break open the series opener at home with Cal State San Bernardino on April 19. Steven Schuknecht got one in the ninth inning of the 26-8 romp at CSUSB on April 21. Shay Whitcomb hit another in the fourth inning at Cal State San Marcos on May 3. Most recently, Clarke collected his third grand slam in the second inning of the Tritons' West Regional opener against Point Loma in Azusa on May 17.
CLARKE'S POWER STROKE
Junior rightfielder Zander Clarke, a first-year transfer from UCLA, homered in each of the first three games of the Cal State Monterey Bay series, and added his first two-home-run game as a Triton, including a grand slam, in the opener against Cal State East Bay on March 29. Having tallied seven long balls in the month of March, he opened his April account with a three-run shot at Chico State on April 8. Clarke has 18 on the season, tied with two others for first in the CCAA. The Newbury Park native drove in nine runs against the Otters and seven versus the Pioneers. He is first in the CCAA with 85 RBI, ahead of teammate Alex Eliopulos in second (71), and is batting a league-best .394. Clarke earned the season's final CCAA Player of the Week award on May 8.
Seven Tritons were recognized between games of the Senior Day doubleheader on May 5 in La Jolla, in Justin Beck, Mitch Hickey, Cameron Kurz, Jesse Moore, Michael Palos, Jack Rupe, Jr., and Tom Simpson.
UC San Diego swept its series in three out of the last four weeks of the regular season, around a split with Cal State LA. Those sweeps came back to back over Stanislaus State and Cal State San Bernardino, on the heels of its first series loss at rival Chico State, and then in the last week against city foe Cal State San Marcos. The Tritons had previously won three CCAA sets by 3-1 counts, and split the other three. That was after a three-game sweep and two-game split in non-conference action. They were thus 7-1-5 in sets in 2018.
GREAT WEEK FOR BECK
Senior second baseman Justin Beck parlayed an outstanding series against Cal State San Bernardino, into his first CCAA Player of the Week award on April 24. The senior second baseman on April 23 was also one of seven standouts, the only one from the Division II ranks, named among the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Players of the Week. Beck hit .600 (9-15) with 10 runs, nine hits, three doubles, three home runs, 13 RBI and 21 total bases, all team highs. He slugged 1.400 with a .632 on-base percentage, and also fielded all 20 of his defensive chances cleanly. Beck scored three runs and drove in four, season bests, in each of the final three games of the series, with a double among multiple hits in each and three total home runs. He improved his season average by 42 points over that weekend, from .280 up to a season-best .322. Beck had reached base safely in 27 consecutive games before that streak was snapped on April 26. He is now batting .313 with 13 doubles, nine home runs and 41 RBI.
UC San Diego's 26 runs at CSUSB on April 21 are second-most in the CCAA this season, only behind San Francisco State's 27-2 win at CSUSB on April 13. The Tritons also scored 25 at home against Cal State East Bay on March 29. Those two UCSD totals are tied for 14th and 26th nationally, respectively. The Tritons hit six home runs in both of those games, tied for 19th in the nation, tied for second in the West Region, and tied for first in the CCAA. UCSD's 17 walks in that same game against CSUSB are tied for third in the country and tied for first in the CCAA and West. Delta State and Colorado Christian are the only other teams in the country with two games of 25 or more runs scored.
DURNA LEADS SWEEP
On April 17, Tyler Durna was named the CCAA Player of the Week for the second time this year and fourth for his career, and later the NCBWA West Region Player of the Week for the first time. He hit a team-best .571 (8-for-14) with team highs of five runs (tied), eight hits (tied), four doubles, seven RBI, four walks, an .857 slugging percentage and .632 on-base percentage, in leading UC San Diego to its first sweep of the season, at home over Stanislaus State. Durna's one-out single ignited a two-run game-tying rally in the sixth inning on April 13. He bookended the weekend by reaching base in all five trips in Sunday's 9-4 win, going 4-for-4 with a walk, two doubles, two runs and three RBI.
EAST BAY OPENER SUPERLATIVES
UC San Diego's 25-2 victory over Cal State East Bay on March 29 marked the second-best run output of its NCAA Division II era, since 2001. The Tritons had won 26-5 in a seven-inning doubleheader nightcap at Cal State Monterey Bay on April 15, 2007, and have since posted a 26-8 decision at CSUSB on April 21. UC San Diego managed two grand slams, by Zander Clarke and Tyler Durna, and back-to-back-to-back shots, by Durna, Clarke and Alex Eliopulos, among six home runs, tying its D-II-era record from a 14-7 win at Cal State San Bernardino on April 2, 2010. Durna finished with career highs of five runs and eight RBI, which both equal D-II-era program standards. Justin Rahn had knocked in eight during a 20-5 home victory over Cal Poly Pomona in the NCAA West Regional on May 16, 2014. He also had a grand slam among two home runs that night.
FIRST WEEKLY HONORS FOR MOTT AFTER LIGHTS-OUT START
On March 6, junior left-hander Preston Mott was selected the CCAA and NCBWA West Region Pitcher of the Week, both for the first time in his career. The awards came thanks to seven shutout innings against then-14th-ranked Cal Poly Pomona in a 6-4 home victory on March 2, with a career-best 10 strikeouts. Mott scattered three singles and a walk. He had two perfect frames and also struck out the side twice. Mott had won three starts in a row prior to a no-decision at Sonoma State on March 9. He allowed just two runs over four outings from Feb. 17-March 9, in 24.0 innings for a 0.75 ERA. Mott is 8-1 over his 14 starts, with a season ERA of 2.86, and is third in the CCAA with 84 strikeouts. Mott improved on his single-game career best in strikeouts three times in 2018, and had at least five in each of his first seven appearances. That season total is against 28 walks, for a 3.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
BIG WEEK NETS ELIOPULOS SEVERAL AWARDS
For the week of Feb. 19-25, Alex Eliopulos was named among the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Players of the Week, with the other 11 all being from Division I, as well as the CCAA Player of the Week for the first time, and then NCBWA West Region Player of the Week. That all came after a Cal State Dominguez Hills series in which he hit .600 (9-15) and slugged 1.467, with a .714 on-base percentage, four home runs, one double, six runs, eight RBI and six walks. The La Jolla native produced back-to-back two-home-run games at home on Feb. 23 and in Carson to begin the Feb. 24 doubleheader, and in fact has three of them on the season, as well as a pair of grand slams. Eliopulos' 14 home runs, all to right field, are second on the team and fifth in the CCAA. His seventh-inning home run at CSUSM on May 3 was his first since March 29. Eliopulos is the only Triton to start or even appear in all 57 games in 2018.
DURNA NAMED CCAA PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Junior first baseman Tyler Durna was named the CCAA Player of the Week on Feb. 13. Durna hit .524 (11-21) and slugged .810 (2B, 3B, HR, 17 TB) with a .615 on-base percentage, all team bests, producing 11 hits, seven runs and 10 RBI. He walked five times without a single strikeout, and handled all 39 defensive chances cleanly. Durna reached base at least twice in each game.
The UC San Diego pitching staff finished with a 3.67 ERA a season ago, 24th in the nation, fourth in the West Region and third in the CCAA. The Tritons have thus placed among the top three in the CCAA in ERA in five of the past six years. The UCSD staff in fact threw the most total innings in all of Division II in 2017, at 557.1, with fellow national semifinalist St. Thomas Aquinas closest at 530.1. The Tritons are up to second in the CCAA with a 3.89 ERA. They produced a 1.75 ERA (seven earned runs over 36.0 innings) over their four games at the CCAA Championship, with just a 1.86 mark for the bullpen (four runs on seven hits in 19.1 frames).
UC San Diego continues a tradition of being strong defensively, first in the CCAA and West Region and sixth nationally with a .974 fielding percentage. The Tritons fielded at a .974 clip in 2017, ninth nationally and second in both the West and CCAA behind Division II-leading Chico State's .983. UCSD had finished at .970 for two straight years in 2015 and 2016, topping the CCAA and ranking 20th in Division II in the latter. The Tritons were second in the CCAA, behind only Cal Poly Pomona (.971), and 21st in Division II, in 2015. UCSD has been in the top 30 nationally and top three in the conference in fielding for each of the past eight seasons. The Tritons were also second in the CCAA (behind Chico State) in 2014 with a .974 clip, and fifth in the country. In 2013, they were second in the league behind Chico State and 11th nationally (.972). They were 29th in Division II in 2012 (.966) and third in the conference. UCSD led the nation with a Division II- and school-record mark of .984 (1611-673-38) in 2010 and was fifth in 2011 (.972), pacing the CCAA both years. Only one program in the country has even fielded at a .980 rate since 2010, and that was Chico State a year ago, falling just short of the Tritons' D-II standard.
UC San Diego wound up second in the CCAA South in 2017 behind Cal Poly Pomona (27-11) for the second year in a row, with a league record of 24-13, qualifying for a fourth consecutive CCAA Championship. That's when the Tritons caught fire, winning three straight elimination games at the CCAA Championship in Stockton before dropping a winner-take-all final to rival Chico State, and then sweeping through the NCAA West Regional with two victories each against higher seeds Dixie State and host Azusa Pacific. In its first return to the NCAA Championship since 2010, UC San Diego dropped a heartbreaker in its opener, only to take four more elimination games within a five-day span, and make it to the final round. Needing to beat West Chester of Pennsylvania twice on that final day of the season on June 4, the Tritons fell by a score of 5-2 in the initial meeting. Their final overall record stood at 44-19, marking the second-most wins in program history.
Last year, the Tritons were NCAA Division II West Region champions for the first time under head coach Eric Newman and third since moving up to Division II for the 2001 season. They were previously crowned in back-to-back years in 2009 and 2010, finishing as national runners-up in the latter season, as well as in 2017. UC San Diego also won a pair of West titles in Division III, in 1987 and 1994.
UC San Diego head coach Eric Newman, the 2017 American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA)/Diamond NCAA Division II West Region Coach of the Year, has 19 returners and 16 newcomers to form a 35-player roster for 2018, after last season's edition posted a 44-19 overall record and secured the program's first regional crown since 2010. It marked UCSD's second-best win total all-time, as Newman's club went 12-4 in postseason play, including 7-2 in elimination games.
The Tritons are led by junior first baseman Tyler Durna, who produced the opposite of a sophomore slump and took a star turn a year ago, with his team-best .363 batting average, dazzling defense, a memorable 28-game hitting streak, and a stretch of 41 straight contests in which he reached base safely. Redshirt junior Alex Eliopulos, a La Jolla native (La Jolla HS) and second-year transfer from San Diego Mesa College, should be across the diamond from Durna again at third base. Jack Rupe, Jr. (San Marcos/Mission Hills HS), is a fourth-year senior right-hander, and Preston Mott a junior left-hander who was the Opening Day mound starter in 2017.
Among the prized incoming contingent are a pair of notable transfers from Pac-12 Conference powerhouses in redshirt junior power-hitting outfielder Zander Clarke from UCLA and senior right-handed starting pitcher Mitch Hickey out of Oregon State. Clarke, who bats from the right side, slammed 15 total home runs over an incredible summer as the Great West League (GWL) Player of the Year with the Portland Pickles, adding a second straight GWL All-Star Game appearance and in fact, GWL All-Star Game Most Valuable Player distinction as well. All of that netted the Newbury Park native an outfield spot on the 2017 Perfect Game/Rawlings Summer Collegiate All-America First Team. Hickey was one of 13 arms who saw action for Oregon State during a historic 2017 campaign that finished at 56-6 at the College World Series. That staff completed the year with a 1.93 team ERA. Hickey, a product of Morgan Hill in Northern California, compiled a 4.91 ERA over seven relief appearances, with one save.
Not to be outshone is an exciting crop of true freshmen, highlighted by the likes of right-handers Noah Conlon and Cameron Leonard, and shortstop Shay Whitcomb. In late September, Whitcomb and Conlon made Perfect Game's Top NCAA Division II Freshmen list at No. 7 and No. 8, respectively, among 34 total prospects recognized. UC San Diego was one of four programs with multiple freshmen honored, but the lone one from the West Region, and the only one nationally with two in the top 10.
UC San Diego's 2018 schedule consisted of 49 regular-season games, including 26 at home. Having contested four of just five non-conference dates in La Jolla, including two top-10 matchups with No. 4 Colorado Mesa, the Tritons dove right into league play with a four-game home split against San Francisco State, Feb. 16-18. UCSD also split a four-game set with then-14th-ranked 2015 and 2016 West Region champion Cal Poly Pomona, March 1-4. The Tritons traveled north for a four-gamer at two-time reigning CCAA tournament champion, 2017 CCAA regular-season champion and league favorite Chico State. The CCAA Championship was held in the neutral-site city of Stockton for the sixth year in a row, returning to Banner Island Ballpark of the minor-league Stockton Ports, May 9-12. UCSD earned a fifth successive trip.
DURNA LOCKED IN
Tyler Durna finished fifth in the league with his team-best .363 batting average as a sophomore a year ago. He started each of the last 54 games at first base, reached safely in all but one, and had a hit in all but eight of them, including a 28-game streak from March 4-April 29 that was a record for UCSD's Division II era (since 2001), and likely a program standard. It is tied for the third-longest hit streak in the CCAA's unofficial record book. Durna had multiple hits in 16 of those 28 contests. He was fourth in the CCAA in on-base percentage (.469).
Nick Kitzmann has a team-best 20 hit-by-pitches (second in CCAA and tied for 11th nationally), after six all of last year, and on Feb. 11 against Concordia Irvine became the first Triton to be hit by a pitch three times in the same game, since Nick La Face at Cal State LA on April 1, 2011 ... The 18 runners the Tritons stranded in their CCAA opener with SF State on Feb. 16 were their most since leaving 19 at Chico State over a decade ago on May 14, 2005, in a 12-inning, 7-6 triumph for the program's first CCAA tournament title ... UCSD's first 10 home runs of 2018 were all to right field ... The Tritons' biggest frame this year has been eight runs, in the sixth inning of a 25-2 home romp over Cal State East Bay on March 29, the fifth inning of a 26-8 decision at Cal State San Bernardino on April 21, and the second inning of a 19-1 win over Cal State LA to open the CCAA Championship on May 9 ... The largest inning they have surrendered was a seven-run fifth at Cal State Monterey Bay on March 25 ... UCSD is 6-1 in season openers under Eric Newman and 15-3 since moving to Division II status for 2001 ... UCSD is 5-2 in CCAA openers with Newman in charge, having this year had its five-game win streak snapped by SF State, 4-1, since another 4-1 loss to Chico State in La Jolla on Feb. 17, 2012 ... The Tritons are 10-8 in CCAA openers all-time (since 2001), and 10-1 with seven splits in sets to begin the league season ... UCSD was picked to place second in the 2018 CCAA race by the league's head coaches, as announced on Jan. 29, with defending CCAA regular-season and tournament champion Chico State the favorite for the sixth time in seven years.
The CCAA baseball landscape changed again, and after having two six-team divisions, North and South, the past two seasons, there are no divisions in 2018. The top six teams, by straight winning percentage, in the final standings, have qualified for the 2018 CCAA Championship. The CCAA also went away from a 38-game league slate, with four-game sets within the division and three-gamers against the opposite division. Each team played a four-game series with the other 11 squads, for a 44-game schedule. UC San Diego was either entirely at home or away against the six northern teams, and faced split-venue sets with the southern ones. The automatic qualifier into the NCAA West Regional is still the winner of the CCAA tournament, which remains a four-day, double-elimination event.
UC San Diego returns two all-conference performers from 2017 at the corners in All-CCAA First Team first baseman Tyler Durna and third baseman Alex Eliopulos, who earned honorable mention ... Durna was also a unanimous All-West Region selection by ABCA/Rawlings (First Team), the NCBWA (First) and D2CCA (Second) ... Eliopulos represented the Tritons on the NCBWA's preseason All-West Region Second Team ... All but five players on the 35-man 2018 roster, senior Jesse Moore (Port Orchard, WA) and newcomers Warren King (Bainbridge Island, WA), Garett Lake (Henderson, NV), Nick Senicka (Oak Brook, IL) and Tom Simpson (Port Orchard, WA), are California natives ... There are four San Diego products in senior Jack Rupe, Jr. (San Marcos/Mission Hills HS), redshirt juniors Eliopulos (La Jolla/San Diego Mesa College/La Jolla HS) and Cameron Kurz (Encinitas/La Costa Canyon HS), and freshman Evan Ianniciello (San Marcos/San Marcos HS) ... Junior right-hander Jonah Dipoto is the son of Jerry Dipoto, who pitched eight seasons for three Major League Baseball organizations, and is the general manager of the Seattle Mariners ... Redshirt sophomore utility Keenan Brigman (San Jose/UOP) is the younger brother of former University of San Diego shortstop and current Seattle Mariners top-30 prospect (No. 27) Bryson Brigman, a third-round selection in the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft ... True freshman right-hander Noah Conlon is the younger brother of PJ Conlon, a former left-handed ace for the University of San Diego who is currently the No. 24 prospect in the New York Mets organization, and in fact made his major-league debut in Cincinnati on May 7.
Over the first week of UC San Diego's season, redshirt freshman Antonio Barrios, Blake Baumgartner, Aaron Kim, Kyle Selor and Brandon Stewart, and true freshmen Noah Conlon, Garett Lake, Cameron Leonard and Shay Whitcomb, all earned their college debuts. Transfers Justin Beck, Zander Clarke, Mitch Hickey, Rj Prince, Mark Quinby, Christopher Schasteen and Tom Simpson made their first appearances as Tritons. Junior left-hander Nick Senicka recovered from injury and took the mound for the first time as a Triton on May 5.
HEAD COACH ERIC NEWMAN
Eric Newman is in his seventh season as the UC San Diego head coach. The 2017 ABCA/Diamond Division II West Region Coach of the Year and 2012 CCAA Coach of the Year has a 250-140 record (173-101 CCAA) in charge of the Tritons and 345-212 overall in his nine-plus seasons as a head coach. Newman has guided UC San Diego to back-to-back West Region crowns, sweeping through all eight games at the last two regionals, both in Azusa. The Tritons were national runners-up in 2017 in Grand Prairie, Texas. Newman led UC San Diego to the CCAA regular-season and tournament titles in his first go-around in La Jolla in 2012, and record sixth and seventh CCAA tourney championships in 2014 and 2018, respectively. The Tritons have appeared in the NCAA West Regional in four of the last five seasons, advancing to the title round each time, and earned five NCAA Championship bids in all during Newman’s tenure. With UC San Diego earning the region's top seed, Triton Ballpark played host to the 2014 NCAA West Regional. Newman has led the Tritons to seven plus-.500 and six 30-win seasons, and now back-to-back 40-win campaigns. He earned win No. 200 in charge of UC San Diego against Chico State, 13-4, on the final day of the 2017 CCAA Championship on May 13. Newman won his 100th CCAA contest at home against Cal State San Bernardino, 9-4, on Feb. 26, 2016. He previously went 95-72 in three seasons at the helm of Dallas Baptist University from 2005-07. Newman was the fifth-round draft choice of the San Diego Padres out of Texas Tech in 1994, pitching professionally for eight years with four different organizations.
Eric Newman has Justin James back on his staff for a second year as the pitching coach, and J.T. Bloodworth for a sixth season in the UC San Diego dugout, now in his fourth year as the Tritons' recruiting coordinator. Jeff Calhoon is in his third go-around with Newman, who has also retained two former star right-handed Triton pitchers and Chula Vista natives who graduated in 2017 in Troy Cruz and Adrian Orozco. Bloodworth coaches third base and Calhoon is again at first base.
Triton Ballpark on East Campus at UCSD was given a brand-new look outside the foul lines in 2015. Some of the main features of the extensive renovation included a permanent grandstand to seat just over 500, a press box, new sunken dugouts, an area for food trucks, and restrooms, among several other amenities. Read details here. Perhaps most significant is the Marye Anne Fox Clubhouse down the right field line, which was introduced to the players on March 17, 2015. The official Triton Ballpark re-opening and clubhouse dedication took place on April 10, 2015. View photo galleries from the ballpark construction, Opening Day and dedication.
For the latest in Triton athletic gear, make sure to visit ucsdtritonsgear.com. Run by UCSD Athletics' online partner, Advanced-Online, the site provides an on-demand option for Triton athletic apparel and merchandise. Fans have access to over 600 products that can be processed and shipped within 24 hours.
FOR THE YOUNGER CROWD
Got some young Triton fans in your family? If they are in eighth grade or under, check out the Junior Triton Club. Membership includes a free t-shirt, admission to over 100 UCSD home athletic events, and much more!
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