Photo by: James Benson
R.J. Prince greets Ryan McNally at the plate after the true freshman's solo home run opened the scoring Sunday in Cary.

No. 6 UC San Diego Blanks No. 11 Catawba, 5-0, in Cary Opener Behind Mott, Leonard and Five-Run Fifth

UC San Diego

CARY, N.C. - Sixth-ranked University of California San Diego produced a five-run explosion over just a 10-pitch span in a decisive fifth inning and got a combined four-hit shutout on the mound from Preston Mott and Cameron Leonard, to dispatch No. 11 Catawba College, 5-0, in the first game for both sides at the 2019 NCAA Division II Baseball Championship on Sunday afternoon.

Coleman Field at the USA Baseball National Training Complex is serving as the host for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons, and second straight year for the Tritons. The University of Mount Olive and the Town of Cary are again serving as hosts.

With the victory, three-peat West Region champion UC San Diego improves to 41-14 on the year. The Tritons were the designated visitors as the lower No. 6 seed. Third-seeded Catawba falls to 47-13. The Southeast Region champion Indians hail from nearby Salisbury, N.C., about two hours and 120 miles to the west of Cary. In fact, at over 2,500 miles away, UC San Diego had to travel the longest to get to Cary, with Catawba having the shortest distance to go of the eight regional victors to advance.

The Tritons are winners of three straight, with a combined shutout in their Cary opener for a second year in a row. Catawba had entered a winner of its last 13 games, the longest success streak heading into Saturday's start to the tournament. The Indians were shut out for the very first time in 2019. It was a fourth shutout for UC San Diego, and first since another 5-0 decision on March 30.

Both teams return to action on Tuesday, June 4. UC San Diego advances into the winner's bracket at 4 p.m. PT (7 p.m. PT) against third-ranked, second-seeded Tampa. The Spartans scored four times in the bottom of the eighth to rally past No. 7 seed Mercyhurst, 4-2, in Sunday's late game. The Tritons will be the home side. Catawba drops into an elimination contest at 12 p.m. PT (3 p.m. ET) against No. 19 Mercyhurst.

The only runs UC San Diego needed came in bulk during a crazy one-out sequence of six successive hits in the fifth. Redshirt junior leftfielder Keenan Brigman had grounded out on a first-pitch comebacker to starting pitcher Bryan Ketchie, who was coming off his first perfect frame and had just retired the last six since a debatable infield single for the Tritons' initial hit with one away in the third.

From there, Ketchie went up 0-2 to Ryan McNally, before the true freshman second baseman from Moraga in Northern California, smacked his second home run of the season narrowly fair inside the left field line. It was tracked at a distance of 389 feet.

Two pitches later, just as unlikely and well-hit a long ball came from No. 9 batter Christopher Schasteen, as the senior centerfielder belted his first of 2019 well over the wall in left and sprinted around the bases. That one was measured at 402 feet.

That was merely the beginning of Ketchie's end in such a sudden reversal of fortunes for the junior left-hander. Back to the top of the order, senior rightfielder R.J. Prince took another 0-2 pitch and grounded it up the middle, beating out an infield single despite a tremendous effort from second baseman Joe Butts. Sophomore shortstop Shay Whitcomb roped a 1-0 toss down the left field line for his California Collegiate Athletic Association-leading 24th double to put both Tritons in scoring position.

Ketchie's very next pitch went the other way, this time pulled inside the right field line for a two-run double by redshirt senior third baseman and left-handed hitter Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS). That ended the starter's day, but redshirt sophomore first baseman Blake Baumgartner greeted DJ Laxton with a first-pitch RBI single up the middle that hit the bag and bounded away from Butts' reach to score Eliopulos.

Just like that, it was a 5-0 ballgame, with senior left-hander Preston Mott largely on cruise control on the hill for the Tritons, also benefitting from two big double plays.

Mott (9-1) went 6.2 innings and scattered four singles and a walk, striking out six and facing just three over the minimum. Since giving up a solo home run on his second pitch at Azusa Pacific last Saturday, May 25, in Game 2 of the West Super Regional, Mott has fired 11.0 scoreless frames with seven hits against him, all of them singles.

Mott's first batter Sunday reached base via infield error, but he came back for a first-pitch flyout and swinging strikeout before picking Heath Mitchem off of first base. Mott cleaned up the game's first hit, a one-out single through the right side in the second by Jackson Raper, with a routine 6-4-3 twin killing. He collected his first 1-2-3 frame in the fourth through a 3-1 putout as he covered the bag himself for Baumgartner's flip, his fourth swinging strikeout, and a lineout snared by Whitcomb.

The second double play was started nicely by McNally, going 4-6-3 to end the fifth following a pair of one-out singles. Mott retired the Indians in order in the sixth on 11 pitches. He fanned the first two in the seventh before a one-out single ended his day.

True sophomore right-hander Cameron Leonard took over and was purely dominant, sending back seven of his eight batters faced with a solitary two-out walk in the eighth. The Hemet product registered two strikeouts, four groundouts and a flyout, and turned in a clean ninth on 14 pitches. Three of those groundouts went to McNally.

Earlier in the contest, Brigman made it to third on a two-out dropped fly ball in right by the Indians in the second, but was stranded there through a flyout.

UC San Diego was credited with its first hit of the afternoon with one gone in the third as Prince was given an infield single after the shortstop misplayed his hard-hit grounder. He was left there after a foulout and a strikeout.

Mott began the home third with six straight balls before a strike and a sacrifice bunt put a Catawba runner in scoring position for the first time. He promptly notched a strikeout and first-pitch flyout to get out of that situation.

Eliopulos was 2-for-4 with the double, run and two RBI. Prince went 2-for-4 with a walk and a run scored. McNally and Schasteen were each 1-for-4 with the solo shot.

Ketchie (9-2) gave up all five runs on six hits and one walk over 4.1 frames. He struck out four. Ketchie worked around a walk to Prince to lead off the game, with three flyouts. The first one, off Whitcomb, was a decent catch toward right center by junior centerfielder Bryce Butler. The second, off the bat of Eliopulos, was a spectacular one, as Butler, on a full sprint, dove onto the warning track against the wall in right center to snatch the hot shot and likely rob the Triton star of an RBI double.

Ketchie had the day's first perfect frame, a 12-pitch effort in the fourth on a strikeout, flyout and bunt. The flyout was another tough grab by Butler, up against the wall in center 400 feet away on a deep drive by redshirt sophomore catcher Aaron Kim.

The 1-4 hitters in the Catawba lineup went a combined 0-for-16 with six strikeouts, with Mott striking out first baseman Hunter Shepherd all three times he faced him.

Eliopulos turned in arguably UC San Diego's best defensive play, sliding to his knees toward the line to make a backhand stab and strong throw across the diamond to Baumgartner for the first out of the eighth. McNally finished with a season-high seven assists among eight clean defensive chances.

Triton Notes: UC San Diego is now 40-22 (.645) in its 11th NCAA Division II Championship appearance ... It was the first-ever meeting between the teams … Alex Eliopulos started his 131st straight game, all at third base ... Eliopulos, first baseman Blake Baumgartner and shortstop Shay Whitcomb are the only Tritons to start all 55 games in 2019 ... Senior rightfielder R.J. Prince was in the leadoff spot for the 19th straight game ... Preston Mott drew his 12th start of the season, making his 15th appearance ... It was the 55th start of Mott's illustrious career, No. 2 in the program record book for at least the Division II era (since 2001), and 60th appearance ... Mott increased his career totals to 27 wins (now alone at No. 6 in all-time record book), 307.0 innings pitched (now up to No. 7), and 234 strikeouts (still No. 5) ... Ryan McNally's fifth-inning home run came in front of his parents, with his family having had to miss his first collegiate blast back home in the Bay Area at Cal State East Bay on May 2 while attending their older son's graduation from the University of Utah ... Christopher Schasteen's only other long ball as a Triton came at home in a 25-2 romp against Cal State East Bay on March 29, 2018 ... Whitcomb's 24th double in the fifth puts him in a two-way tie for second nationally in Division II, and is the 36th of his college career ... Eliopulos' fifth-inning double was the 40th of his Triton days ... Baumgartner's fifth-inning RBI increases his team-leading total to 55 on the year, with Eliopulos behind him (48) ... The home runs by McNally and Schasteen increase UC San Diego's team total to 64, which tops the league for a third straight season ... The Tritons hit back-to-back home runs for the second time this season, with Prince and Whitcomb doing so at Cal State Dominguez Hills in the fifth inning on April 27 ... The Tritons are 16-9 away from home, including 1-2 in neutral-site games ... UC San Diego is 7-5 against nationally-ranked foes in 2019 ... Mitch Hickey, current senior Kyle Lucke and Cameron Kurz combined on a five-hit shutout of No. 26 Texas A&M Kingsville in the Tritons' Cary opener last year on May 27 ... That game took just 2:28 to play, with today's time of contest at 2:31 ... Temperature at first pitch was 86 degrees.

About UC San Diego Athletics
With 30 national team championships, nearly 150 individual titles and the top student-athlete graduation rate among Division II institutions in the United States, the UC San Diego intercollegiate athletics program annually ranks as one of the most successful in the country. The Tritons sponsor 23 intercollegiate sport programs that compete on the NCAA Division I and II levels and, in summer 2020, will transition into full Division I status as a member of the Big West Conference. UC San Diego student-athletes exemplify the academic ideals of one of the world's preeminent institutions, graduating at an average rate of 91 percent. A total of 80 Tritons have earned Academic All-America honors, while 37 have earned prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships. In competition, more than 1,300 UC San Diego student-athletes have earned All-America honors.

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