Stockton, California - The 25th ranked University of California San Diego allowed the first run but put up eight zeroes on the scoreboard while its offense did what it needed to do, and completed its sweep through the 2018 California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Baseball Championship with a 5-1 triumph over rival Cal Poly Pomona on Championship Saturday at Banner Island Ballpark.
Second-seeded UC San Diego improved to 38-15 overall. The Tritons, now record seven-time CCAA tournament champions, are winners of eight straight games and 18 of their last 20. Fourth-seeded Cal Poly Pomona dropped to 30-24, and will await its NCAA Championship fate. The teams split their four-game, split-venue, regular-season series. CPP would have needed to beat the Tritons twice on Saturday, but UC San Diego closed out a perfect tournament with a 4-0 mark.
UC San Diego was likely already in the NCAA Championship, but having secured the CCAA's automatic entry, the Tritons now know they will defend their 2017 Division II West Regional title in the coming week. Triton Ballpark is a potential venue. The field and site will be revealed on Sunday, May 13, at 7 p.m. PT live on NCAA.com.
Junior rightfielder Zander Clarke, named Tuesday as the CCAA Most Valuable Player, was also selected the CCAA Tournament MVP, and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by seniors Justin Beck and Cameron Kurz (Encinitas/La Costa Canyon HS), and juniors Tyler Durna and Alex Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS).
Kurz was on the mound for a tense ninth as CPP brought the tying run to the plate in the form of pinch-hitter Brennan McKenzie with two gone. The Broncos had rallied from 11-1 down to win 13-11 in an elimination game on Friday. The San Diego native fell behind 3-0, before getting a called strike, and then a swinging strike, and finally another called strike to end the game. That was moments after he had already turned away senior centerfielder Jacob Bernardy on a called third strike.
Brandon Stewart accepted a four-pitch walk to begin the game. The Tritons could only muster two grounders to the second baseman from there, however, the latter for a 4-6-3 double play. A one-out throwing error put Shay Whitcomb at second, in the second, before back-to-back groundouts could only move him over to third.
In between, junior right-hander Jonah Dipoto got a leadoff groundout and two called third strikes in the home first, but junior designated hitter Nic Hernandez lifted his 10th home run out to right center in between, for the 1-0 early edge. CPP threatened to add to the lead through a two-out rally in the second, but after a double and a walk, Dipoto got Bernardy to bounce out to third base.
UC San Diego notched five straight one-out singles for three runs in the third. Senior catcher Michael Palos, in his first appearance of the tournament, started it with almost a check-swing-like, soft grounder that third baseman Matt Manskar could not get to in time to make the play. Stewart then dropped a bunt, but beat Manskar's throw as well for back-to-back infield singles that didn't travel past the mound.
That's when the Tritons' big boys came up, and came through. Durna dropped a two-strike single in front of the centerfielder to load the bases, and Clarke in turn drove a two-strike pitch to center to tie the game at 1-1. UC San Diego continued station to station, and Eliopulos flared an RBI single right over the head of second baseman Bryce Graddy. Whitcomb’s team-best fifth sacrifice fly made it 3-1 before it was over.
UC San Diego tacked on a pair of runs in the very next frame. Blake Baumgartner beat out an infield single, and slid home safely around the throw and attempted tag on Palos’ driven RBI double into the gap in right center. Palos wound up on third after the play at the plate, and scored as Stewart stroked an RBI single down the right field line. All three of those hits were to the opposite field by right-handed batters.
UC San Diego loaded the bases on three walks around a pair of outs in the fifth, but after the day's first pitching change, couldn't extend its advantage.
The home fifth began with a leadoff single off Dipoto to snap his streak of six straight batters retired, but that was quickly wiped out by a 6-4-3 double play. Whitcomb actually had to gather after an initial bobble around the bag, but Beck alertly went to the bare hand for the putout, and in one fluid motion fired on to Durna to complete the twin killing. After another single, a popout to Beck ended the inning.
CPP threatened in the sixth on new pitcher Blaine Jarvis. The redshirt sophomore retired Hernandez for starters, but hit Patrick Flynn and walked Cesar Lopez. Jarvis then got Logan Gopperton to bounce one right to Whitcomb at short, who stepped on the bag and threw to Durna for a second double play in as many frames.
Dipoto (5-4) went 5.0 innings and allowed one run on four hits and two walks. He struck out four, all looking. He ducked around a leadoff walk to register a shutdown frame in the third, getting two flyouts to Stewart in center around a called third strike on Hernandez and a wild pitch that moved the Bronco runner into scoring position. Dipoto then turned in his first 1-2-3 inning in another shutdown effort in the fourth, on a groundout, strikeout looking, and flyout.
Junior right-hander Kyle Lucke turned away six hitters around a two-out walk in the seventh in relief of Jarvis, striking out the side in order, all swinging, in the eighth.
Stewart, Durna, Clarke and Palos finished with two hits apiece. Palos scored twice.
Junior left-hander Austin Isenhart (5-4) gave up five runs on eight hits and five walks over 4.2 frames, striking out one.
Triton Notes: UC San Diego is now 33-18 over its 14 CCAA Championship appearances, including 6-5 against Cal Poly Pomona ... The Tritons are 18-9 away from home in 2018 ... Alex Eliopulos is the only Triton to start or even appear in all 53 games ... Brandon Stewart batted leadoff and Shay Whitcomb fifth for the ninth time this season and eighth game in a row ... Jonah Dipoto drew his 13th mound start, matching Preston Mott for the team lead ... Clarke (74) and Eliopulos (69) remain 1-2 in the CCAA in RBI.