We finally have our championship match-up set! UC San Diego came out of Friday's rain-out and kept its momentum train rolling, defeating St. Thomas Aquinas for the second time in two days to make its way to the national championship series against West Chester on Sunday. A bulldog effort by Troy Cruz preserved the bullpen that the Tritons will most likely need in Sunday's finals, as his complete game helped UCSD to the win.
First, our day eight recap of the 2017 NCAA Division II Baseball National Finals:
Game Thirteen **Elimination Game**
UC San Diego - 7
St. Thomas Aquinas - 3
W: Cruz (9-2); L: Moscatiello (9-2)
The rained-out start to this game didn't seem to stop the momentum that UCSD had...although it came an inning later.
When this game was halted on Friday, UCSD had men on second and third with nobody out. When Saturday evening rolled around, STA's Frankie Moscatiello buckled down and battled through the next three hitters with a strikeout, fly out and line out on 25 pitches.
Unfortunately for the Spartans, that effort did not seem to carry over to the following innings. UCSD didn't squander its opportunity in the top of the second. A Jack Larsen sacrifice fly (shocker) with the bases loaded gave the Tritons a 1-0 lead, and a Brandon Shirley two-RBI single pushed the lead quickly out to 3-0.
STA scored its first run of the game in the bottom of the third on an Cris Ruiz RBI double that plated Greg Dawber, who singled the batter before, as STA cut the lead to 3-1.
The Spartans inched closer in the bottom of the fourth, as Giovanni Dingcong blasted his 20th home run of the year, a solo shot, to make the lead 3-2. He is only the third player in ECC history to reach the 20 home run mark in a single season.
UCSD seemed to be done messing around by the time the sixth inning came, however. Leading 3-2, the Tritons put some padding between themselves and STA with a three-run frame, with only one hit.
A walk, sacrifice bunt, intentional walk and single loaded the bases with one out. After a pitching change, the first pitch from the new hurler promptly hit Tyler Durna to bring in a run to make it 4-2. Two pitches after that, *another* hit batter, this time Alex Eliopulos, plated another run to make it 5-2. The next batter, JD Hearn, drew a five-pitch walk and plated yet *another* run, 6-2. STA got consecutive strikeouts to end the inning, but the damage had been done, mostly self-inflicted.
The Spartans got an RBI double from Bobby Morse in the bottom of the eighth to cut the lead to 6-3, but UCSD got that run back in the top of the ninth with a Tyler Howsley RBI single to push the lead back out to four, 7-3.
Troy Cruz, meanwhile, kept STA at bay. He wasn't dominant, but he was overpowering. Cruz tallied a career-high 11 strikeouts in a complete game effort on 133 pitches (87 strikes), allowing eight hits, three runs and two walks.
Shirley (3-for-4, 1 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB) and Michael Palos (3-for-4, 3 R, 1 BB) led a Triton offense that drew 12 free passes (10 walks, 2 HBP). Larsen, arguably the player of the entire finals tournament so far, was 0-for-2 with a run scored, but drew three walks, two intentional.
In a losing effort, Cris Ruiz went 3-for-4 with an RBI, while Dingcong finishes an incredible season with a 1-for-4, one run, one RBI effort including that 20th home run of the year.
UCSD advances to play for a national title on Sunday, where they will have to defeat West Chester twice to claim the crown.
UC San Diego (44-18, 24-13 CCAA) vs West Chester (43-11, 22-6 PSAC)
**Elimination Game for UCSD**
Sunday, June 4th, 1:00 p.m. Eastern
West Chester (43-12, 22-6 PSAC) vs UC San Diego (45-18, 24-13 CCAA) **IF UCSD WINS GAME ONE**
Sunday, June 4th, 5:00 p.m. Eastern
Here we are. It is championship Sunday in Grand Prairie, as the West and Atlantic champions will face off to see who is crowned as the top team in 2017.
West Chester in this tournament so far has gone undefeated, meaning they would need to lose twice on Sunday to yield the title. UCSD has been playing its best baseball of the season since dropping its first game of the tournament, had to defeat St. Thomas Aquinas in consecutive games to reach championship day, and will have to do the same again to be crowned the champions.
WCU has only had to play three games in the finals to reach this point, which means they are very rested and will be able to go with its two top starters today if necessary. On the flip side, could that little play compared to UCSD mean they might be rusty after not playing since Thursday? Guess we'll see.
The Golden Rams have won seven straight games at the D2 National Finals, considering the 2012 team completed the national championship with a 4-0 run through the tournament. They should be rolling out Jon Fisher (8-2, 3.26 ERA) and Mike Cipolla (8-2, 1.70 ERA) on the mound today, and I'm sure we'll see a heavy dose of Josh McClain (10-2, 2.97 ERA, 10 SV) out of the bullpen in both games if necessary.
For UCSD, its rotation is actually in pretty good shape now due to the rain out on Friday, which might have an unintended positive effect for them. The extra day of rest should allow some extra arms to be used today if needed.
The first game for Sunday will fall in the hands of fifth-year senior Adrian Orozco (9-0, 3.21 ERA), who will be trying to rebound from a bad outing on Tuesday, when he lasted only 2.1 innings, allowing seven hits and six runs (four earned) in a game which the offense bailed him out, coming back from 7-1 down to get a 10-8 win over Quincy.
For game two, we might see Jack Rupe (5-2, 3.19 ERA) on three-days rest. He threw 123 pitches against Lindenwood on Wednesday in an 11-6 win. However, one thing to keep in mind is that usual starter Preston Mott (8-4, 3.82 ERA) came on in relief of Orozco on Tuesday and got the victory, throwing 85 pitches in 4.1 innings of work. He may be the most viable option for game two, as he would be working on normal rest.
We are in for a great match-up for our national championship day. UCSD will be looking to win its first baseball title in program history, while WCU will be looking to claim its second in six years.
Enjoy championship Sunday, everyone!