We are officially down to three teams, and we have one team already laying claim to a spot in the national championship games. West Chester held off Colorado Mesa, 1-0, in a thrilling nightcap to advance to Saturday's national championship day, while UC San Diego dominated St. Thomas Aquinas, 10-0, to force the if-necessary semifinal game on Friday.
First, our day six recap of the 2017 NCAA Division II Baseball National Finals.
Game Eleven **Elimination Game for UCSD**
UC San Diego - 10
St. Thomas Aquinas - 0
W: Kyle Goodbrand (6-0); L: Anthony Shkrelja (4-2)
It was all UCSD, all day, on Thursday in Grand Prairie. The Tritons got a complete game shutout from Kyle Goodbrand, and the offense was firing on all cylinders as they rolled St. Thomas Aquinas in the first game of the national semifinals, forcing the if-necessary game with the Spartans on Friday (June 2) for the right to advance to the championship series.
Since dropping the opening game of the tournament against St. Thomas Aquinas, UCSD has won three straight games, scoring at least 10 runs in each of those contests.
The Tritons got things started in the bottom of the second inning, as Alex Eliopulos led off with a single and then JD Hearn followed with a bomb to left-center, making it a 2-0 game.
That was the first of six straight innings in which the Tritons would score, and the first of four straight two-run innings.
In the bottom of the third, Hearn delivered another RBI with a sacrifice, and Michael Palos drew a bases-loaded walk a couple batters later to make it a 4-0 game.
In the bottom of the fourth, Eliopulos was involved yet again, tacking on two more runs with a two-RBI single with the bases loaded and nobody out, bringing in Brandon Shirley and Jack Larsen.
The final two-run frame came in the bottom of the fifth, as Larsen scored on a wild pitch and Elipoulos delivered yet another RBI hit, scoring Tyler Durna to make it 8-0.
In the sixth, Larsen delivered an RBI single to score Chad Crosbie, and in the seventh, Durna scored on a wild pitch to make it a 10-0 game.
All the while, Goodbrand was rolling. Two Spartan hitters reached third base in the game, but it wasn't enough to rattle the starter. Goodbrand needed 119 pitches (76 strikes) to complete the nine-inning shutout, allowing five hits and four walks with six strikeouts.
Larsen and Eliopulos both went 3-for-4 with two runs scored, with Larsen driving in one and Eliopulos driving in three. Hearn also drove in three with only one hit in the game. Crosbie and Palos combined for a pretty interesting line out of the 7-8 spots in the lineup, going a combined 0-for-2 with one run, one RBI, and six walks. Brandon Shirley and Durna each tallied triples along with Larsen's double and Hearn's homer.
Only one player for STA recorded multiple hits, as Joseph Pena went 2-for-3 with a walk in the game.
The Tritons force the if-necessary game against STA, and the two teams will match up for the third time in the tournament on Friday, a rubber game to determine who advances to the national championship series.
Game Twelve **Elimination Game for CMU**
West Chester - 1
Colorado Mesa - 0
W: Eric Close (6-3); L: Taylor Prokopis (0-1); S: Josh McClain (10)
It was a quick two innings in our other semifinal game, as the two teams swapped zeroes in the first portion of the game. The Golden Rams of WCU broke through in the top of the third, as Drew Jarmuz drew a lead-off walk, moved to second on a wild pitch, and then came in to score on a two-RBI single by Robert Knox to go up 1-0.
Both starting pitchers were incredible in the contest, even CMU's Taylor Prokopis, who had only thrown 15.2 innings on the season heading in to the game, his third start of the year. Prokopis yielded only three hits and one run in five innings of work, while WCU's Eric Close threw six shutout innings with five hits allowed and four strikeouts, leaving with the 1-0 lead.
Jake Mielock did his part in relief for CMU, keeping the Mavericks in the game as they continued to trail by only one. Mielock entered to begin the sixth inning and threw four shutout innings of relief with five strikeouts to keep the Mavs within striking distance, holding WCU at bay.
On the other side, however, Josh McClain did the same. McClain nailed down his 10th save of the season with three shutout innings of relief. It was not without stress, as CMU put the lead-off man on in the ninth and sacrificed him to second base. With Bligh Madris at the plate, WCU chose to intentionally walk him and put the winning run on base. The next batter moved the lead runner to third with a deep fly out to put runners on the corners, but McClain got the fly out to preserve the 1-0 victory.
The game did not go without opportunity for CMU. The Mavericks left 14 men on base in the game.
It was only the third time all year that CMU was shut out.
WCU got the victory despite only four base hits in the game. Knox led the way with a 1-for-4, one RBI performance. Jared Melone, Shane Dressler and Anthony Salomone had the other three hits. McClain finished off the game with two hits allowed, one walk and two strikeouts in his three innings of relief.
Zach McLeod and Madris each went 2-for-4 for the Mavericks in the losing effort.
Colorado Mesa ends the season 50-12, while West Chester advances to the national championship series. Last time they were in the national finals, in 2012, the Golden Rams came away as the champions. This was WCU's seventh straight victory at the national finals.
WCU will have Friday off, as they await the first of potentially two title games on Saturday (June 3), the first game starting at 3 p.m. Eastern. WCU will have two games to win one, being the only undefeated team left in the field.
Here is our only game taking place on Friday, to determine WCU's opponent in the national title series on Saturday:
UC San Diego (43-18, 24-13 CCAA) vs St. Thomas Aquinas (44-16, 20-5 ECC)
Friday, June 2nd, 4:00 p.m. Eastern
I've gotta think that we are back to the "aces" for both squads, and we should probably end up getting a re-match of the pitchers who took to the mound in the opening round of the tournament. That being UCSD's Troy Cruz (8-2, 4.08 ERA) and STA's Frankie Moscatiello (9-1, 1.77 ERA).
In that opening round game, Cruz (7 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 3 K) got bested by Moscatiello (7 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K) in the final score of the game, but their their numbers were obviously pretty much dead even.