2018 UCSD Tritons baseball team
The 2018 UCSD Tritons baseball team. Courtesy photo

The University of California San Diego baseball program garnered three major awards and had 11 student-athletes earn some type of California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) postseason recognition for 2018.

The honors announcement was made by the conference office on May 8 ahead of Wednesday’s start to the 2018 CCAA Championship at neutral-site Banner Island Ballpark, home of the minor-league Stockton Ports.

Redshirt junior rightfielder Zander Clarke, a first-year transfer from UCLA, is the CCAA Most Valuable Player, as well as the CCAA Newcomer of the Year. Shay Whitcomb, the Tritons’ starting shortstop, was chosen by league head coaches as the CCAA Freshman of the Year. Both standouts are Newbury Park natives and graduates of Newbury Park High School.

Clarke was joined on the All-CCAA First Team by fellow juniors Tyler Durna at first base, Alex Eliopulos at third, and Preston Mott among the four starting pitchers.

Gaining selection to the All-CCAA Second Team were senior second baseman Justin Beck and senior closer Cameron Kurz.

Whitcomb, Blake BaumgartnerKeenan BrigmanMitch Hickey and Nick Kitzmann all picked up All-CCAA honorable mentions. Seventeen standouts were chosen to the first and second teams, with 30 honorable mentions.

Durna and Eliopulos are the only Tritons with prior postseason CCAA honors, as Durna is now the All-CCAA First Team first baseman for a second successive year. Eliopulos picked up an honorable mention in 2017, his first year in the program.

The 11 UC San Diego student-athletes recognized matches the program high from 2015. Four Tritons had last made the All-CCAA First Team that same season, with just one first-teamer in each of the past two years.

Clarke is just the second CCAA Player of the Year for UC San Diego in baseball, the other being fellow slugger Brandon Gregorich in 2010. Ryan Goodbrand in 2012 was the only other CCAA Newcomer of the Year, with that award being added in 2007. Whitcomb is the Tritons’ fifth CCAA Freshman of the Year, and first since 2017 graduate and current first-year assistant coach Troy Cruz in 2013.

Clarke leads the CCAA in batting average (.390), slugging percentage (.676) and runs batted in (65), and is tied for third with his team-best 13 home runs. For the 44-game league season, he achieved the CCAA Triple Crown, topping the competition in average (.409), RBI (61) and home runs (13) despite missing a pair of contests. He had already Tuesday been named the CCAA and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) West Region Player of the Week for the first time.

Whitcomb started all 44 CCAA games at shortstop, batting leadoff in all but five. He posted the Tritons’ longest reached-base streak earlier this season, of 31 games, and heads into the postseason boasting the club’s lone double-digit hit streak for 2018, at 14. The rookie is second on the team chart with his .340 average, and is second in the CCAA in runs (52), third in walks (37) and sixth in on-base percentage (.460).

Durna (Chino Hills/Ayala HS), like Whitcomb, is batting .340, and leads the league in runs (53) and walks (tied-39), while second in on-base percentage (.485) and fourth in slugging (.590). Eliopulos (La Jolla/La Jolla HS) is the only Triton to appear in all 49, starting each one at third base, and is hitting .325 with 12 home runs and 62 RBI, trailing only Clarke in the CCAA in the latter category. Mott (Clovis/Clovis HS) is 7-1 with a 2.97 ERA and 73 strikeouts against 20 walks over a team-best 69.2 innings.

Beck (Upland/Upland HS) has been another tremendous addition as a one-year transfer from San José State, locking down the second base position and hitting .301 with 34 runs, 10 doubles, eight home runs and 33 RBI. He recently had a 27-game reached-base streak. It was a well-deserved honor for Kurz (Encinitas/La Costa Canyon HS), who is 4-1 with a 1.09 ERA and eight saves, third in the CCAA, after a difficult junior campaign. The local product has fanned 40 against 10 walks with opponents batting a meager .159.

Kitzmann (Solvang/Santa Ynez Valley Union HS), a redshirt sophomore, has been the primary catcher and is hitting .289 with six home runs. He has thrown out eight of 17 would-be base-stealers. Hickey (Morgan Hill) is a senior right-hander and first-year transfer from powerhouse Oregon State who has been the front-of-rotation starter and won his last three starts. He is 5-3 with a 3.96 ERA and a save.

Brigman (San Jose/Valley Christian HS) has mostly been the Triton leftfielder, but has actually started at four different positions, just like he did a year ago after transferring in from the University of the Pacific. The redshirt sophomore is batting .308 with 29 runs scored and eight stolen bases in nine attempts. Baumgartner (Stevenson Ranch/West Ranch HS), a redshirt freshman, has his average up to .308, and has provided some pop in the designated hitter role with seven doubles, four home runs and 18 RBI.

The 25th-ranked and second-seeded Tritons (34-15) open the six-team, double-elimination CCAA Championship against fifth-seeded Cal State LA (27-22) on Wednesday, May 9, with first pitch at Banner Island Ballpark slated for 3 p.m. The sides split their regular-season series less than two weeks ago. UC San Diego is making its fifth straight appearance as the record six-time CCAA tourney champion.

UC San Diego head coach Eric Newman announced late Tuesday that he would hand the ball to Hickey for his club’s postseason opener against the Golden Eagles.