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UC San Diego insists it has something to play for

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The UC San Diego baseball team does not have any Division I participation trophies in its display case.

Despite having the Big West's best record in 2023, the Tritons were in the third year of a four-year transition to Division I and ineligible for postseason competition. Cal State Fullerton, which finished a game behind, earned the league's automatic berth in last year's NCAA Regionals.

The Tritons did receive a trophy for the 2023 regular-season title and commemorative T-shirts. Those also would be the only rewards available this year if the 13-5 Tritons, currently a game out of first place, were to repeat as regular-season champions. The Tritons' transition period expires on June 30.

UCSD coach Eric Newman described the length of the transition as a "silly rule."

"Four years is too long, especially with the transfer portal and NIL," Newman said of college players' ease in transferring to cash in on their name, image and likeness. "It doesn't make sense anymore. Kids can transfer anytime, anywhere, as many times as they want. Pay to play in the Southeastern Conference and ACC. But players who come to a school like ours for academics, who really make a commitment to being student-athletes, get punished for years and years over what is really a silly rule."

The average SAT score for an incoming UCSD freshman is 1360 on a 1600 scale. The minimum grade-point average is 3.4 for non-California residents, with no grade below a C in any high school class. Last year, UCSD's acceptance rate was 24.7% for the 130,841 freshman applicants.

"It's a great school," Newman said. "It's hard to get in, but once you get in, it's awesome. There are some benefits to being here."

This academic year, UCSD's men's basketball team finished second in the Big West's regular season, and both soccer teams have excelled. Newman's Tritons went 13-5 in nonconference games, endured injuries to their best hitter (third baseman Matt Halbach) and starting pitcher (Ryan Forcucci), and regrouped to win five of their past six.

The Tritons play host to Hawaii today in the opener of a three-game series at Triton Ballpark.

"The coolest part of this team in the absence of those two stars, to borrow a phrase, the rest of the group banded together and played hard, played for each other, did great as a team," Newman said. "When we take our lumps, we take our lumps together. That's probably been the best part of the team. It's been kind of the grit and mettle."

Anthony Eyanson has moved up a day into Forcucci's spot as Friday starter. In three series-opening starts, Eyanson is 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA and 0.67 WHIP. He averaged 8.57 strikeouts per nine innings during that period.

"Anthony is going to be in the conversation for conference Pitcher of the Year the way he's going," Newman said of the right-handed sophomore.

Matthew Dalquist, who is now the Saturday starter, is a four-pitch strike thrower who has allowed 11 walks in 492/3 innings.

The offense has helped the Tritons' uncertain starting pitching for series finales. The Tritons averaged 10.5 runs the past two Sundays.

Izaak Martinez, who is 4-1 with eight saves and a 1.22 ERA, is a closer with durability. His average outing is 21/3 innings. Five times he has pitched twice in a series, including three consecutive appearances against UC Davis. Similar to the difference between actual and feels-like temperature, according to Newman, Martinez's velocity of 90-91 mph "plays more like 95-96."

Without Halbach, who is hitting .408 and behind projections to return to the lineup, the Tritons have crafted an opportunistic offense. Right fielder Nick Costello has a team-best eight home runs, two of which led off games. Center fielder Michael Crossland has stolen 12 bases in as many attempts. The Tritons' success rate is 84.6% on steals.

"We do what we need to do," Newman said. "We get guys on base. There are a lot of different ways to score runs. On any given day, we have to embrace the game that's played in front of us. Is it a game we have to play for one run or do we have to play for a lot of runs?"

BIG WEST BASEBALL

At Triton Ballpark, La Jolla, Calif.

HAWAII (22-15, 6-9 BW) VS. UC SAN DIEGO (26-11, 13-5 BW)

>> When: 3 p.m. today, 11 a.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. Sunday

>> TV: None

>> Radio: 1420-AM/92.7-FM

>> Streaming: ESPN+