In their first year as a Division-1 school, UC San Diego’s baseball program got off to the kind of start you’d expect from a team jumping into the highest level of amateur baseball. In April the Tritons were 10-21.
Then something clicked.
UCSD finished the season red hot, winning 12 of their last 15 games, the last one ending in the most epic way imaginable: senior Everett Lau hitting a walkoff grand slam to beat CSU-Northridge.
As Yogi Berra said, the start of 2022 was like déjà vu all over again.
On Friday night the Tritons opened against Seattle University, fell behind early, and rallied for five runs in the 9th inning for yet another walkoff. This time it was quite literal: Michael Furman drew a bases-loaded walk to bring in the game-winner.
“We just kept chipping away and kept fighting through it and then we got a huge hit from true freshman Matt Halbach,” says Tritons head coach Eric Newman. “He had a bases-loaded double, down by three, and that just kind of kept fueling it and then we were able to finish it off. So, that was really fun to be a part of.”
The Tritons took three out of four from the Redhawks, then showed the baseball world they’re not a foundling D-1 school anymore.
On Tuesday night UC San Diego went up to USC to play their first-ever game against a Pac-12 school, and this is not just any Pac-12 school. USC has won 12 national titles, more than anyone else in history.
“You never expect in year two, with a bunch of young players and new players, to walk into a place like USC thinking, oh yeah, we’re going to go up there and win. But I did feel really confident that we would go up there and compete well,” says Newman.
They did a lot more than compete. UCSD beat the Trojans 6-2, and they did it by using just three seniors and six true freshmen who apparently weren’t aware a 2nd-year D-1 program is not supposed to beat baseball royalty in its own ballpark.
“This is just what they know,” says Newman. “As opposed to some of our older guys who played at the Division-II level, they’re excited to be there for different reasons. But I think the cool part about all this is, and I told the guys on Tuesday, we’re making history. Not by winning or losing the game, we’re making history just by being here. That was the first ever time that UC San Diego and USC had met on the baseball field. That’s just cool. I just want these guys to really embrace that part of this journey. Because that’s what we’re on. We’re on this really cool ride together.”
Newman tried to get the game at Dedeaux Field because he’s a bit of a baseball historian, and it’s arguably the most history-laden collegiate ballpark in the world. He wanted his club to experience it.
“Oh, heck yeah. Absolutely. Just being in that ballpark, being in that atmosphere, seeing as we walked by Tom Seaver, Fred Lynn, Mark McGwire, Barry Zito … you walk by all that, you go to the outfield fence and see the 12 National Championships and all the stuff that program is about.”
It’s becoming very clear very quickly that’s what UC San Diego’s program is about, as well. This weekend they welcome Washington, another Pac-12 school, to Triton Ballpark for a 4-game set starting Friday night.