Dirtbags Throw Off With SuccessPostseason
LONG BEACH, Calif. — “When you start the regional, you try to win the regional. Not win a game,” said Long Beach State head coach Troy Buckley.
Buckley chose to go with Sunday starter Dave Smith in the Dirtbags’ Long Beach Regional opener against San Diego State and save staff ace Darren McCaughan for the second day.
Buckley wanted to give McCaughan an extra day of rest after he has thrown 223 innings the last two years. He and pitching coach Dan Ricabal also felt Smith matched up well against the Aztecs with his ability to pound the lower portion of the strike zone.
Smith proved his coaches wise prophets, throwing his first career compete game — a five-hit shutout of the regional’s top lineup in a 6-0 win Friday night at Blair Field. He needed just 98 pitches. jSmith only struck out one batter, but he never allowed San Diego State to get comfortable in the box. He sank fastballs in on the hands of the Aztecs’ right-handed heavy lineup and sent sliders darting away.
“He gave us fits. He did a great job of pitching inside with his fastball, sinking it, slider away,” San Diego State head coach Mark Martinez said. “We had a poor plan, early in the game especially. He did a great job spotting his fastball and making us kind of slow our bats down with the slider. He sped us up inside and slowed us down with the slider. He did a great job commanding that.”
The Aztecs got only two runners in scoring position and never had a man reach third despite having the leadoff hitter reach in five of the nine innings.
“It’s just throwing strikes, getting ahead in counts and forcing the hitters to swing the bat at pitches they don’t want to swing at,” Smith said of his success. “Just moving the ball both ways, trying to stay down in the zone.”
It had been nine years since Long Beach hosted a regional. It seemed like the Dirtbags offense had been caged up for nine years waiting to spring in the first inning. They played small ball and added in hard line drives to bring in runs.
Two infield singles and a double steal set the table for the middle of the lineup. Ramsey Romano produced a magnanimous ground ball that brought in the first run of the game. It was the perfect example of team at-bat. With two strikes, he didn’t try to crush the pitch. He kept the bat head back and simply pushed the ball to the right side. His groundout scored a run and moved the second runner to third base.
The Long Beach State faithful appreciated the play and gave Romano rousing applause as he returned to the dugout. They would continue their fervent cheers as the Dirtbags roped three consecutive singles to score two more runs and stake Smith to an early lead. Long Beach State added a run in the second inning and two more in the sixth. The final five runs all came with two outs.
“That was a big deal,” Buckley said of the first inning lead. “Gave us a little bit of energy. The crowd was awesome early. Kind of kept that momentum going a little bit and I thought the guys did a really good job of feeding off that and putting together good at-bats early in the game.”
Buckley wasn’t the only one that noticed the nearly 3,000 people that were in the packed grandstands — something that is unfortunately unusual in Southern California where the baseball is always high-quality but the attendance doesn’t always match. San Diego State second baseman Alan Trejo thought the atmosphere had an impact on the Aztecs, saying they “got caught up in the moment.”
“It was great playing in front of those fans, but at the same time, we’ve got to be able to handle it.”
San Diego State lefthander Brett Seeburger took the loss, but believes the West Coast should get more fan support like Friday night.
“It’s what West Coast baseball should be like. We’ve got good talent out here. All of those SEC schools seem pretty good, but there’s some good talent out here on the West Coast. Games should be like that every weekend. There’s a lot great teams and I think upcoming years the West Coast is really going to take over.”
With the victory over San Diego State, the Dirtbags will face Texas Saturday night at 7 p.m. PST with a berth in the regional championship on the line. Buckley will have McCaughan (8-2, 2.66) on the mound, but Texas features its own wicked good righthander in Morgan Cooper (6-3, 2.32).
“You would be naive to say that you’re not in a good position with your No. 1 throwing tomorrow,” Buckley said. “But hey, Texas is in a real good spot too because their one-two guys are probably 1A and 1B.”
Buckley used a similar strategy “throwing off” last year in the Coral Gables Regional when McCaughan had surpassed Chris Mathewson as the team’s most effective pitcher. Mathewson started the opener against Florida Atlantic and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of a 5-1 win. Then McCaughan faced the host Miami Hurricanes and pitched into the seventh inning of an epic 4-3, 11-inning affair that Miami won despite a Jeff Nellis pinch hit home run in the ninth for the Dirtbags.
The Dirtbags are hoping for a better result as a host this year.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Buckley said. “It’s going to be a fun game tomorrow night. That’s for sure.”
San Diego State:
- Harrison Pyatt: 2.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, BB, 4 K
- Alan Trejo: 2-for-3, BB
Long Beach State:
- Dave Smith: 9 IP, 5 H, 0 R, BB, K, Win
- Jarren Duran: 2-for-4, R, 2 RBI, SB
- Lucas Tancas: 2-for-4, R, RBI, SB
- David Banuelos: 2-for-3, HBP
1 p.m. PDT – UCLA (RHP Jon Olsen) vs. San Diego State (LHP Dominic Purpura)
7 p.m. – Texas (RHP Morgan Cooper) vs. Long Beach State (RHP Darren McCaughan)
In Their Own Words
San Diego State Post-Game Presser:
Long Beach State Post-Game Presser: