Thrilling Finishes Grace Long BeachPostseason
LONG BEACH, Calif. — It played out like the ending of a baseball cinematic thriller.
As Long Beach State second baseman Jarren Duran churned up dirt with each forceful 10th inning step coming closer to third base, it felt as if the film decelerated into slow motion. Duran was Jake Taylor digging for first, Roy Hobbs trotting around second, Willie Mays Hayes turning the corner at third, Benny The Jet trying to escape The Beast.
As the speedy Duran approached third base, he never hit the brakes. Third base coach Greg Bergeron watched the throw from Texas left fielder Austin Todd.
One play earlier, Bergeron had gotten Luke Rasmussen hosed at third trying to take two bases after an errant pickoff attempt went up the right field line. Rasmussen had hesitated and chopped his feet as he rounded second base and was thrown out by a good six feet. There was no fear in Bergeron though.
He watched the throw from Texas left fielder Austin Todd. ‘If it goes over the cutoff man, I’m rolling the dice,’ Bergeron thought. After his gaffe letting Duran’s tailing flare bounce by him and roll to the wall, Todd put everything he had into the throw. It sailed way over shortstop David Hamilton’s head. Bergeron’s right hand fired from his hip, giving a late spin to roll the dice.
Duran turned the corner and headed to the plate. In the movie trailer, the cliffhanger shows him running toward home with third baseman Ryan Reynolds coming into focus behind him as he prepares to take the throw and turning his body.
That’s where this walk-off inside-the-park home run Hollywood fairy tale ending turns though.
Reynolds backed up to take the throw on a bounce. He eschewed his glove, barehanding the ball while squaring up his shoulders toward the plate, which led into his motion to throw home. He fired a strike to catcher Michael Cantu, who caught the ball at eye level and immediately flopped down a tag attempt.
Duran dove in head first. His hands reached around Cantu’s left leg (Indiana) Jonesing for the buried pentagon. Cantu’s glove slapped across the bill of Duran’s helmet. First base umpire Perry Costello was squatted directly behind Cantu after rotating down to make the call. He looked into the glove of Cantu, who had sprung backwards from the impact of Duran’s slide, before taking a hop step and throwing a waist high right cross into the chilly Southern California night.
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 4, 2017
Duran was out and Long Beach State would not threaten again after four straight innings of putting constant pressure on the Texas defense. Travis Jones provided the denouement in the 12th inning when he lined a Chris Rivera slider over the middle of the plate to left field with the bases loaded. Two runs scored and the Longhorns took a 5-3 win to advance to the Long Beach Regional championship.
Reynolds scored the game-winning run on Jones’ single, but after the game, conversations kept coming back to his astonishing relay. The Long Beach State coaching staff said it was “unbelievable.”
“That was incredible,” Texas head coach David Pierce said. “We talk about having a clock in their head, not being passive and going for plays. It was just a perfect example or Ryan being in position and not being afraid to make the play and he had to make it to keep the game moving. SportsCenter top 10 right there.”
One for the Ages
Long Beach State head coach Troy Buckley called it reality TV and said it was a shame either team had to lose. Pierce went a step further.
“I’ve been doing this for about 30 years now and that’s by far the best ballgame I’ve ever, ever been a part of and I’ve been in a lot of great baseball games. Both teams laid it on the line.”
Don’t doubt Pierce’s credentials. He was also involved in an epic 22-inning regional game while coaching at Sam Houston State. (Of course, Pierce was ejected in the 21st inning and the Bearkats lost, so maybe he has some negative memories of that one.)
During the post-game news conference, Texas players Bret Boswell, Morgan Cooper and Jones were asked if they agreed with Pierce’s statement.
You guys ever played in a game like this?
BOSWELL: No. Not at all.
COOPER: Nuh uh.
PIERCE: Not this much fun.
COOPER: I think that one inning alone was… [shakes his head]
BOSWELL: …it was definitely the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.
JONES: I second that.
Long, Exciting Day of Baseball
Jones’ final blow forced an ending to an glorious day of postseason action at Blair Field. Two games required 25 total innings and more than nine hours of game time with fans buzzing throughout in the packed grandstands.
In the first game, San Diego State eliminated UCLA with a 3-2 win in 13 innings. The Aztecs (42-20) managed just three hits in the final 11 innings, but found a way to win. Dean Nevarez led off the 13th with a grounder to second base that was misplayed. A Julian Escobedo single was followed by a sacrifice bunt and a walk to load the bases. UCLA (30-27) turned to its most consistent reliever, Scott Burke, and his first pitch plunked Danny Sheehan to bring in the game-winning run.
The Bruins had their chances. They tied the game in the eighth inning on Jack Stronach’s RBI single, but Ryan Kreidler struck out to strand two. Kreidler was also thrown out at third to end the 10th when he tried to take two bases on a wild pitch. UCLA got a leadoff walk in the 11th and eventually had two baserunners stranded again.
“I’m surprised I don’t have gray hair,” UCLA head coach John Savage said. “I don’t have gray hair, but I probably should. Those are painful at time.”
The Bruins left 15 men on base and went just 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position, but it was the ninth inning in particular that will haunt Savage this offseason. An error and two intentional walks loaded the bases with one out.
“We just needed a fly ball, a ground ball, a bleeder, a ball hit to the outfield,” Savage said. “We just didn’t get it done.”
San Diego State closer CJ Saylor came on to get a strikeout and a fly out to send the game into extra innings where eventually the Aztecs would prevail to end the Bruins’ season.
“That was a college baseball game for the ages — 13 innings, some bases-loaded situations and some tense moments through the whole game,” San Diego State head coach Mark Martinez said. “Sorry to keep you guys here for five hours, but it feels okay if you’re on the winning end, but what a grind. What an absolute grind. It was a great baseball game.”
Saylor pitched 4.2 scoreless innings to get the win. He gave up two hits and struck out four while throwing 76 pitches in the longest outing of his career.
“Little tired. Now I know how a starter feels,” Saylor mused with a smile after the game.
Small Ball vs. Long Ball
Before the game got crazy in extra innings, Long Beach State had led for almost the entirety. The Dirtbags “stole” two runs with first-and-third stolen base attempts. The first came in the opening frame.
Long Beach State got runners on the corners after Bret Boswell made a pretty backhanded glove flip to get a force out when he reached a grounder up the middle that would have scored a run if it snuck through. With two outs, the Dirtbags forced the action, sending Ramsey Romano from first base on a delayed steal. He took off and pulled up on the final third of the 90-foot leg trying to elicit a rundown that would give Daniel Jackson time to score from third base, but the middle infielders were slow to cover the bag and Michael Cantu’s throw sailed high. Boswell again was in the right spot, lunging to snag the ball and keep it from going into center field and tossed to second to get Romano, who tried to sneak in when he saw the throw was off the mark, but not before Jackson scored the first run of the game.
The Dirtbags would run a similar gambit in the seventh inning, running a straight steal to second base in the same situation. Cantu pump faked to second and caught Romano too far off of third, but his throw pegged Romano and bounced into no man’s land, allowing him to score and briefly put Long Beach State back up, 3-2.
“We had him picked really,” Pierce said. “It was a pick to third and we just threw a ball and hit the runner. Fortunate for them, but we battled through it.”
In between, Boswell wore the cape on the offensive side as well. He showed off his raw lefthanded power that has intrigued scouts. He hit a 1-0 fastball that Darren McCaughan left up in the zone and drove it to left-center field for an opposite field blast to even the game in the second inning.
Brock Lundquist lined a home run into the Jered Weaver Bullpen in right field the next half inning to put the Dirtbags back ahead, but Boswell had an answer for that as well. McCaughan got him to roll over an offspeed pitch in the fifth inning, but he went to the well once too many times in the seventh inning. McCaughan got a strike on an inside fastball to Boswell, but shook off the same pitch with a 2-2 count, choosing to throw back-to-back changeups. He left the second up in the zone and Boswell punished it, copying Lundquist with a bullpen blast.
There was some crossover between small ball and long ball, obviously. Lundquist’s homer for Long Beach State and Texas using David Hamilton to sacrifice in the 12th inning, but it was the Longhorns’ obstinance from giving away an out that actually helped set up the game-winning hit. Before Hamilton’s sacrifice, they feigned bunting with Cantu. He took two pitches while showing bunt before pulling back the bunt and slashing for a single to left field. Four batters later, Texas took its first and only lead of the game.
The small ball could have easily have won out, but Texas made some incredible defensive plays. The climactic action in extra innings completely pushed aside a game-saving catch. It wasn’t brought up in either post-game news conference but Patrick Mathis was the one who sent the game to extra innings.
In the ninth inning, a hit by pitch and a passed ball put the winning run on second base for Long Beach State. Buckley chose to pinch hit senior Alex Muzzi, who started 38 games last year, but had only seen 17 at-bats this year. Muzzi walked to the dish with three hits on the season and two RBIs. He nearly added a tally to both of those columns.
The lefthanded Muzzi got jammed just a bit as he turned on an inside fastball, sending a dying line drive out to right field. Mathis got a good read and eyed the ball the entire way, laying out and keeping his focus on the white pearl that floated into his glove for the final out of the ninth inning.
— Shotgun Spratling (@ShotgunSprD1) June 4, 2017
After the game, Buckley took one message to his team. “We’re moving on.” He told his players that after their post-game meeting and the news conference (video below), he wanted to Voldemort this game.
“We’re on to tomorrow,” Buckley said. “I told them no parents, no girlfriend, no nothing. We’re not talking about this any more.
“We’ve got to find a way to get through the loser’s bracket and take care of a good San Diego State team tomorrow. We’ve got enough pitching to do it. That’s kind of what we’re focusing on.”
The Dirtbags definitely want another shot at the Longhorns, but first they have to get through San Diego State, who has beaten them twice this season. Long Beach State was in a similar situation last year in the Coral Gables Regional when they lost a classic back-and-forth matchup with Miami in the Saturday game and had to beat Florida Atlantic in the morning Sunday for another shot at the Hurricanes Sunday night.
“We’ve been here before,” Long Beach State first baseman Daniel Jackson said. “We’re looking forward to tomorrow. We’ve got to take care of San Diego State. They’re a very good team, but as long as we take care of Game 1, it’s on to Game 2.”
The winner of the Long Beach State/San Diego State matchup will face Texas in the regional championship
- Morgan Cooper: 8 IP, 6 H, 3 R (2 ER), BB, 7 K
- Bret Boswell: 2-for-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI
- Travis Jones: 2-for-6, 2 RBI
- Chase Shugart, Beau Ridgeway: 2 IP, H, 0 R, 2 K each
Long Beach State:
- Darren McCaughan: 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 K
- Brock Lundquist: 2-for-3, R, HR, RBI, HBP
San Diego State:
- CJ Saylor: 4.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, K, Win
- Dominic Purpura: 4.1 IP, 4 H, ER, 2 BB, K
- Andrew Brown: 2-for-6, R
- Jon Olsen: 7.2 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, BB, 3 K
- Jake Bird: 4.2 IP, 2 H, UER, 0 BB, 3 K
- Jake Hirabayashi: 2-for-2, RBI, BB
- Sean Bouchard: 1-for-3, R, 3 BB
1 p.m. PDT – San Diego State (RHP Cody Thompson) vs. Long Beach State (RHP John Sheaks)
7 p.m. – Texas (RHP Kyle Johnston) vs. TBD
In Their Own Words
Texas Post-Game Presser:
Long Beach State Post-Game Presser:
San Diego State Post-Game Presser:
UCLA Post-Game Presser: