The baseball team at Long Beach State has affectionately been known as the Dirtbags for the past 20 years for their hard-nosed play.
In an effort to jump-start a struggling young team, head coach Mike Weathers stripped his squad of that moniker for Sunday’s game.
The 49ers fared much better.
Rylan Sandoval’s one-out base hit to right scored TJ Mittelstaedt and broke a 5-5 tie in the bottom of the eighth inning to send LBSU to a 6-5 win over Washington State. The win kept the Cougars from sweeping the series at Blair Field in front of 1,215 fans.
Mittelstaedt led off the frame with a long drive to center that caromed off the glove of the Cougars’ center fielder and he raced all the way to third with a triple.
“I was just trying to be more aggressive than normal knowing that they’d want to get ahead in the count,” Mittelstaedt said about his last at-bat. He was 2-for-3 in the game with two RBIs and started at second base for the first time since his sophomore year in high school.
Sandoval and Steve Tinoco also had a pair of hits for Long Beach State (5-9).
Charlie Ruiz (2-1) got the win in relief for LBSU after a tough outing Saturday night when his devastating spilt-finger pitch continually fooled catcher John Hill, which allowed Washington State to rally for five runs in the ninth and win the game.
“It kind of just does what it wants honestly,” Ruiz said about his best pitch. “I honestly just wanted to stick with it, regardless. I knew my teammates had my back.”
He stymied a Cougar rally in the eighth inning, keeping the game tied and allowing the Dirtbags to win it in the bottom half.
“He’s our ninth-inning guy but I had to bring him in the eighth,” Weathers said. “After all those pitches the night before, it was a great job again by him.”
Dustin Rasco worked the ninth for his first save. The bullpen gave up just one unearned run in 4 1/3 innings after starter Andrew Gagnon was chased in the fifth.
Michael Ratigan (0-1) took the loss for Washington State (5-9).
WSU jumped out to an early lead in the first inning. Patrick Claussen and Shea Vucinich greeted Gagnon with back-to-back singles and Claussen scored on Derek Jones’ sacrifice fly.
After Derek Lagreid struck out, Michael Weber was hit by a pitch and he went to second, and Vucinich to third, on a passed ball. Both would score on a single from the red-hot Alex Burg.
The Cougars tacked on a fourth run in the third inning when Weber’s sacrifice fly scored Vucinich.
LBSU got back in the game in the bottom half of the third when Jonathan Jones’ two-out single in the hole between short and third scored Tinoco.
Tinoco got the first hit for the ‘Niners earlier in the inning and went to second on a base hit to left by Kellen Hoime.
Hoime and Jones went to third and second respectively on a wild pitch and came around to make it a 4-3 game when Mittelstaedt ripped a double into right field.
WSU extended its lead to two in the sixth on an unearned run. Matt Argyropoulous went all the way to second when Sandoval, playing third base, threw wide of first base on his ground ball.
He went to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a sacrifice fly skied all the way to wall in dead center field off the bat of Claussen.
LBSU tied the game with another two-out rally. Sandoval walked and went to second on pinch-hitter Brennan Metzger’s base hit. Sandoval made the game 5-4 when he stole third and came racing home after Burg’s throw to third went into left field.
Metzger, also running on the play, went to third and scored on a hard double down the left field line off the bat of Devin Lohman.
It was a big comeback win for a team that has struggled with consistency.
“I really liked the fact that we scored in three innings and each time our pitchers came back and put zeroes on the board,” Weathers said.
Mittelstaedt talked about the win jump-starting his team.
“I think it’ll help because our offense is starting to get more consistent and our pitching is being more aggressive,” he said. “If [the pitching staff] can lock it down a little bit, we can do a lot of good things.”
Wtth the win, Long Beach is now 2-6 at home in 2009. There is one game remaining on the homestand as Loyola Marymount comes to Blair Field Tuesday night.
LBSU beat the Lions, 9-6, in Los Angeles last month. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
For more Dirtbags coverage, visit Tucker Savoye’s blog.