At the halfway point in their Big West Conference schedule, the Dirtbags are 7-5 and sit at 20-20 overall. The 7-5 mark puts them fourth in the Big West race behind UC Irvine (11-1), Cal Poly (10-5) and Cal State Fullerton (9-6).
While the Dirtbags were swept at UCI three weeks ago and would need the Anteaters to really stumble down the stretch, a second-place finish is not out of reach and could be significant if they want to make the NCAA Tournament.
They have three games this weekend against last-place UC Davis (7-32, 1-11 Big West). The Aggies are just 3-17 on the road this season and provide a great opportunity for LBSU to continue its strong play in conference of late, having won four in a row and five of their last six.
LBSU then travels to UCSB — currently fifth at 6-6 — and will host Cal Poly before finishing up the regular season at Cal State Fullerton, meaning the Dirtbags control their own destiny in nabbing that second-place spot.
With great overall records, UCI (31-11), Cal Poly (30-10) and CSUF (29-11) all have the inside track for NCAA Tournament berths. But if LBSU finishes ahead of Poly and CSUF in the conference standings, they could get strong consideration for their third straight postseason appearance.
In 2006, after finishing second in the Big West with a 12-9 mark and a 29-27 record, the Dirtbags missed postseason play — the only time they have done so under ninth-year head coach Mike Weathers. That season was the only one in the Dirtbag era (since 1989) that LBSU failed to reach the 30-win plateau and that may be a big number for the 2009 team as well.
While LBSU has only 14 games left to improve its overall record, a factor that works in its favor is the strength of the conference. WarrenNolan.com ranks seven of nine Big West teams in the top-100 in their Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), which is based on winning percentage and strength of schedule and is a key tool used by the NCAA selection committee to determine the field of 64 teams selected for postseason play. LBSU is currently 93rd.
The site also lists the Big West as the fourth-best conference in the nation, so getting four tournament bids seems very reasonable. Each of the last two years the NCAA has rewarded the conference with four NCAA participants.
No. 1 UCI and No. 5 CSUF are both in the top-10 in the nation in the rankings and RPI — Nos. 10 and 5, respectively — so their strength reflects well for Long Beach State. No. 13 Cal Poly gives the Big West three top-15 teams but its RPI is lower at 33 due to a weak strength of schedule. With six games left against Poly and CSUF, a strong showing could go a long way to bolstering the Dirtbags chances.
News & Notes
The final stretch begins tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m. at Blair Field. Dirtbags ace Adam Wilk (6-1) will be on the mound looking to get LBSU over the .500 mark. The left-hander hasn’t lost in almost two months.
Saturday night is also a 6:30 p.m. start and it’s Evan Longoria bobblehead night. The Tampa Bay Rays third baseman spent two years at Long Beach State (2005-06), earning co-Big West Player of the Year honors in 2006 before being selected as the No. 3 overall pick in the MLB Draft that spring. Longoria was AL Rookie of the Year and an All-Star as his emergence helped catapult the Rays to the franchise’s first AL pennant.
Freshman second baseman Derek Legg has been on fire the last four games, going 11-for-15 and scoring 10 runs. Not to be outdone, junior first baseman Steve Tinoco is 9-for-18 with six runs and nine RBIs in that same span. Tinoco leads the team with a .353 batting average while Legg is second at .341.