Big West Conference play is still in its early stages, but one thing is already abundantly clear: the Dirtbags will need to win on the road to stay in contention.
Long Beach State (16-18, 6-3 Big West) is coming off a three-game sweep of UC Davis, which is the only Big West team that is still winless in conference play. The sweep moved the Dirtbags into a tie for second in the conference standings and within striking distance of first-place Cal State Fullerton.
All of that sounds great until it’s taken into consideration which teams LBSU has faced. The Dirtbags have already played the Big West bottom-dwellers, UC Davis and Pacific, and they weren’t able to take full advantage of those matchups. Sure, they swept UC Davis, but they lost two of three to Pacific on the road two weekends ago.
That brings us to the Dirtbags’ biggest problem: their inability to win road games. To date, LBSU has only won twice on the road. One of those wins came against Pacific, and the other came in a season-opening series against No. 2 Vanderbilt. They were swept at Arizona State and lost Tuesday-night games at Southern California, Loyola Marymount and San Diego State.
Unfortunately for the Dirtbags, two of their toughest conference series will be played on the road. They will travel to No. 4 Cal State Fullerton (the Titans swept a three-game series at Blair Field earlier this year) and will close out the regular season with a series at UC Irvine.
The Dirtbags may have a tough road ahead of them, but as head coach Troy Buckley said earlier in the year, away games aren’t always a bad thing.
“When we’ve got struggles, I like to go on the road because it’s kind of an ‘us against the world’ type of mentality,” he said after a game in March. “I certainly do not mind the road one bit. I actually enjoy it.”
The Dirtbags aren’t struggling right now, but their upcoming series at UC Santa Barbara will give them a good idea of where they stand in the Big West. As the conference’s seventh-place team, the Gauchos (18-16, 4-5 Big West) are beatable and will give LBSU a test on the road more than anything.
To win the conference or at least beat enough quality opponents to be considered for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament, the Dirtbags will have to win a good portion of their road games. They will need to play well against fourth-ranked CSUF and win the games they should against the bottom half of Big West competition.
To this point, LBSU has been winning the games it should at home. The Dirtbags took two out of three from Cal State Northridge before sweeping UC Davis over the weekend and proved that they shouldn’t be counted out until the end of the season.
There is still a lot of baseball left to play, but the easiest portion of LBSU’s schedule has passed. Now the real tests will come.