Playoff atmosphere baseball games are tough to come by in the regular season, especially for a national top 10 team like the No. 7 Long Beach State. Game two of the season finale against Cal State Fullerton provided the Dirtbags just that as they edged the Titans 2-1 in an extra inning thriller to even the series at one game a piece.
“We embrace the atmosphere and the challenge of winning the series,” LBSU junior left fielder Lucas Tancas said. “This is the atmosphere that we should get accustomed to. With both teams pitching well and playing good defense it just comes down to, ‘find a way to win.’”
Tancas proved to be the all-around hero in the victory after making an unbelievable diving catch late in that game and then driving in the game winning run at the top of the tenth inning.
Game two started off as a pitchers duel, as both Dirtbags’ junior starter Darren McCaughan and CSUF junior starter John Gavin traded scoreless frames for the first four innings.
In the top of the fifth, LBSU junior catcher David Banuelos lined a leadoff double into the right center field gap and started a Dirtbags rally. Sophomore second baseman Jarren Duran came through in the clutch with two outs facing 3-2 count, smoking a single up the middle which gave LBSU a one run lead.
The Titans did not take long to answer the first run of the game when senior right fielder Hunter Cullen crushed a leadoff home run off of McCaughan in the home half of the fifth. It was the 10th long ball surrendered by the Dirtbags’ ace this season and it tied the game at 1-1.
McCaughan would get the next three outs in the inning rather quickly but would not return after that as he was relieved in the bottom of the sixth by senior Josh Advocate. McCaughan has thrown 33.1 innings in the last month and expressed his overall fatigue to head coach Troy Buckley prior to game two.
“When he says he’s a little fatigued, that’s enough for me to be a little more cautious,” Buckley said. “It’s been a little ‘grindy’ for him in the last couple of weeks.”
Advocate went on to throw two scoreless innings for LBSU before giving way to freshman left-hander Zak Baayoun in the bottom of the eighth.
The play of the game came with no outs in the inning when CSUF junior pinch hitter Nico Pacheco smoked a line drive into left field. Tancas made a long run down the line and got vertical for a spectacular diving catch, robbing the Titans of extra bases.
“Thank god we were playing no doubles because I was [positioned] deeper than I normally play,” Tancas said. “The closer I got to [the ball] the more I realized I had a shot and then it was just a last second leap and hope it winds up in the glove.”
The game went scoreless to the bottom of the ninth as Dirtbags’ sophomore closer Chris Rivera entered the game hoping to send it to extra innings. The 5-foot-10 right-hander got a huge strikeout of CSUF junior pinch hitter Boston Romero that meant nine innings would not be enough to decide game two.
LBSU set up Tancas’ game winning RBI after Duran singled to right field with one out. Senior first baseman Daniel Jackson followed with a base hit that advanced Duran to second base, where he would be driven in from on Tancas’ single down the left field line.
Rivera remained in the game for the bottom of the tenth and retired the Titans in order to keep the Dirtbags alive in the series. With a ton of energy in a high-stress situation the LBSU closer proved he could handle those situations in the future.
“It was a big spot for the team after grinding all night,” Rivera said. “Sitting out there and watching it unfold and then taking the mound means a little more to finish it for the team and all the work they put in to that point.”
LBSU will now fight for the series in the rubber match game tomorrow night as senior Dave Smith (8-1, 1.70 ERA) faces sophomore Colton Eastman (0-0, 1.26 ERA, 14.2 IP).
With a win, the Dirtbags will likely lock-in their chance to host an NCAA Regional tournament scheduled for June 2-4 but it will not be an easy task against a good CSUF ball club.
“We’re treating it like a super regional and today was win or go home,” Buckley said. “You have to play tight games and win those tight games.”
First pitch at Goodwin Field is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Saturday.