Updated on Feb. 26, 2018 at 12:02 p.m.
In its first test on the road, Long Beach State won game one of a three-game series against No. 7 Texas Christian University but could not keep the Horned Frogs from salvaging their first home stand of the season. Weather postponed the opening game Friday and forced both teams to fit three contests into two days.
The Dirtbags (2-5) split a double-header Saturday, winning game one thanks to the arm of sophomore ace Zak Baayoun. He improved to 2-0 after throwing 7 ⅓ innings allowing two runs (one earned), six hits and striking out seven TCU batters.
“I thought that was a really big start for me,” Baayoun said. “I love being on the road…and it was a really cool feeling, going out there and proving a lot of people wrong.”
Senior Luke Rasmussen launched his first home run of the year to lead off the top of the second against TCU junior pitcher Jared Janczak. The blast tied the game after the Horned Frogs took a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
Long Beach and TCU (4-2) traded runs throughout the game but the Dirtbags would ultimately hand a 3-2 lead over to junior closer Chris Rivera who converted his second save of the season. Baayoun has been impressive in his first two starts, the most recent coming against a strong line up.
“I just really had to trust [pitching coach Dan Ricabal] and the pitch calling and also trust myself,” Baayoun said. “We threw a lot of pitches inside and that seemed to be the difference.”
The Horned Frogs answered by starting game two strong scoring two runs in the bottom of the first and chased Long Beach junior starting pitcher Eli Villalobos from the game after recording only one out. In his second outing as the Dirtbags Saturday starter, he gave up one hit but walked four batters and gave up two earned runs.
Long Beach scored three runs in the top of the third to tie the game but would not be able to contain the home team. TCU went on to win 8-3, the first all-time victory for the program against the Dirtbags in five previous contests.
In the rubber match, the Horned Frogs took another early lead against Long Beach junior starter Clayton Andrews. Two runs came into score on a two-out, two-run double by sophomore catcher Zack Humphreys.
The Dirtbags answered in the top of the fourth when freshman shortstop Santino Rivera lined a two-run single into right field on a 2-2 count with two outs.
The game wasn’t tied long as TCU reclaimed the lead after three hits scored two runs in the bottom half of the inning to put the Dirtbags behind 4-2.
Andrews remained in the game through the fifth inning and surrendered six hits for four runs (two earned) while striking out five.
TCU added one more insurance run in the bottom of the sixth and went on to win game three 5-2, clinching the series against Long Beach.
“It was a tough environment and they’re talented,” Long Beach head coach Troy Buckley said via @LBDirtbags on Twitter. “That pitching staff is going to be one of the better ones we see all year.”
Senior left fielder Tristan Mercadel was 3-for-7 at the plate and scored one run for the Dirtbags over the weekend. The performance bumped his average to .250.
Junior right fielder Brooks Stotler picked up three extra base hits against TCU pitching, hitting .400 in the series.
“I felt like I was seeing the ball well and just hunted the fastball and was looking for [pitches up in the strike zone],” Stotler said.
The Dirtbags come away with added experience after facing off with a program who has been to four consecutive College World Series (2014-’17). It will be useful to a team that looks ahead to two more tough road trips against Texas A&M (March 9-11) and Cal State Fullerton (March 23-25).
“I think guys got a lot of experience to play,” Buckley said. “[We’re] certainly not happy [about] not winning a series but coming on the road first time with a young group of guys, we’ll take some positives out of it.”
Senior shortstop Laine Huffman did not play Sunday after injuring his right shoulder diving for a pop up in shallow center field.
“He couldn’t move it [Sunday],” Buckley said. “We’ll get more answers from medical people here in the next few days… but he’s going to be out for a while.”
Huffman was slashing .300/.500/.364 in six games for the Dirtbags.
Long Beach will be back at home to host Arizona State Feb. 27 and 28 at Blair Field.