Jake Thompson (1-4) was expected to be the Friday starter and the Dirtbags’ best pitcher when the season began.
He sure looked like it Saturday afternoon at Blair Field.
The young sophomore right-hander threw a gem for his first win and the Dirtbags (9-12) won their first series of the year by taking the first two games from UNLV (13-12) at Blair Field.
Thompson went eight innings, giving up no runs and just one base hit. He struck out two Rebel batters and walked none — facing just two batters over the minimum.
He threw almost entirely fastballs but routinely took something off his potentially 95 mile per hour heater in a concerted effort to throw strikes, hit his spots and make UNLV put the ball in play.
“He needed that, we needed that,” coach Don Strauss said. “He’s got a lot of talent and I think he learned a lot about himself today. He’s capable of throwing a lot harder than that, but today he pitched to the principles and he obviously got the result.”
As well as Thompson threw, the game was still close until the sixth. Leading 1-0, the Dirtbags broke the game open with the small ball style they have employed so well at Blair the last two games.
Rylan Sandoval singled to start the inning and then stole second. Derek Legg reached first on an infield single and with one out, Kellen Hoime singled to left scoring Sandoval and sending Legg to third.
Brennan Metzger laid a bunt down the third base line for the sacrifice squeeze to score Legg. Hoime stole second and then with two outs, Jonathan Jones’ single would bring Hoime around as well.
LBSU got on the board first in the bottom of the fourth. Kellen Hoime’s two-out single to right brought home Rylan Sandoval to give the Dirtbags the 1-0 lead.
Hoime had two of the four LBSU RBIs and was one of two Dirtbags with two hits along with right fielder TJ Mittlestaedt.
“He’s a good little hitter, doesn’t try to do too much,” Strauss said of Hoime. “He’s a really solid guy behind the plate, I think he’s maturing a lot and becoming a leader. I think he is more comfortable being at this level.”
The team speed Long Beach has was a huge weapon again as the Dirtbags stole four more bases in the game and have nine steals in the series already.
It’s the first time since the 1988 season — when the 49ers didn’t win a three-game series all season — that it has taken an LBSU club six series to start a season without winning at least two games in any of them.
Thompson had struggled mightily in his starts this season. He had given up 23 runs in 28 innings of work while surrendering 39 hits. But while starting on Friday’s can bring added pressure, he said he likes pitching on Saturdays.
“It does help,” Thompson said of getting a chance to watch his opponent on Friday night before he has to face them. “I can see how Adam [Wilk] does against them and see things like location and swings. It’s a little more relaxing.”
This Saturday, he was one soft liner to right away from being unhittable. J.J. Sferra’s two-out base hit in the fourth was the only UNLV hit until the ninth.
Thompson was aided by some stellar defense behind him. Metzger made a diving play to save a hit to end the seventh while Legg made a tremendous throw to first after ranging into right field to throw out a runner in the fourth. Devin Lohman was busy at short making several nice plays as well.
“What I like about my defense,” Thompson said “is I feel like I can really rely on them. Like today, I only had two strikeouts and everything else was done by the fielders.”
The Rebels threatened in the ninth when reliever Jason Markovitz put the first two batters on base with a walk and a single but he settled down after a trip to the mound and got a double play and ground out to preserve the shutout.
Tanner Peters (3-2) took the loss for UNLV. He went seven innings, striking out five while giving up all four runs. He didn’t walk a batter but was wild as he plunked four Dirtbags hitters.
The Dirtbags are back in action tomorrow at Blair Field looking for a sweep of UNLV. First pitch will be at 1 p.m.
News and Notes
Dirtbags first baseman and leading hitter Steve Tinoco remains out with an injured hamstring. Tinoco leads the team in average (.385), homers (4) and slugging percentage (.673). He has missed the last three games.
The Dirtbags have also been without head coach Mike Weathers since the Wichita State series. Weathers was suspended for three games by the NCAA for his tirade and ejection from a 12-6 LBSU win against Loyola Marymount March 17.
Weathers was scheduled to be back for Sunday’s game but the suspension was extended an extra game for his presence at Tuesday’s loss at San Diego — a violation of his ban.