The Long Beach State Dirtbags didn’t get to showcase their full potential after the coronavirus pandemic abruptly ended the season, but with a 10-5 record, this year’s team had a special aura around it.
Helmed by first-year coach Eric Valenzuela, the Dirtbags were off to a remarkable start, winning the season-opening series against California, then continuing to win over high profile opponents behind their stellar pitching.
Junior LHP Adam Seminaris and sophomore LHP Alfredo Ruiz both had dominant performances in the first two games. The two struck out 21 combined batters in their respective starts, giving fans a glimpse of hope that this season could have been special compared to last year’s 14-41 disaster.
Valenzuela immediately brought a winning culture to the Beach that he instilled at St. Mary’s College. He led the Gaels to four consecutive 30-win seasons in six years as the skipper.
After taking on the lead job at St. Mary’s, the team improved from 16-39 in his first season in 2014, to back-to-back seasons finishing above .500 in 2015 and ‘16. Valenzuela coached the team to a 2016 NCAA tournament appearance before he left to become the eighth coach of the Dirtbags.
The Dirtbags offense opened up the season batting .248, but the pitching staff stole the show with an overall team ERA of 2.38, good for 12th in the nation. The most interesting part is the Dirtbags do not have a single pitcher with an ERA in the top-50, meaning their success has been a team effort, rather than relying on one ace to carry the team.
With two dynamite starters in Seminaris and Ruiz, freshman RHP Luis Ramirez also burst onto the scene to round out the trifecta with a one hit, 12 strikeout performance against Wake Forest Feb. 22.
The Long Beach starters were able to pitch aggressively thanks to the strong bullpen behind them, featuring freshman RHP Devereaux Harrison (13.2 innings pitched, two earned runs and 18 strikeouts) and redshirt junior RHP Matt Fields (six innings pitched, one earned run, eight strikeouts).
Long Beach’s last playoff appearance in 2017 saw them hitting .270 with a 3.07 ERA, finishing first in the Big West with a 42-20-1 record. Despite getting off to a 6-11 start through 15 games, that team ended up falling one round short of a College World Series berth, losing in the super-regional to Big West rival Cal State Fullerton in a three-game series.
The Dirtbags had similar success in 2016, coincidently starting off 10-5 as well. Long Beach finished that year losing to the University of Miami in the regional final.
In 2014, the Dirtbags plunged themselves deep into the NCAA tournament as well, hitting .260 with a 2.97 ERA for the season after a modest 8-7 start. The team would finish second in the Big West at 34-26, but fell to the College of Charleston 4-2 in the regional final, one round shy of making it to the CWS in Omaha.
Compared to years past, thanks to an uptick in pitching and aggressive new coaching style, the 2020 Dirtbags seemed to be in prime position to reach the College World Series for the first time since the 1998 semifinals under legendary coach Dave Snow.
Although it’s impossible to tell what the Dirtbags season would have resulted in, it’s clear the team was on a path towards success.