For a second consecutive season, Long Beach State fans won’t have to travel far to watch their baseball team play in the NCAA Regionals.
The Road to Omaha begins at Blair Field, as the Big West Conference co-champions and No. 1-seeded Dirtbags (37-19) will host No. 2 San Diego (41-15), No. 3 California (33-19) and No. 4 Fresno State (37-27) in the Long Beach Regional, the NCAA selection show revealed Monday morning.
The Dirtbags, winners in 10 of their last 12, will face Fresno St. Friday at 6 p.m. while Cal will take on San Diego earlier in the day at 2 p.m.
LBSU put an exclamation point on its 19th NCAA tournament appearance with a conference championship and automatic berth Sunday at Blair Field.
Just as the final pitch of his third career complete game barely skimmed the outside corner of the plate for strike three, Vance Worley pumped his fist and jumped off the mound as his Dirtbag teammates fled the dugout in celebration. With that final out, LBSU was crowned 2008 Big West co-champions as their 12-3 victory over archrival CS Fullerton took the series, 2-1.
“I think the rivalry creates your best play,” head coach Mike Weathers said. “Today was just a culmination of hitting the ball well and making some good defensive plays.”
Worley hurled his third complete-game win of the season for the Dirtbags (16-8 Big West), getting Joe Scott looking to end the game and win the Big West. Worley improved to 7-3 to end the regular season, giving up three earned on eight hits, walking one and punching out six in front of a crowd of 2,601.
“I knew what I needed to do today to clinch,” Worley said. “So I went out there and did it, and it feels great.”
Cory Arbiso (11-3) took the loss for the Titans (16-8 Big West, 37-19 overall), who finished second in the conference, as Long Beach claimed the tiebreaker with their series win.
“The way we lost left kind of a sour taste in our mouths,” said Fullerton head coach Dave Serrano. “We were, in some sense, embarrassed today.”
The Titans got on the board first, scoring a run off Worley in the second, but the Dirtbags retaliated by pouncing on Arbiso. LBSU tied the game in the bottom of the inning with an unearned run and took a five-run lead in the third.
Arbiso was taken out in favor of Michael Morrison after facing the entire Long Beach lineup in the third and giving up all five runs. Morrison nearly got out of the inning with little damage but with two outs and runners on second and third, Jason Tweedy hit a triple square off the batter’s eye in center field, clearing the bases.
The Titan bullpen failed to settle the Dirtbags, as three relievers combined to allow seven more runs. The Dirtbags scored in six straight innings, as each player in the starting lineup had at least one base hit and one run scored, with Tweedy (3-for-4, one run, three RBIs), who finished just a homer away from the cycle, and Brandon Godfrey (3-for-4, two runs, two RBIs) leading the charge.
Said Serrano: “It starts on the mound, and you’ve got to get it stopped on the mound.”
Feeding off his crew’s momentum, Worley continued to deal, picking himself up after a Josh Fellhauer two-run shot in the fifth, and put down the next 10 in order.
In the ninth, it looked as though Worley had finally run out of gas, giving up a walk and a single to lead off the inning. The right-hander then got Gary Brown and Joel Weeks to fly out, but then gave up a single to Dustin Garneau to load the bases, prompting pitching coach Jon “Doc” Strauss to come onto the mound with the intent of relieving his tiring starter.
However, Worley wouldn’t have it.
“He told me that was my last guy. I told him to get off my mound,” Worley said. “I just had to keep a positive mindset and just throw.”
Between the seventh and eighth innings, the Blair Field announcer announced the regional sites. While CS Fullerton’s announcement drew applause, when LBSU was announced as the final site for next weekend’s regional round, the stadium nearly erupted.
“We’ve got to entertain these guys, right?” Weather said, pointing to the thousands of stands who remained in their seats even after the Dirtbags had won. “We’ve got to put on a show.”
The conference title is the seventh in the Dirtbag era, and the first since 2003. The championship is just the second since Weathers took over for Dave Snow in 2002.
Tracy McDannald contributed to this report.