Baseball, Sports

Dirtbags’ late rally falls short in season opener

Box score

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The velocity was too much for the Long Beach State Dirtbags, falling at the hands of the University of Southern California Trojans, 5-2, Friday night at Dedeaux Field.

The Trojans (1-0) jumped out to an early lead behind starting pitcher Brad Boxberger, who kept the Dirtbags (0-1) off balance through six innings in the season opener for both teams.

Boxberger (1-0) recorded a career-high 11 strikeouts in front of 984 fans while allowing six walks, also a career high. He gave up just one hit with no runs allowed.

“When you only inter-squad and you don’t have your guy throwing 93 mph, you never get used to that speed,” Dirtbags head coach Mike Weathers said. “That was the biggest issue tonight for us, not being able to face that velocity. You can’t duplicate that in an inter-squad game because our [pitching staff] doesn’t have that kind of velocity.”

Trojans center fielder Anthony Vasquez seemed to seal it in the bottom of the seventh after he homered over the left-field wall to give the Trojans a commanding 5-0 lead.

But the Dirtbags, who had only one hit up to that point, appeared to come to life in the top half of the eighth.

After a Jordan Casas leadoff single, center fielder Jonathan Jones dropped a ball just in front of USC left fielder Greg Zebrack.

Two batters later, first baseman Taylor Krick jolted a ball off USC pitcher Danny Coulombe far beyond the left-field fence to pull the Dirtbags within two.

“I was just looking to protect,” Dirtbags first baseman Krick said. “I was just trying to battle and let the bat fall over the plate. You have to take advantage of [a pitch like that.]”

LBSU proceeded to bring in pitcher Dustin Rasco, who struck out the side to keep his team in striking distance.

But Trojans catcher Robert Stock came in to pitch the ninth and saved the game. Stock also found success at the plate, going 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored.

“It’s tough, everybody has those first game jitters, but we’ll bounce back,” said Krick, who finished 1-for-3 with a homer, a run scored, a walk and three RBIs.

Dirtbags starter Tyler Topp (0-1) went 3 1/3 innings, allowing three earned runs while recording three strikeouts and issuing three walks.

USC first appeared to rattle Topp in the bottom of the second, loading the bases.

Stock hit a leadoff double for the Trojans before the next batter, Vasquez, hit a deep fly ball down the left-field line. Tre Dennis misread the ball, allowing USC to put runners on second and third with nobody out. Topp then walked first baseman Keith Castillo.

But Topp recovered, first forcing third baseman Billy Pinkerton to ground into a fielder’s choice and then inducing a double-play ball from designated hitter Ricky Oropesa to end the inning.

However, the next inning USC got on the board when second baseman Hector Rabago hit a sharp line drive down the first-base line to bring Mike O’Neill home.

Topp began the fourth inning by giving up two consecutive walks. USC’s Vasquez then dribbled a sacrifice bunt back towards the pitching mound, causing the runners to advance to second and third with one out.

Weathers had seen enough, signaling to the bullpen to bring in reliever David Brown.

Brown didn’t have any better luck, though, and gave up a two-run single to Pinkerton.

The Dirtbags had potential to score with two men on base and one out in the top of the fourth. But Boxberger got out of the jam, striking out Krick and popping up TJ Mittelstaedt to shallow center field.

LBSU posed a threat in the top of the fifth after Sandoval reached base with a leadoff walk.

Unfortunately for The Dirtbags, any plans of a rally that inning were shattered after freshman Derek Legg chopped a ball up the middle right to Rabago. The USC second baseman quickly tagged Sandoval and threw it to first base to get the double play.

Wilk ran into a bit of trouble in the sixth, allowing one run off the bat of O’Neill, who was 2-for-5 with a run scored and an RBI. The USC left fielder caught the ball on the inside part of his bat, sending the ball to right-center field and brought home Oropesa, who reached on a fielder’s choice and stole second.

The Dirtbags threatened in the top of the first with Dennis and right Casas reaching second and third with no outs.

But they were unable to capitalize as Boxberger settled down and struck out the side.

For the Dirtbags, facing Boxberger could benefit a young team that had 11 players drafted last year.

“We’re going to face more guys like that,” Weathers said. “The more we play against guys like that, it will be a real tell-tale sign on whether or not we can handle that kind of velocity.”

The three-game series will resume tomorrow night at Blair Field, where LBSU will play in its home opener. Game time is at 5 p.m.

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