It’s not often that an outfielder turns around to watch a home run ball clear the fence at Blair Field.
But that’s exactly what happened at the Dirtbags game Sunday afternoon, when third baseman Juan Avila crushed a no-doubt grand slam over the left field wall, leading Long Beach State to a 9-5 victory and series win over No. 18 Cal Poly.
“I knew they were trying to go in [with the pitch] because they had been beating me in all weekend,” Avila said. “I just put a good swing on it … I didn’t feel it come off the bat, but it must have been good.”
The grand slam was the first since 2009 for the Dirtbags (20-21, 9-6 Big West Conference) and provided a fitting end to a wild series with the Mustangs. After splitting the first two games, LBSU and Cal Poly (28-13, 8-7 Big West) went back and forth with the lead in Sunday’s rubber match before Avila’s seventh-inning slam sealed the series for the Dirtbags.
“That was just a huge hit,” head coach Troy Buckley said. “We’re going to enjoy this one today. This is a big win.”
The victory kept LBSU in control of its own destiny, meaning it won’t have to rely on other teams losing to win the Big West championship.
“Now we don’t have to scoreboard watch,” Buckley said. “I’m not saying this was a must-win for us, but it was pretty close.”
The series started in the worst way possible for the Dirtbags. Starting pitcher Shane Carle gave up five runs in the first inning, and though the Dirtbags were able to respond with three runs in the second, they couldn’t overcome the early deficit and lost 8-5.
“Putting us in a hole early was a little tough,” Buckley said. “It was a little disappointing, but it wasn’t as far apart as the score seemed, that’s for sure.”
LBSU came back by taking a 3-2 win in game two of the series. The Dirtbags rode six strong innings by starting pitcher Jake Stassi and entered the seventh with a 2-0 lead. Cal Poly was able to rally, though, and it tied the game with a pair of runs in the seventh.
The Dirtbags didn’t let the game stay tied for long. Avila was able to hit a sacrifice fly to center field to bring home the winning run in the bottom of the eighth.
“I was just trying to execute and make sure we got a guy in,” Avila said.
While the series win keeps the Dirtbags in the hunt for the Big West title, they will have to complete the season without shortstop Michael Hill. Hill, who is the team leader in home runs and has a .336 batting average, broke his leg late in Tuesday’s 11-1 win over UCLA.
“He went to field right before the grass, came up to throw and then kind of came up [limping], so it was really kind of a freak deal,” Buckley said. “They thought it was a high ankle sprain to start, but then they got some x-rays, and it was a really small break, a hairline type of break on the tibia.”
Replacing Hill at shortstop is Jeff McNeil, who has played shortstop, second base and center field at different points this year. McNeil made two errors while playing shortstop over the three games against Cal Poly.
Next up for the Dirtbags is a home game against Loyola Marymount on Tuesday. They will then head to Cal State Fullerton for a three-game series against the conference-leading Titans.