The Dirtbags will head to Fullerton this weekend for a series that will play a large part in determining their chances to win a Big West Conference title.
Long Beach State (21-21, 9-6 Big West) will play first-place Cal State Fullerton in three games this weekend. By the end of it, the Dirtbags will either be in prime position to take control of the conference or be buried behind several teams looking to claim the Big West title.
The Titans (36-7, 12-3 Big West) are not easy to beat, though, as they are currently the No. 4 team in the country. Difficulty set aside, head coach Troy Buckley said the series at CSUF and last weekend’s series against Cal Poly would have a big hand in the fate of the Dirtbags’ season.
“I think that when you look at the next two weekends, this one and then the next one [against CSUF] certainly define [the chances of winning the Big West],” Buckley said after Sunday’s 9-5 win over Cal Poly.
Adding to the drama is the excitement of the Dirtbags-Titans rivalry. CSUF swept The Beach during a nonconference series at Blair Field toward the end of March in the teams’ only meeting this year. Prior to that series, Buckley said even though the games weren’t any more important in theory, the rivalry did make things more exciting.
“From a philosophical standpoint and a coach’s perspective, it shouldn’t [make a difference],” Buckley said. “But in reality, it certainly is a fun series. There’s a ton of history; there’s a ton of competition.”
The Dirtbags and Titans may play competitively each time they face each other, but CSUF has had the upper hand in recent years. LBSU has not taken a series since 2008.
Last season, the two met up for the final games of the regular season in a series that decided the Big West title. The Titans took two out of three, and LBSU finished one game away from a conference championship.
This year’s CSUF team is led by Michael Lorenzen, who primarily plays center field but is also the team’s closer. Lorenzen leads the Titans in batting average (.346) and home runs (7) and is second on the team in steals (9). He has a 2.35 ERA and has earned 13 saves, which ranks fifth in the nation.
Saturday’s game will be televised by ESPNU in what will be the Dirtbags’ only chance to show off on national TV this season. CSUF, on the other hand, has played on TV four times already.
All of the games will be played at CSUF’s Goodwin Field. Goodwin Field has hosted 10 NCAA tournament regional rounds and eight NCAA tournament super regional rounds.
The first game is set for 7 p.m. on Friday. Saturday’s televised matchup will start at 8 p.m., and Sunday’s finale is set for 1 p.m.
Friday: Shane Carle (LBSU) vs. Thomas Eshelman (CSUF)
Shane Carle (2-7, 3.44 ERA) has had a tough time getting through the first inning lately, as he has given up seven first-inning runs over his last two starts. The Dirtbags’ Friday night starter won’t be able to get away with that against the Titans, as CSUF starting pitcher Thomas Eshelman (7-2, 1.41 ERA) has been fantastic all year long. The ace freshman has only issued one walk in 76.2 innings pitched this year, so the Dirtbags can’t expect to get anything for free.
Saturday: Jake Stassi (LBSU) vs. Justin Garza (CSUF)
The Dirtbags’ best starter this year, Jake Stassi (4-2, 2.61 ERA), nearly beat the Titans earlier in the year. He gave up just one run in seven innings and left the game with a 5-1 lead, but the LBSU bullpen couldn’t hold on, and the Dirtbags lost 8-6. Pitching for CSUF will be another star freshman in Justin Garza (9-0, 2.37 ERA), whose worst outing came against LBSU in the contest previously mentioned. This game is set up to be a big pitcher’s duel for the ESPN cameras.
Sunday: David Hill (LBSU) vs. Grahamm Weist (CSUF)
Freshman David Hill (3-2, 4.72 ERA) has been inconsistent for The Beach in his first year of college ball, but one of his best outings came against the Titans. Hill gave up two runs in 6.2 innings, but he earned the loss thanks in large part to CSUF’s Grahamm Weist (7-2, 2.43 ERA), who held the Dirtbags to one run over eight innings. It’s clear that with Weist on the mound, things won’t get any easier for the Dirtbags on Sunday.