The Dirtbags returned to .500 for the first time in nearly two months thanks to contributions from a couple of the more overlooked players on the Long Beach State roster.
Ryan Millison threw four solid innings and backup catcher Zach Miller came through with the key hit in a 3-1 home victory over Loyola Marymount, leading LBSU (21-21) to its first .500 overall record since March 3.
“It’s been an interesting road to get here,” head coach Troy Buckley said. “I think [conference record] is our main emphasis, but it just means that we’re playing better baseball, and it maybe has dug us out of a little hole as far as the overall [record goes].”
The Dirtbags got on the board first with a two-run single by Miller in the second inning. Miller, who usually plays backup to freshman Eric Hutting, got the start and had hits in each of his two at-bats.
“It felt great to get in there and help the team out,” Miller said. “My role is just to be ready to play. I also have a freshman catcher that I kind of take care of and try to help along and make sure he’s ready to go. But anytime I can get in there and do what I can, I try to take full advantage of it.”
Buckley said that Miller is the Dirtbags’ “most vocal and highest-energy leader next to [first baseman Ino Patron] that we’ve had.” To that, Miller responded: “He’s right.”
“I had a little experience playing quarterback in high school, so I’ve been in charge of things before,” Miller said. “Being one of the only seniors on the team, definitely a lot of guys look up to me, and I’ve got to make sure I’m doing things right and setting the example for them.”
Buckley also said that Miller plays a key role in motivating pitchers and getting them on the right page. That much was evident in Tuesday night’s game, as the LBSU pitchers only gave up one run all night.
“I thought we pitched extremely well,” Buckley said. “I thought Millison did a really good job, and we kind of mixed and matched [with the rest].”
Taking the mound for The Beach following Millison’s four-inning start were Eddie Magallon, Landon Hunt and Jon Maciel. Buckley said that of the bunch, Maciel had the most impressive outing.
“[Maciel] was outstanding,” Buckley said of his closer, who threw 3.1 scoreless innings. “That’s the best I’ve seen him throw the ball in a long time.”
Maciel didn’t pitch at all during the Dirtbags’ recent series with Cal Poly. He had struggled in the closer role in recent outings, giving up a game winning hit two weekends ago at UC Santa Barbara and surrendering a walk-off home run at Pacific in early April.
After Tuesday night’s outing in which he protected a slim lead by surrendering no hits or walks and striking out six, Maciel looked much more like the pitcher that earned second-team All-Big West honors in 2012.
“For him to come out and be prepared,” Buckley said, “that makes a statement to anybody … that, ‘Hey, I want to be in roles that are meaningful.’ I thought he was outstanding with that, so you have to give him a lot of credit.”
LBSU will try to build upon its momentum and three-game win streak this weekend when it travels to first-place Cal State Fullerton for a three-game series. The first game is set to start at 7 p.m. on Friday night at Goodwin Field.