For the all the excitement and milestones the Dirtbags captured this season, a slew of top-ranked and vastly talented opponents awaiting them in the next few weeks will likely end the unexpected success of 2015.
Very few, most of whom reside in the home locker room of Blair Field, believed the Long Beach State baseball team would be playing meaningful baseball at this point of the season. It has done well so far to surpass others expectations while meeting their own.
The Dirtbags, playing in the top-10 RPI conference, are just three wins away from securing another overall winning season. They have done well to establish a winning attitude while developing their young roster.
That youth and inexperience, as promising as it looks today, will be what prevents the Dirtbags from leapfrogging any of the four teams ahead of them in the standings. Losing two out of three at Cal Poly also didn’t help matters.
The Mustangs were just the appetizer to the bevy of heavy hitters still to come: Next up is No. 3 UCLA tonight at Blair Field. The Bruins already beat the Dirtbags 1-0 on Feb. 24 at Los Angeles.
Junior right-hander Ryan Cruz, like so many LBSU starters this season, delivered a winning performance only to come out the loser.
The Dirtbags will get a quick reprieve this weekend against Hawaii when the dismal Rainbow Warriors visit, but after that, LBSU has games at Indiana, back home against San Diego and then close out the season at Cal State Fullerton.
Even if the Dirtbags survive that gauntlet, they will need the teams ahead of them in conference to begin losing. There are very few realistic scenarios where LBSU is playing baseball in late May and early June.
That doesn’t mean the rest of the season is meaningless; rather, it’s far from it. As long as the team believes it has a chance to reach the postseason it will continue playing with all-out effort. Even if it appears the Dirtbags don’t have a chance, all they have to do is point to last year’s team that reeled off win after win to finish 17-7 in conference.
What LBSU can control, and what it’s been doing for much of the season, is focusing on giving the young players as much playing time as possible.
Head coach Troy Buckley, almost by necessity, has allowed his team to make mistakes as it continued learning its capabilities. He’s been rewarded with breakout performances from a pair of right-handers: freshman Chris Mathewson and junior college transfer Tanner Brown.
Unlike the end of last year, there’s a core of players Buckley will be able to pencil into the everyday lineup next year. For the remaining 15 games, everything is still a work-in-progress, one that’s made the most of the season.