FULLERTON, CA — After No. 7 Long Beach State’s 2-1 victory in game two against No. 14 Cal State Fullerton, head coach Troy Buckley could not stress enough how hard it is to win at Goodwin Field.
The Dirtbags (37-17-1, 20-4 Big West) proved that theory true in the rubber match of the series against the Titans (34-21, 15-9 Big West) during another narrow 1-0 win to seize the conference road series for the first time since 2007.
LBSU struggled offensively against the Titan’s pitching staff, but with the help of their bullpen, were able to end the regular season on a high note.
“These are ‘sword-sharpening games,’” Buckley said. “You have to find a way to win a lot of different ways, and we did that this weekend.”
The series win likely means that LBSU will host a NCAA Regional tournament next weekend to open the 2017 playoffs. It was also the Dirtbags’ fifth win against CSUF this season, the first time an LBSU team has accomplished that in program history.
“We’re going to enjoy tonight and this coming week, but we do have a goal to accomplish and we’re going to do everything to prepare for that,” senior first baseman Daniel Jackson said after the series win.
CSUF sophomore starter Colton Eastman brought his best stuff with him to the mound in the Titan’s final home contest of 2017. With a fastball in the high-80’s to low-90’s range and a change up registering at 79 mph, Eastman struck out eight Dirtbags batters in his 4 2/3 innings using 79 pitches.
Eastman was taken out of the game early as he eases his way back into action after surgery to his throwing arm. CSUF sophomore Gavin Velasquez came on in relief and struck out sophomore center fielder Brooks Stotler to end the top of the fifth in a scoreless ball game.
LBSU’s senior starting pitcher, Dave Smith, might not have been as pretty as Eastman but was equally effective in retiring opposing hitters. The Dirtbags’ usual Sunday starter held CSUF scoreless through six and ⅓ innings, striking out four batters.
The Titans best chance to crack the scoreboard came with bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. LBSU called on freshman relief pitcher Zak Baayoun to face Titan’s junior pinch hitter Niko Pacheco. With a 2-2 count, Baayoun spun a curveball below the knees of Pacheco, who struck out swinging to end the threat.
“There’s been a crazy amount of emotion this whole series,” Baayoun said. “That last pitch I just tried to do my thing and when he struck out it was just, ‘let’s get hyped and go score’”.
Though a freshman, Baayoun has been put in some tight spots down the stretch of the 2017 regular season and looks like a capable option out of the bullpen for the Dirtbags.
“I’m feeling as confident as I have ever been,” Baayoun said. “Everything I’ve worked for my whole life has lead up to this. I know I belong out there.”
Junior catcher David Banuelos carried the huge momentum swing with him to the plate in the top of the eighth, stroking a leadoff double down the third base line. LBSU would load the bases with one out and senior first baseman Daniel Jackson was able to lift a fly ball to deep center field, allowing Banuelos to tag up and score the first run of the game.
“I was just trying to be calm and cool,” Jackson said. “I’ve been in those types of spots as a younger player before and tried to do too much so I drew on that and was just looking for a fastball to do something with.”
The game was then handed over to the Dirtbags’ back end of their bullpen in senior Josh Advocate and junior Chris Rivera. Both working for second consecutive nights, Advocate pitched a scoreless bottom of the eighth to set up a save situation for Rivera.
After a strikeout of Titan’s senior shortstop Timmy Richards, Rivera got two ground ball outs to seal the game three victory and capture the series. It was Rivera’s 11th save of 2017.
“I thought Rivera was very sharp, both days,” Buckley said. “[Rivera and Advocate] have been huge for us. They’re kind of a two-headed monster for us at the end of the game.”
The Titans pressured LBSU all weekend with high-caliber pitchers, prepping the Dirtbags for what will come during the NCAA regional June 2nd-4th.
“It’s great for us to face pitching like this going into the playoffs,”Jackson said. “Everyone that comes our way is going to have arms like that.”
The official regional host site announcement will be Sunday at 8:30 p.m ET.
“I’d be shocked if we don’t end up hosting, and we’re looking forward to who we are going to draw on Monday,” Buckley said.
Follow @luuuukersports on Twitter for live game tweets and other news about the team. The Daily 49er will continue its coverage of the LBSU Dirtbags on Daily49er.com.