Baseball, Men's Sports, Sports

A Dirtbags’ Dozen

As if the No.7 Long Beach State Dirtbags hadn’t already accomplished enough as a team in 2017, they took home 12 individual All-Big West Conference honors this season setting a new program record.

LBSU (34-17-1, 20-4 Big West) also accounted for half of the six major awards including pitcher of the year (Darren McCaughan), defensive player of the year (David Banuelos), and coach of the year (Troy Buckley-7th season).

“There was just so many deserving guys on this team,” McCaughan said. “It’s really cool to get all of this recognition in a conference that is always competitive.”

The Dirtbags finished Big West play on top of the pack with a 20-4 conference record, running away with the title four games ahead of Cal Poly (28-28, 18-8 Big West).

Defending his throne

McCaughan won the Big West Pitcher of the Year outright for the second consecutive season, making him the first Dirtbag in program history to take two in a row. Jered Weaver (2003-04) and Abe Alvarez (2002-03) have also received the honor in back-to-back season but each shared the award once.

“It’s a huge honor for me, especially being able to go back-to-back,” McCaughan said. “There is some great arms in this conference so it’s very humbling, but it also feels pretty good.”

The LBSU ace pitcher threw a staggering 108 ⅓ innings (over 30 more than second most on the team) over the course of the year and closed out the regular season 8-2 with a 2.66 ERA. McCaughan had 94 strikeouts, good for fourth in the conference.

“D-Mac” was able to follow up an outstanding 2016 campaign in which he went 10-1 with a 2.03 ERA over 111 innings.

“Banny” behind the plate

Junior catcher David Banuelos took home Defensive Player of the year, LBSU’s second consecutive winner (Garrett Hampson-2016), as part of a season full of accolades for the Dirtbags’ backstop.

“It’s been a crazy year,” Banuelos said. “Getting the Johnny Bench [Award] nomination was such a great honor and now to be recognized amongst the Big West, it’s very meaningful to me.”

Banuelos committed just three errors for a .992 fielding percentage while catching 49 of LBSU’s 55 games. Opposing base runners were thrown out 17 times out of 28 attempts against Banuelos, a testament to the major league arm he showcases behind the plate.

Honors at the helm

In his seventh season, head coach Troy Buckley received coach of the year honors for the first time after leading this year’s team through a historic season. The Dirtbags’ earned the right to host an NCAA for the first time since 2008.

“It’s a byproduct of having great players and great people around you,” Buckley said. “Am I happy? Of course I am. Not so much for myself as I am for the program and the school as a whole.”

Buckley’s team won 20 conference games in 2017, the first time any Big West team has done so since 2013 and the first LBSU team since 1998, which was the last time the team reached the College World Series. The Dirtbags made a major turnaround in the middle of their season after a 10-10 start through March 21.

Exactly one month later, LBSU beat Hawai’i 2-1 and watched Cal State Fullerton lose on the same day that meant the Dirtbags had won their first outright conference championship since 2003.

Buckley was also named to the U.S. college national team’s coaching staff earlier this year and will handle the country’s best arms in international competition. He joins UCLA’s John Savage, former LBSU head coach Dave Snow and CSUF head coach Rick Vanderhook.

First team selections

Four LBSU players made the First Team All-Big West list in 2017. Junior third baseman Ramsey Romano (.338, 2 HRs, 36 RBIs), senior relief pitcher Josh Advocate (33.0 IP, 1.91 ERA, 32 Ks), Banuelos (.303, 7 HRs, 28 RBIs) and McCaughan (8-2, 2.66 ERA, 94 Ks) joined the ranks of the conference’s most talented players.

Romano rode a 20-game hit streak that helped him finish with a team-high in batting average and RBIs. Advocate was very reliable out of the bullpen in his final season with LBSU. His 32 strikeouts compared to only four walks were the key to his success in the late innings of games all year.

Second team and honorable mention nods

Perhaps the most notable “snub” this season was senior starting pitcher Dave Smith (8-1, 1.55 ERA). His microscopic ERA led the Big West Conference and was good for seventh in the country when the regular season ended.

Nevertheless, Smith was joined by four of his Dirtbag teammates for second team honors. Junior closer Chris Rivera (28.2 IP, 2.51 ERA, 11 saves), sophomore second baseman Jarren Duran (.292, 42 Rs, 15 SBs), and junior outfielders Brock Lundquist (.275, 3 HRs, 24 RBIs ) and Lucas Tancas (.312, 9 HRs, 34 RBIs) were the other LBSU players to win the award.

Rounding out the Dirtbags’ regular season award winners are senior first baseman Daniel Jackson and junior shortstop Laine Huffman.

Jackson started every game for LBSU, either at first base or catcher, becoming the “iron-man” of the team as well as a veteran leader. He finished the season with a .278 batting average, four home runs and 33 RBIs.

Huffman was the Dirtbags’ No.9 hitter in the lineup all year and finished the season with a respectable .296 average, two home runs and 25 RBIs.

LBSU now looks ahead to the NCAA regional tournament June 2-5 at Blair Field in Long Beach, Ca. Follow @LuuuukerSports on Twitter for live-game tweets and other team updates as well as for all of your Dirtbags’ coverage throughout the playoffs.

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