The scene at Blair Field on the eve of the 2017 NCAA Regional tournament was hectic as ESPN crews ran endless amounts of TV cables, brought in and stationed new lighting trucks throughout the park and vendors hauled in food and drinks by the ton.
Amongst the chaos, Long Beach State ace pitcher Darren McCaughan stood cool, calm and composed.
“Yeah it’s pretty crazy,” McCaughan said. “But hey, we deserve this. This is what we’ve been working towards all year.”
The No. 7 Dirtbags were selected to host the first round of the NCAA playoff after an impressive season finishing 37-17-1 and steamrolled their way to a Big West Conference championship with a 20-4 conference record.
“We’re feeling pretty good and loose for this weekend,” McCaughan said. “We’ve been here before but it’s different this time being at home. It’s a great feeling for me.”
Joining LBSU at Blair Field in this weekend’s double elimination tournament is No. 2 seed Texas (37-22), No. 3 seed UCLA (30-25) and No. 4 seed San Diego State (41-19).
“All quality teams,” head coach Troy Buckley said. “It’s going to be a tough regional. These teams are going to be competitive.”
LBSU opens against SDSU on Friday night at 8 p.m. and will send senior starting pitcher Dave Smith to the mound against Aztec senior Brett Seeburger (10-2, 4.21 ERA) in game one.
Here are some key players for LBSU this weekend:
Dave Smith – Friday’s Starting Pitcher:
The title of “Dirtbags’ Sunday starter” hasn’t served any justice to the way Smith has thrown for LBSU this year. An ERA of 1.55 over 75 ⅓ innings pitched was the best in the Big West Conference and good for seventh in the country.
Smith is also 8-1 on the season and has made a resurgence in his final year at LBSU. He’s another sinker-slider pitcher that doesn’t have overpowering stuff but has proved to be very effective down the stretch.
Darren McCaughan – Saturday’s Starting Pitcher:
The two-time Big West pitcher of the year has been the lead horse in the Dirtbags’ rotation, taking care of Friday night series openers all year long. The junior finished with 8-2 record and a 2.55 ERA and struck out 94 batters in 108 ⅓ innings of work in 2017.
The veteran leader of this LBSU club has shown his tremendous understanding of how to get hitters consistently. He went the distance four times this season, two of which were shutouts.
McCaughan throws an invisible mid-80s sinking fastball complemented by a good changeup and a sharp curveball that serves as his strikeout pitch. He will look to keep to his plan of attack which is to go after hitters with fastballs early in the count and then showcase his off-speed pitches to finish them off.
Lucas Tancas – junior left fielder:
The most complete hitter on this LBSU team. He oozes confidence and shows an approach to hitting that is far beyond his years. Tancas has some serious power to left field when opposing pitchers make the mistake of leaving a pitch up in the strike zone.
His team leading .894 OPS proves that the offense clicks when he’s on. This will be his first NCAA playoff appearance because he was sidelined after the tenth game for the rest of 2016 with a wrist injury. But, playoff baseball is nothing new for the junior after reaching the super regionals with Irvine Valley College before transferring. Tancas will hungry for the experience come this weekend.
Ramsey Romano – junior third baseman:
Romano is easily the most traveled member of the Dirtbags’ team but also the most experienced when it comes to a playoff environment. The San Diego native went to Michigan out of high school to play baseball and even had a cup of coffee with the football team as a backup quarterback for Jim Harbaugh.
Giving up football for good, he transferred to Yavapai College in Arizona where he won the 2016 JUCO national championship. That winning attitude came with him to LBSU where he has blossomed into one of the top third basemen in the country.
Romano has a short and compact swing, generating hard contact consistently which led him to a team best .338 batting average and 36 RBIs. Not to mention his Evan Longoria like defense at third making him good for at least one spectacular play per game.
The Back End of the Bullpen:
Nicknamed, “The two-headed monster” by head coach Troy Buckley, senior Josh Advocate and junior Chris Rivera have been consistent all year long for LBSU.
Advocate has thrown 33 innings, striking out 32 batters and walking four. He enters the game as jacked up as can be and uses that energy to go right after hitters with a low 90’s fastball and a decent breaking ball when needed.
Rivera on the other hand, is as cool as they come. He has a much more mild mannerism when he pitches, but is the last guy you want to see on the mound when your team is trailing in the ninth. He finished 2017 with 11 saves, two of which came in last weekend’s series win on the road against No.14 Cal State Fullerton.
Rivera will be the key to wrapping up the nail-biting games to come in this Long Beach regional.
Keys to victory:
LBSU has relied on its explosive offense all year, outscoring their opponents 286-193. The bats will need to get hot in game one versus San Diego State and then on into the next game against either UCLA or Texas; two teams with deep and experienced pitching staffs.
The defense has also been huge part of the Dirtbags’ success boasting a .980 fielding percentage. The talented infield has been used to a lot of action with starters who pitch to contact and rely on the defense to get them outs instead of going for strike outs.
Lastly, can LBSU take advantage of their opportunity to host after having to travel two out of the last three prior trips to the regional in which they lost. Blair Field is known as a pitcher-friendly park that will certainly aid the Dirtbags’ rotation. Not to mention, the home crowd at Blair Field will be out in full force.
Follow @LuuuukerSports on Twitter for live-game tweets and other team updates as well as Daily49er.com for all of your Dirtbags’ coverage throughout the playoffs.