The No.7 Long Beach State Dirtbags survived elimination from the NCAA Regional after beating San Diego State 7-4 in Sunday’s day game at Blair Field. A bounce back performance from their junior starter John Sheaks and a 13-hit offensive onslaught helped the host team advance to a rematch of Saturday night’s instant classic against Texas.
“With his last four to five outings a little challenging for [Sheaks], doing what he did today was huge,” head coach Troy Buckley said. “I love those moments from a character standpoint.”
The LBSU (39-18-1) starter gave up a 2-run home run to SDSU (42-21) senior shortstop Danny Sheehan. Though not a great start to the outing, Sheaks settled in and chewed up six innings and gave up four runs to the Aztec’s potent offense.
“It was more mental adjustments for me today,” Sheaks said. “I let everything go mentally and really focused on keeping the ball down [in the strike zone].”
SDSU committed three errors in the top of the third inning that the Dirtbags took advantage of, scoring two runs and increasing their lead to 4-2.
“We were really our own worst enemy today and couldn’t overcome some pretty big mistakes,” SDSU head coach Mark Martinez said.
The play of the game came in the bottom of the seventh inning after the Aztecs had rallied for two runs and cut the LBSU lead to 5-4. With runners on first and second base and one out, sophomore relief pitcher Eli Villalobos struck out the batter looking with a 3-2 fastball as both runners took off trying to steal the next base.
Junior catcher and Johnny Bench Award finalist David Banuelos exploded out of the crouch and uncorked a perfect throw to third base that beat the runner. The strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play ended the inning and the SDSU threat.
“I was just trying to make sure I took care of the baseball first,” Banuelos said. “Once I did that I was able to get myself in position to make a good throw and that’s what I did.”
The Dirtbags went on to add two insurance runs in the top of the ninth inning after sophomore outfielder Garrett Nelson and junior designated hitter Luke Rasmussen each drove in a run on singles through the infield. That would be the final nail in the Aztecs coffin as LBSU knocked them out of the postseason with the 7-4 victory.
Sophomore second baseman Jarren Duran lead the way offensively going 2-for-5 with two RBIs. Senior first baseman Daniel Jackson also continued his strong playoff performance going 3-for-4 with one run driven in.
LBSU joined Texas as the last two teams standing in the Long Beach Regional with the departures of UCLA (30-27) and now SDSU. The Dirtbags will have to beat the Longhorns twice in order to move onto the next round, the Super Regional.
On the other side of the bracket, Cal State Fullerton (37-21) went 3-0 in the Palo Alto Regional and will await the winner of the Long Beach Regional. If LBSU is to win both games against Texas, they will host the Super Regional and play the Titans on that stage for the first time in history.
The Dirtbags will send sophomore Tyler Radcliffe (1-0, 3.50 ERA, 18.0 IP) who makes his first collegiate career start for LBSU. He will be countered by Texas junior Kyle Johnston. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.
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