Baseball, Men's Sports, Sports

Dirtbags vs. Titans in a renewed rivalry

Resiliency was the theme of Long Beach State’s NCAA Regional performance, playing five games in 36 hours and winning the final three in do-or-die fashion. The Dirtbags’ true toughness was tested, but they proved that they can come out on top even with their backs against the wall.

“When you’re fatigued and have to play three games in 24 hours, that’s tough on your body,” head coach Troy Buckley said. “These guys just showed they can get through those type of things.”

Now LBSU (41-18-1) looks ahead to this weekend’s Super Regional when their arch-rivals, Cal State Fullerton (37-21), will come to Blair Field for a three game series with a trip to the College World Series on the line.

“We’ll now have played them at least eight times this year,” Buckley said. “At this point, it’s kind of like playing yourself. This place will be electric.”

For the fourth consecutive year, the Big West Conference will have a representative in Omaha, Nebraska. Whether it is Fullerton’s second trip in three years or LBSU’s first appearance since 1998, the BWC has certainly made a case that there is good baseball being played out West.

The two teams open competition on Friday at 3 p.m. PT and then Saturday at 12 p.m. PT with the third game schedule at the same time if necessary.

Hot starts

The Dirtbags’ starting rotation was very impressive in the Regional. Lead by senior Dave Smith (1-0, 13.0 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 3 Ks), the four starting pitchers had a combined WHIP of 0.90 over the weekend.

Senior pitcher Dave Smith pitched four innings and gave up one hit on two days rest Monday night against Texas.

Smith threw a complete game shutout against San Diego State on June 2 in the Regional opener and then came back on just two days rest to pitch the first four innings of the championship game against Texas. Smith finished the season third in the nation in ERA and first in the Big West before his 13 scoreless innings in the Regional. He is currently riding a streak of 20.1 innings, where his is yet to yield a run that dates back to May 21.

Junior ace Darren McCaughan had a tough time in game two of the Regional, when Texas beat the Dirtbags 4-3 in extra innings. He allowed two home runs over seven innings and threw 97 pitches. Though he did not struggle, McCaughan didn’t quite look like the Big West Pitcher of the Year we saw in the regular season.

Junior starter John Sheaks has been a bit of a question mark lately as well. He did, however, pick up a win in an elimination game against SDSU on June 4 (6.0 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 5 Ks)  that kept LBSU’s season alive. The 6-foot-4 right hander made a mechanical adjustment halfway through the season that saw immediate results, but he has struggled in the last month of the season.

The spark plug

Sophomore second baseman and leadoff hitter Jarren Duran was spectacular over the weekend, collecting nine hits, driving in six and scoring three runs. He was the catalyst at the top of the order and seemed to be involved in almost every run LBSU scored in their five games. The young lefty hitter from Buena Park is on a tear right now and even started trending on Twitter during Monday night’s championship game.

If the Dirtbags spark plug can find his way on base like he did in the Regional (.476 OBP), he can prove to be a major headache for CSUF with a total of 18 stolen bases in 2017.

Veteran leader

Senior first basemen Daniel Jackson contributed to the hitting for the Dirtbags hitting a double Monday night.

With it being the first time since 2004 that LBSU has reached the Super Regionals, it is very uncharted territory for this team.

Senior first baseman Daniel Jackson has been the anchor of this ball club and while the numbers haven’t been as pretty in 2017, there is no question that the rest of the Dirtbags look to him as the emotional foundation.

Jackson has been to the postseason three of his four years at LBSU and will look to draw on those big moments to lead the Dirtbags against CSUF this weekend.

The bullpen

Though he started the elimination game against Texas on June 4 and threw five scoreless innings while striking out seven, sophomore pitcher Tyler Radcliffe will most likely be limited to bullpen duties in the Super Regional. He stepped up in a huge spot when LBSU needed him to eat up some innings and keep them alive. Radcliffe will be a very nice option to turn to if any of the three starters run into any early trouble against the Titans.

Freshman left hander Zak Baayoun got the win in relief role striking out two batters in one inning.

Freshman left handed pitcher Zak Baayoun made his case for tournament MVP (if there was one) after making four appearances in the five games LBSU played. He struck out six batters over 3.2 innings and only allowed one run out of the bullpen. The performance was well beyond the freshman’s years as he has been a huge piece of the Dirtbags’ success in the last half of the season.

Titan like pitching

CSUF’s greatest strength coming into the Super Regional is their starting pitching. Junior ace Connor Seabold has been projected to be drafted in the first two rounds of the MLB Draft and is coming off of a complete game against LBSU when he struck out 11 in his final start of the regular season. He also pitched well in the Titan’s Regional opener against BYU when he only allowed two runs over eight innings and struck out eight.

Junior left hander John Gavin has been the Titan’s second day starter and finished the regular season 7-2 with a 2.93 ERA. Gavin was the winner of CSUF’s first game against Stanford in their regional and threw seven innings allowing one run and striking out 10.

The Titan’s rotation is rounded out by sophomore Colton Eastman who made his return from Tommy John surgery this season. With the most electric stuff out of the three, he has been the key to completing CSUF’s starting pitching and finished 2017 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA, striking out 29 batters in 26 innings pitched.

These three weapons that head coach Rick Vanderhook has at his disposal were a winning combination as the Titans advanced through the Stanford Regional 3-0.

Recent history

LSBU was 5-1 against CSUF in the regular season, the first time the Dirtbags have won five games in the rivalry ever. The Titans last came to Blair Field March 24-26 in a non-conference series in which LBSU swept. This happened to be the turning point of their season after entering the series with a 10-9 record and ending the season 26-9-1 after.

Sophomore pinch hitter Domenic Colacchio celebrates after his walk-off single on March 26 sealed the Dirtbags’ series sweep over CSUF.

The two teams wrapped up the Big West Conference season with a three game set at Goodwin Field in Fullerton. Seabold lead the Titans to a win in the opener but the Dirtbags were able to pull out the final two games, both very exciting 1-run victories. It was a very high note to end the season on and gave LBSU all the momentum they needed to advance through the Long Beach Regional the next week.

Now, two giants of southern California college baseball clash in a best of three series at Blair Field. Game one’s probable starters are Seabold (11-4, 2.91 ERA) and McCaughan (8-2, 2.65 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Friday and can be seen on ESPN2.

Follow @LuuuukerSports on Twitter for live game tweets and other Dirtbags’ news.

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