After opening the season with a Friday night win over St. Mary’s, Long Beach State dropped its next two games to lose the first series of 2018. The Dirtbags were stifled on offense, hitting .236 over the weekend and being held to only two hits in Sunday’s 4-1 loss.
St. Mary’s lineup carried them in the rubber match, collecting nine hits against Long Beach pitchers.
Long Beach (1-2) senior shortstop Laine Huffman led off the bottom of the second inning with a solo home run off St. Mary’s sophomore starting pitcher Ken Waldichuk. The shot came on a fastball that Huffman was able to jump all over and send just over the wall in left field.
“I was leading off the inning so I was trying to have a quality at bat and just hit the ball hard,” Huffman said.
The Dirtbags went on to record only one more hit in the game, in what was a tough day at the plate.
“I just thought the approach was not very good,” Long Beach head coach Troy Buckley said. “That was the most alarming and the most apparent thing I noticed watching the [offense] today.”
Junior Clayton Andrews made his first start of the season on the mound, after starting both games one and two in centerfield and at the top of the Long Beach order. The outing was highly anticipated, as players who can hit, play the field and pitch are few and far between at the college level.
The Gaels (2-1) opened the scoring against Dirtbags’ Andrews in the top of the fifth inning after two hits brought home two runs. The Gaels executed a squeeze play after senior left fielder Brett Rasso dropped down a bunt, allowing junior third baseman Dylan Robertson to score without a play.
Andrews faced trouble again the following inning, when St. Mary’s loaded the bases with two singles and a walk. With one out, pitching coach Dan Ricabal held conference with Andrews and the infield at the pitchers mound. The next batter was Robertson, who hit a sharp ground ball to Long Beach second baseman Jarren Duran and induced an inning ending double play.
“We wanted to slow the game down a little bit in that spot,” Ricabal said. “The main message was to talk about how to attack that hitter and Andrews was able to execute the pitches and get the double play ball we talked about in the meeting.”
Andrews’ first pitching performance for Long Beach resulted in six innings, while giving up seven hits, two earned runs and striking out six.
“He kept us in the game,” Buckley said. “That’s what a starting pitcher needs to do…I thought he did a good job but today, two runs felt like nine.”
St. Mary’s tacked on two more runs in the top of the seventh against sophomore relief pitcher Dylan Spacke to extend its lead to 4-1, where the score would stand after Dirtbags hitters went 0-for-16 to end the game.
“I think we are a lot better team offensively than what we showed today,” Buckley said.
The Gaels made a big statement coming onto Blair Field opening weekend and coming back from a blown lead in the seventh inning of Friday’s game to salvage the series.
“To come back against a very good club showed a lot of resiliency and I’m proud of them,” said St. Mary’s head coach Eric Valenzuela. “It was good to get two [wins] out of a tough place with a [NCAA] regional environment.”
Sophomore starting pitcher Zak Baayoun had the performance of the weekend after throwing seven innings and striking out 12 batters to help Long Beach to its lone win of the weekend Friday. The Dirtbags also collected 13 hits for a crowd of 2,468, most of which stayed for the post game fireworks following the victory.
Sophomore Eli Villalobos didn’t fare as well on Saturday, with a stat line of 2.1 IP, 5 H, 5 ER, and 3 K.
“We’ve got work to do,” Ricabal said. “Baayoun gave us a good outing on Friday…Eli [Villalobos] had a short stint on Saturday, but I thought Andrews handled today pretty well.”
Looking ahead, Long Beach will host USC at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Blair Field.