Something about Calvin Estrada’s body language as he tracked an otherwise routine fly ball to left in a Tuesday night game against University of San Diego didn’t feel right. He took tentative steps toward foul ground with his glove above his head as the ball bounced off the glove and allowed a run to score in the defensively abysmal second inning of the Dirtbags 4-0 loss in their home opener.
“We just gotta be more aggressive at the plate,” sophomore catcher Chris Jimenez said.
Long Beach State is now 0-4 to start the season.
The second inning exploited the liability that is the Dirtbags’ defense. With a runner on first, the Toreros’ Shane McGuire hit a hopper over third base that freshman third baseman Kaden Hogan misplayed. Hogan took a first step in the wrong direction as the ball rolled into the outfield. The error left Toreros at second and third with no outs.
Then Estrada’s error scored a run. Pinch Hitter Preston Miller grounded into a fielder’s choice, scoring McGuire from third putting the Dirtbags in a 2-0 deficit.
“I just gotta throw strikes, hopefully the defense picks me up after those errors,” pitcher Basilio Pacheco said.
A ground ball to first could have ended the inning. Instead, Pacheco failed to step on the bag after receiving the ball, resulting in the Dirtbags’ third error of the second inning. With two runners in scoring position, Torero shortstop Cody Jefferis snapped a 2-RBI opposite field line drive to left center. When the dust cleared on the inning, the Dirtbags had allowed four runs, none of them earned.
Long Beach State did not threaten until the bottom of the ninth when a hit batter, a single and a walk loaded the bases with nobody out against relief pitcher Travis Kuhn. First baseman Dominic Campeau, senior designated hitter Luke Rasmussen and second baseman Tyler Porter all struck out, leaving the runners stranded.
“It’s not that difficult, but we are really choke-holding ourselves when runners are in scoring position. We’re not good and that’s more mental than it is physical,” Buckley said.
For his part, Pacheco held his own, going five innings with four strikeouts and one walk while allowing no earned runs on five hits. The lefty also showed off a deceptive pickoff move to first base as he caught two runners attempting to steal before the pitch.
“We’re grinding and tugging at 91 pitches through five [innings], getting in deep counts, we’re missing [in 2-0 counts], we’re getting back into counts; things like that, but it’s just not very good. It’s not where it needs to be,” Buckley said.
Pacheco was indeed outdone by his right handed counterpart. Jake Miller pitched seven innings of three hit ball allowing no runs. The freshman from Newbury Park did not display overpowering stuff, but was exceptionally accurate striking out four Dirtbags without walking a batter.
John Sheaks is expected to return from Tommy John Surgery and make his season debut Sunday against Nevada. He is slated to pitch two innings.
The Dirtbags will continue the homestand 6 p.m. Friday against Nevada at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field.