The energy of the crowd ebbed and flowed as the Dirtbags opened its season with a 3-2 walk-off victory over the Cal Golden Bears in a 13-inning thriller at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field Friday.
“These guys battled tough against a very good club,” Dirtbags head coach Eric Valenzuela said. “I’m just happy we fought back and got this W.”
The win is Valenzuela’s first as head coach of the Dirtbags.
Junior LHP Adam Seminaris commanded the strike zone right out of the gates. He ended the first inning with a powerful fastball strikeout, stranding a runner on third and earning a standing ovation from the crowd.
“I’m just looking to win this year,” Seminaris said. “That’s all that matters.”
Redshirt senior catcher Cole Joy smashed a crowd-pleasing double into center field with one out, but the Dirtbags were unable to cash in as a strikeout and a fielder’s choice left two runners stranded on base.
Cal came right back in the third with back-to-back no-out singles from sophomore catcher Cole Elvis and junior shortstop Hance Smith, sparking nervous chatter in the bleachers. Seminaris turned that chatter into cheers, dealing back-to-back strikeouts followed by a groundout to shut down the scoring opportunity.
Seminaris found his rhythm, retiring 12 consecutive batters between the third and sixth innings, the crowd growing in excitement after each Golden Bear walked back to their dugout. Seminaris pitched six shutout innings, allowing three hits and no walks while dealing a career-high 11 strikeouts. He received a no decision.
“He was throwing all four pitches for strikes, I’m proud of him,” Valenzuela said.
The Dirtbags’ offense was unable to capitalize on Seminaris’ dominance, stranding eight runners on base in the first six innings and recording only two hits through the first five frames.
“I think you’ve got to credit Cal,” Valenzuela said. “They pitched really well tonight.”
Long Beach finally got to the Cal bullpen in the seventh inning. Dirtbags senior right fielder Aiden Malm dribbled a single between first base and the pitcher’s mound, sending senior outfielder Calvin Estrada home from second base as the fans stomped on the bleachers.
After Cal put a runner on second with one out in the top of the eighth, Valenzuela turned to freshman closer Devereaux Harrison to attempt the five-out save. Instead, Golden Bears junior second baseman Darren Baker crushed a two-out line-drive into center field past Estrada’s diving effort for an RBI triple that tied the game, 1-1.
The Dirtbags offense sputtered once again, sending the game into extra innings and Cal looked to take advantage in the top of the 10th. Elvis led off the inning with a double for his third hit of the game. A walk and a single loaded the bases for the Golden Bears with no outs.
Harrison was able to work out of the jam. He struck out two consecutive batters, followed by an incredible heads-up throw by Joy to first after the second strikeout, picking off the runner gambling with a lead-off at first to end the inning to a thunderous ovation.
“[Joy has] so much experience,” Valenzuela said. “It was a slider on the outside of the plate and [Joy] just kind of dove and did it and we just back-picked him. I mean, what a good play.”
Long Beach earned the next hit of the game, when junior third baseman Santino Rivera lined a single to center in the bottom of the 11th. A balk by Cal freshman pitcher Joseph King advanced Rivera to second base, much to the delight of the Long Beach faithful.
Hughey looked at the first two pitches as the fans sat quietly in anticipation. Hughey swung at the 2-2 pitch, tipping it into the catcher’s glove for the inning-ending strikeout as the crowd grew impatient.
It was only a matter of time before the Dirtbags would have to pay for its inability to bring runners home. With two outs in the top of the 13th, a passed ball by Dirtbags junior catcher Thomas Greely scored Baker from third, giving the Golden Bears a 2-1 lead.
The Dirtbags would not go down easily however, as Estrada laced a double down the right field line, scoring sophomore third baseman Tanner Carlson from first, tying the game 2-2. Hughey once again was asked to answer the call, and this time made solid contact, singling down the left field line, sending Estrada around third to home plate for the walk-off victory.
“When they brought their left [handed pitcher] in we didn’t even think about pinch hitting for [Hughey],” Valenzuela said. “That’s our guy. I’m just so pumped, he deserves it.”
The Dirtbags face the Golden Bears in game two of the series Saturday at 3 p.m. at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field.