No. 17 Long Beach State overcame a lackluster performance Saturday, managing to defeat Xavier 3-1 at Blair Field.
“We still have a lot of work to do to improve and get better,” Dirtbags head coach Eric Valenzuela said.
Despite the win, Long Beach (10-4) fell below its offensive, defensive and pitching standards Saturday.
Dirtbags sophomore LHP Alfredo Ruiz had his shortest outing of the season, lacking the fastball velocity and confident body language he’s shown in prior starts.
“I struggled every single inning,” Ruiz said. “I didn’t command the fastball. I didn’t command the changeup. Luckily I had the third pitch to fall back on.”
Ruiz (3-1) did show improvement with his slider against the Musketeers (4-9), using it for three key strikeouts in the first three innings with the horizontal movement on the pitch noticeable from the stands.
“I just gotta trust [the slider],” Ruiz said. “I used it a lot to the lefty batters when I had them 0-2 or 1-2 [in the count], and then a couple [of] times to get ahead just to mix it up a little bit.”
Ruiz went five innings with seven strikeouts, allowing one run on four hits and a walk.
The defense faltered behind Ruiz, committing three errors in the first four innings. Ruiz would have gotten out of a bases-loaded jam in the third if not for a throwing error by junior third baseman Santino Rivera, allowing a run to score, tying the game 1-1 and quieting the crowd.
The defense has been an Achilles’ heel for the Dirtbags, who have committed 22 errors in just 14 games this season and five so far in the series.
The error eliminated the lead provided by Dirtbags senior second baseman Riki DeSa, who tallied his second RBI of the series in the second inning. Desa also committed an error Saturday.
“Riki had a big hit there,” Valenzuela said. “He also threw a nice easy ball away.”
DeSa has had few starting opportunities, but has made the most of his chances. He is second on the team with seven RBIs this season, despite having fewer than 25 at-bats.
After the Dirtbags were helped by back-to-back walks to start the fifth inning, redshirt senior right fielder Clavin Estrada took advantage, lining an RBI single into center. Long Beach added another run in the inning for a 3-1 lead.
“We’re pretty good with guys on base and no outs,” Estrada said. “It’s almost an automatic run.”
Both offenses stalled for the remainder of the game, as Dirtbags senior RHP Tyler Gums entered in the ninth inning, earning his first career save.
“When you’re ranked, you’re the hunted,” Valenzuela said. “You’re the guy that teams want to come out and play their best baseball against.”
Long Beach will attempt the sweep against Xavier Sunday, March 8 at 3 p.m. at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field.