Baseball, Men's Sports, Sports

Dirtbags head into conference play with win over No. 23 Connecticut

Zach Voelker and the Dirtbags held No. 23 Connecticut scoreless through eight innings Wednesday night at Blair Field for a blowout win of 7-1.

The Dirtbags drew 13 walks in the game, breaking the record of 12 set back in 2002.

Tonight’s victory put the Dirtbags back above .500 again as their record improves to 8-7 with Big West Conference play looming ahead this weekend.

“We feel much better with how we’re playing,” head coach Eric Valenzuela said. “During our losing streak we battled, but we just weren’t playing great. Now I feel like we’re still not playing great, but we’re playing good baseball.”

Freshman Eddie Saldivar leading off first base.
Freshman Eddie Saldivar leading off first base. Photo credit: Matthew Brown

Voelker took the mound for the Dirtbags. It was his second career start after coming off an impressive outing against Pepperdine last Tuesday where he pitched four scoreless innings and only allowed three runners to reach base.

“My fastball and cutter were working for me today,” Voelker said. “Getting ahead of batters early in the count and executing pitches was the key for me tonight.”

Voelker set new career highs in innings pitched and strikeouts with seven throughout the night. The only base runner he allowed was a two-out walk in the bottom of the fifth. Voelker attributes his success to his relationship with his catcher, Connor Burns.

“[Connor] is the best catcher I’ve ever thrown to,” Voelker said. “He steals so many strikes for us every game. He’s just the best.”

Voelker pitching against a Huskies batter
Voelker pitching against a Huskies batter Photo credit: Matthew Brown

The Dirtbags wasted no time on offense against Huskies starter Hector Alejandro.

In the bottom of the first, Chase Lutrell led off with a double. Eddie Saldivar singled and stole second to put runners on second and third for first-baseman Johnny Long. Long smoked a ball back up the middle, putting Long Beach up 2-0.

Long Beach knocked out Alejandro in the bottom of the second after he walked the first two batters. The Dirtbags were able to tack on one more run in the inning thanks to a fielder’s choice groundout by Saldivar.

The Dirtbags had the bases loaded in the third inning but were unable to come up with any runs. It wasn’t until the bottom of the fifth that Long Beach’s offense started to break things open.

Long Beach loaded the bases once again with one out. Luttrell grounded the ball to Connecticut’s second baseman, but he booted it, allowing a home run and kept the bases loaded. Rocco Peppi hit a bloop single into left field to bring two runners home and made the score 6-0.

After the long offensive bottom of the fifth, Voelker came out for the top of the sixth. The long wait was noticeable as his velocity had dropped a few miles per hour. However, Voelker managed to battle to strike out two and keep the Huskies out of the hit column.

“I had to stretch out to keep myself loose during those long innings,” Voelker said. “But I was able to stay locked in and come back out.”

Chase Luttrell leading off second base. Luttrell got things started for the offense with a leadoff double in the bottom of the first
Chase Luttrell leading off second base. Luttrell got things started for the offense with a leadoff double in the bottom of the first Photo credit: Matthew Brown

The Dirtbags were able to get an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth thanks to an RBI single by Tanner Carlson.

“We’re taking much better at-bats,” Valenzuela said. “We are having more patient at-bats, we’re walking more. We’re good hits in RBI situations.”

Marques Johnson took over on the mound for the Dirtbags and gave up a leadoff single, ending the no-hit bid. However, Johnson was able to sit down the next three batters and keep Connecticut off the board.

The trio of Johnson, Kaden Moeller, and Dalton Ponce was able to close out the win, only giving up one unearned run in the top of the ninth.

“We have a lot of momentum now after two back-to-back weekend series wins, and now two mid-week wins,” Voelker said. “We are in a good place now.”

The Dirtbags will play in its first conference series this weekend at home against Hawaii. The first game is Friday at 6 p.m. The game will be streamed on ESPN+ or follow @D49erSports on Twitter for live updates.

“We got to continue playing good baseball like we have been these past few games,” Valenzuela said. “Whether you had a good nonconference or not, the start of conference play means your record is basically 0-0. If we continue to grow get better and do the things that we’re doing, we can be scary.”

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