Baseball, Men's Sports, Sports

Dirtbags snap 10-game losing streak against UC Irvine

Nearly three weeks ago, on April 9, the Long Beach State Dirtbags’ offense exploded to score 28 runs in a blowout contest against Cal Poly SLO. The win put the Dirtbags’ conference record at a solid 5-6. Since then the team had been mired in a 10-game losing streak, the longest since 2019.

The offense struggled, scoring more than three runs only once during that streak, while the pitching collapsed, giving up eight or more runs five times. The streak has sent the Dirtbags, who were picked to win the Big West Conference, to the cellar of the division at eighth place.

“These last two weeks have not been fun,” head coach Eric Valenzuela said. “This team has high expectations and we want to win all the time. That’s what has made these last few weeks so tough, we aren’t meeting our expectations.”

With the team at one of its lowest points all season, a glimmer of hope shined through at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field Friday night as the Dirtbags’ pitching clicked and offense woke up, resulting in a 6-2 win over fourth-place UC Irvine.

“The win obviously takes some weight off our shoulder,” Valenzuela said. “We got to come out and do the same thing and have energy and enthusiasm. We have to play good defense and pitch and execute offensively, then hopefully this happens more.”

The Dirtbags played small ball early in the game. Eddie Saldivar led off with a single that snuck through the middle of the infield. Sebastian Murillo and Rocco Peppi followed up with two bunt-singles to load the bases with no outs. Chase Lutrell drove in Saldivar on a sacrifice fly to give the Dirtbags an early 1-0 lead.

Rocco Peppi squaring up for a bunt
Rocco Peppi squaring up for a bunt Photo credit: Matthew Brown

The Dirtbags were able to load the bases in the bottom of the third when Rocco Peppi scored on a wild pitch to extend the lead 2-0. The Dirtbags were unable to score any more in the inning.

Jonathan Carlos was given the spot start in place of Luis Ramirez, who is dealing with a sore elbow. Carlos had a career night Friday, pitching a career-high in innings with 3.2 while striking out nine Anteaters. His previous record for strikeouts in a game was four.

“Jonathan was simply awesome for us, no other way to put it,” catcher Connor Burns said. “The tempo he set for us was huge. I think that’s what we needed after that losing streak was just somebody to go out there and shove, and he did that.”

Carlos was cruising throughout the game and held UCI off the scoreboard until the top of the fourth inning when fatigue started to set in.

Carlos loaded the bases with two outs and tried to battle back to keep Irvine scoreless. However, a walk and a hit by pitch tied the game 2-2 and ended Carlos’s night. Reliever Jack Noble came in and was able to get the next batter to ground out to stop the bleeding.

Shortstop Sebastian Murillo running to third base
Shortstop Sebastian Murillo running to third base Photo credit: Matthew Brown

“Jonathan competed his butt off for us tonight,” Valenzuela said. “ During our struggles, we’ve given up a lot of runs early. So, for him to give us those three zeros right early on did a lot for us.”

Shortstop Sebastian Murillo led off the bottom of the fifth with a double, and first baseman Jonathan Long brought him in with a double of his own to give the Dirtbag’s a 3-2 lead.

From there, the offense kept tacking on, trying to put the game away from good. Burns hit a two-run homer to left-center field, his first of the year, to put Long Beach up 5-2. Chase Lutrell followed that up the next inning, crushing a solo homer over right field that disappeared into the night sky, putting the Dirtbags up 6-2.

“I wasn’t thinking about trying to hit a homer there,” Burns said. “I was trying to get out in front of the sinker and perform for my team.”

The duo of Noble and Matt Fields combined for 5.1 innings of scoreless baseball, securing the Dirtbags’ first win in 20 days.

Burns credits the win to the strong mentality of the team, especially in the past couple of days.

“The last couple of days in practice we just started seeing a little bit more of ownership with each other,” Burns said. “Our coaches this week let us kind of like establish ourselves in who we’re playing, and how to take ownership for ourselves and realize what we need to do.”

Eddie Saldivar (right) and Rocco Peppi getting warm-up swings in
Eddie Saldivar (right) and Rocco Peppi getting warm-up swings in Photo credit: Matthew Brown

The Dirtbags will look to carry the momentum in the second game of the series on Saturday at 3 p.m. Marques Johnson will start for Long Beach.

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