After winning the first two games of the series with stellar pitching, the Dirtbags fell to the Cal Golden Bears 7-5 in a thrilling offensive bout at Blair Field Sunday.
“To the last pitch, we battled to the end,” Dirtbags head coach Eric Valenzuela said.
Cal (1-2) struck first against Dirtbags (2-1) freshman RHP Luis Ramirez, who made his career debut, as junior first baseman Quentin Selma launched a double into deep center field to drive in a run from first. After a walk, Cal junior left fielder John Lagattuta scorched a liner to center, scoring Selma for a 2-0 Golden Bear lead.
“[Ramirez] made some mistakes and they capitalized on them,” Valenzuela said.
Ramirez went 4.1 innings, allowing four runs on eight hits with two walks and three strikeouts.
The Dirtbags jumped on the Golden Bear bullpen who were heading the pitching duties with a committee approach.
In the second inning, Dirtbags redshirt sophomore left fielder Leonard Jones woke up the crowd with a leadoff single before advancing to second on a wild pitch. After Jones advanced to third via groundout, junior shortstop Santino Rivera drove Jones home for one of his three hits. Sophomore third baseman Brennan Rozell would then hit a sacrifice fly, tying the game at 2-2 to with deafening roars from the crowd.
Ramirez continued to struggle as Lagattuta blasted a two-out 2-RBI single in the third inning to give Cal a 4-2 lead.
“[Cal] made an adjustment just hitting the fastball,” Valenzuela said. “With the lefties [in the first two games], they were taking the fastballs. Today they were swinging at them.”
Dirtbags sophomore second baseman Tyler Porter kept the deficit manageable in the fourth inning. With a runner at third, Porter sprinted left towards a dribbler, diving to the ground and firing in time to first to end the inning.
Porter left the game in the bottom of the fourth inning after being hit in the head by a pitch and was replaced by sophomore infielder Kaden Hogan.
In the same inning, Rivera singled through the right side, advancing Hogan to third. Dirtbags redshirt senior catcher Cole Joy bounced a two-hopper up the middle for an RBI fielder’s choice, cutting the deficit to 4-3.
“There’s just no real quit in this team,” Joy said. “Everyone’s up there battling.”
Dirtbags freshman center fielder Connor Kokx kept the rally going, looping an RBI-double into left-center to send Joy home from first to tie the game as fans thumped their seats in celebration.
Dirtbags redshirt senior right fielder Calvin Estrada, who had five hits in the series, sent the crowd into a frenzy in the top of the fifth. After a Cal single to right field, Estrada fired a rope to home plate, gunning down Selma’s attempt to score from second to end the inning and keep the game tied.
“I didn’t even know I had him,” Estrada said. “I just grabbed the ball and threw it as hard as I could.”
Long Beach rallied in the seventh, tallying three consecutive two-out hits capped by Joy’s RBI single up the middle to score sophomore outfielder Chase Luttrell for a 5-4 Dirtbags lead.
In the bottom of the inning, however, Rivera bobbled a cutoff throw of an RBI double for his second error of the game, allowing two runs to score instead of one. Selma continued his hot day, lining an RBI single to the right side to give Cal a 7-5 lead.
The Dirtbags loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth, courtesy of Kokx’s third hit of the day, but were unable to complete the rally as Estrada flied out to center, ending the comeback bid.
“We just had some mistakes and some blunders and they capitalized on it,” Valenzuela said.
The Dirtbags will face Washington Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field.