The Long Beach State Dirtbags have been both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this season. They’ve played one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the nation while dealing with a rash of injuries, and the results have been mixed.
The Dirtbags (11-18) have quality wins over No. 3 Ole Miss and No. 15 Vanderbilt, but they’ve yet to win three consecutive games. Last weekend, they scored 24 runs in their first game at Fresno State, and then went on to lose the series to the Bulldogs.
LBSU starts the Big West Conference schedule this weekend against UC Irvine at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field. Here are the five things you need to know before the second half of the season starts.
Losing staff ace John Sheaks seven days before the season opener turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of dealing with injuries. Starting shortstop Laine Huffman also has missed the majority of the season with a shoulder injury. At one point last month, the Dirtbags were playing with 2/5 of its projected starting infield.
“We’re trying to continue reinventing ourselves and create an identity with what we have,” LBSU coach Troy Buckley said. “Sometimes it’s interesting, and sometimes it’s head shaking.”
Freshmen Santino Rivera and junior Shaq Robinson have tried to fill in the holes on the left side of the infield, but Rivera is hitting .179 and Robinson is hitting .224.
LBSU has played three of the eight 2017 College World Series participants, and its seven nonconference weekend opponents have won 67% of their games.
“We did this to ourselves, and now we have to use it to our advantage,” Buckley said. “I want (this team) to be looking forward to every new opportunity.”
Big West Woes
The Dirtbags aren’t the only Big West teams to play some of the nation’s best this season. UCI and Cal State Fullerton join LBSU in the top 120 RPI this week. Those games have also taken a toll on the conference. The nine teams in the Big West have started the season 105-121. Hawaii has the best overall record at 16-10.
“I don’t think anybody in our conference right now is looking at an at-large NCAA bid,” Buckley said. “On paper, it’s not a good conference right now. That could change, but right now everything is wide open for everybody.”
Junior transfer Clayton Andrews (pictured) has been the most valuable player on both sides of the ball. The center fielder has a team-high .303 batting average, and he leads the Big West with eight stolen bases. As a weekend starting pitcher he has a 3.16 ERA, which is the best among the starting pitchers.
“He’s given us our best at bats and he’s extremely valuable on the mound,” Buckley said. “We were looking for a defensive center fielder, I think he’s probably exceeded the expectations of the quality of at bats. Arguably, he’s been our most consistent pitcher.”
Last weekend at Fresno State, Andrews was a tough-luck loser after striking out a career-high 11 batters in six innings while allowing two hits. He finished the weekend with four hits, five RBIs, four runs scored, three walks and only one strikeout.
When asked what he wants to see from his team during the conference schedule, Buckley said it is about mindset.
“I want to see consistent resolve,” he said. “It has to do with the mental and maturity part of it. We’ve had rough days, but I’d like to see us turn the scoreboard off and as fans you wouldn’t tell body language, exhilaration, frustration or anything. It’s just playing the game.”