Long Beach State

COLUMN: LBSU Dirtbags Should Relish Rivalry

I hate Fullerton.

It is a sad, land-locked concrete jungle with delusions of seaside grandeur that thinks a few bars on the same street deserves to be called “downtown” unlike any other city ever.

The arboretum is nice though.

Many other Long Beach State alums correctly feel the same way. That is what having a rival is all about. That is what made Cal State Fullerton beating Long Beach State Dirtbags in the 2017 NCAA Super Regional all the more epic, and that shared hate continues to feed the Big West Conference’s premier rivalry.

Unfortunately for LBSU fans, the Dirtbags won’t be making a fourth NCAA postseason appearance in the last five years because Fullerton clinched the Big West Conference title last weekend. However, that doesn’t mean the last three games of the regular season between the Dirtbags and Titans at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field this weekend are meaningless.

All things considered, I think these are the three most important games of this or any Dirtbags season. Rivalries set the tone, and it’s fair to say the Dirtbags have been mostly tone-deaf this year.

The 2018 campaign will be remembered for the devastating injuries and missed opportunities. It all comes after one of their most successful 12-month spans in Dirtbags program history. Starting last May, LBSU won the outright Big West title for the first time since 2003, hosted an NCAA Super Regional for the first time since 2004, and took home a program-record 12 year-end conference awards. Also, the 15 former players on Major League Baseball rosters gave LBSU the most alumni in the big leagues for the eighth consecutive season while Blair Field got much needed upgrades thanks to gracious donations from Troy Tulowitzki, Jered Weaver and longtime booster Marilyn Bohl.

“Everyone was very proud, top to bottom,” Buckley said before this season. “You still feel that. But it’s hard to stay relevant.”

That quote is eerily accurate for LBSU and the Big West. After sending a representative to four consecutive College World Series, the Big West has three teams above .500 and will only send first-place Fullerton to an NCAA Regional as the automatic qualifier.

Even in an odd season like this one, the Big West baseball title still goes though Fullerton. So with the 2018 season already decided this weekend’s series in Long Beach is about the big picture.

LBSU beat Fullerton six times in nine games last season, and Dirtbags coach Troy Buckley reiterated that fact while trying to put the season in perspective after losing to the Titans in the NCAA Super Regional last June.

“They happened to win a weekend series at the right time and we give (Fullerton) credit for it,” Buckley said. “As far as the rivalry and all of that, I think we’ve done our job to getting back to being competitive. It was not that way in 2009. It is that way now.”

The Dirtbags have to look competitive this weekend for that to hold true. These games are as much about the way LBSU attacks the offseason as they are about the final scores on Thursday, Friday or Saturday.

A small handful of current Dirtbags are on the radar for the MLB Draft next month, so most of this team is coming back next season while players like senior Laine Huffman return from injury.

I think it will be a lot easier to survive and thrive in the grindy offseason that Buckley puts his team though if the Dirtbags can once again win the season series with their rivals. LBSU took two out of three at Fullerton in March’s nonconference series.

LBSU has shown improvement all season without its full compliment of talent, and has won eight of its last 10 games. That is also great for the team psyche, but I want to see Buckley mix up the lineup and get extra aggressive on the base paths this weekend. It will give he and his staff more information on his young players, and honestly, what do they have to lose?

Last year, LBSU had to play a series at Fullerton after already clinching the conference title. The same is true this year, and the Dirtbags can use this weekend as a springboard into next season, like the Titans did for the postseason last year.

Bottom line, the Dirtbags need to play this weekend like the season is on the line, even though it isn’t. There is not such thing as rolling over and playing dead in a rivalry. It doesn’t exist, just like downtown Fullerton.


Long Beach State Dirtbags vs. Cal State Fullerton, 5 p.m.

This is the 244th meeting between LBSU and CSUF, and the Titans have won 149 of them. CSUF currently doesn’t have any players leading the Big West in any major statistical category. LBSU starter Zak Baayoun leads the conference with nine wins, and second baseman Jarren Duran leads the Big West with 17 stolen bases. CSUF (3.51) and LBSU (3.71) are the top two teams in ERA and strikeouts.

The series continues at 6 p.m. on Friday, and concludes at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.