It feels like a Hollywood screenwriter has taken over Long Beach State baseball for the last two days.
The struggling Dirtbags (6-26, 1-3) found out head coach Troy Buckley was fired on Thursday afternoon, and then hosted Cal State Northridge in their Big West Conference home opener at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field on Friday night.
LBSU fell behind CSUN early, retook the lead in the fifth inning, lost it again in the top of the ninth inning, and then came back to score twice in the bottom of the ninth for a 6-5 walk-off victory. A two-out RBI single from Dominic Campeau brought in Brooks Stotler for the game-winning run, and set off a cathartic celebration around Campeau that bounced all the way out into left field.
“There was so much emotion going on after the game,” Campeau said. “It felt like a breath of fresh air. We needed this one.”
Interim co-head coaches Greg Bergeron (offense) and Dan Ricabal (pitching) also allowed the Dirtbags to celebrate during the postgame team talk in the same clubhouse where they found out they lost their head coach just one day earlier.
“These guys have been though a lot over the last 24 hours,” Bergeron said. “To give up the lead in the ninth, and then to come back and leave someone on the field for the first Friday night win after everything that’s happened… pretty cool. They deserve that.”
“Nobody expected what went down to go down,” Ricabal said. “We had a good practice yesterday before the news came out. Our guys were prepared to compete, and then all of a sudden it got really difficult. It threw people for a loop, for sure.”
The Dirtbags were called into a clubhouse meeting after Thursday practice where LBSU athletics director Andy Fee told that team that Buckley had been fired.
“No one was expecting it,” LBSU senior Jacob Hughey said. “The first move was digesting it and letting it register in my head. Andy Fee was clear in letting us know it was his decision, and the record had nothing to do with it, and they couldn’t give us more details than that.”
Bergeron and Ricabal decided to delay any type of ‘airing of grievances’ meeting until Friday morning.
“There are guys like myself who have played for the guy for four years,” Hughey said. “You have to sit there and let the feelings out. If you need to talk to someone the whole team is here to back you up. We can’t let outside noise from social media or naysayers get in our heads.”
“We kinda just closed the book on that chapter, and started a new chapter today,” Bergeron said. “They’re a resilient group. They showed that tonight and hopefully that kind of catapults us into playing some better baseball.”
It didn’t look like the Dirtbags were taking the news very well as CSUN took a 3-0 lead with two unearned runs and a solo home run from designated hitter Sean Skelly.
LBSU starter Adam Seminaris limited the damage by scattering seven hits and waking one while striking out six. Junior Tyler Gums pitched 2.2 scoreless innings of relief while striking out three.
The Dirtbags used four bunts in the fifth inning to cause problems for the Matadors defense, and after they loaded the bases with two outs, Hughey delivered a 2 RBI single to the opposite field that capped a four-run inning for a 4-3 lead.
HUGHEY with the stroke to left field to give the Dirtbags their first lead of the night! it is now 4-3! #GoBeach https://t.co/1dODu3Y6lt
CSUN (15-18, 3-4) scored twice with three hits off reliever Josh Sheaks in the top of the ninth inning, but pinch-hitter Chase Luttrell led off the bottom of the ninth with an infield single. After senior Laine Huffman moved him over with a sacrifice bunt, Stotler drove him home with a double down the right field line. Hughey was intentionally walked following a ground out, and that brought Campeau to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in a tie game.
“I got a decent pitch to do something with, I put a good swing on the ball and I let the game take care of the rest,” Campeau said of his walk-off single to right field that set off the celebration. “(The team) was all running after me, I was getting a little scared, but there’s no better feeling than celebrating with the boys.”
Campeau calls ball game! As the Dirtbags come from behind to win this one 6-5! #GoBeach https://t.co/Nai1OSNzlu
“A lot of guys are going though different emotions right now, we all are, and I think the crowd sensed it too,” Bergeron said. “The crowd was big tonight, especially in the ninth inning. It felt like it should, and how it used to be.”
Nine different Dirtbags collected hits, and six different players scored runs. Huffman, who played first base for the first time this season, was the only player with two hits. After beating San Diego on Tuesday, this is the first winning streak of the season of the Dirtbags.
Bergeron and Dan Ricabal, who played college baseball together, said they’re not worried about working in their new roles as co-head coaches.
“It’s a seamless deal,” Bergeron said. “Our beliefs are the same. Like we told the guys, we’re in new positions, they’re in uncharted waters, so we have to lean on each other. We’ll just navigate though it, take the challenges as they come and figure it out.”
“It’s just going to be a different voice,” Ricabal said. “We had a situation tonight where one of our players kind of went in the tank after an at-bat, and we went into a mode where (Bergeron) was going to get on him like we always have. But I told Bergy ‘I’ve got him on this one’ and he heard a different voice. I’m sure Bergy will at some point do the same thing with a pitcher. With our struggles, it’s the same voice saying the same thing about the same mistakes we’ve been making. Now we have an opportunity to work together. That’s a positive.”
The series continues at 6 p.m. on Saturday, and concludes at 1 p.m. on Sunday.