The Long Beach State Dirtbags are playing their best baseball of the year.
LBSU beat Cal State Bakersfield 5-1 in Big West Conference action on Friday night at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field. It is the sixth consecutive win for the Dirtbags. Coach Eric Valenzuela, pitcher Johnathan Lavallee and third baseman Tanner Carlson all said that good practices and repetition has been key to the turnaround.
“We’re just committed every day to get better,” Carlson said. “Every game we’re getting a little bit more comfortable in doing what we’re supposed to do. Obviously it’s showing in the offense.”
Carlson led the Dirtbags (19-13, 17-12) with two hits, two runs scored and an RBI.
“It’s repetition and being able to get the job done, but seeing it happen and seeing success just gets everything rolling and makes it easier for everyone,” Carlson added.
The same is true for Lavallee who has pitched himself into the Friday night starting role. The junior scattered four hits over eight innings while striking out 12 batters. He struck out a season-high 13 batters at UC Riverside last weekend.
“Two weeks ago I went back to basics in the bullpen,” Lavallee said. “It’s just hitting spots. The approach today was to keep it simple and pitch with a chip on your shoulder.”
Bakersfield (18-14, 15-10) was coming off a weekend in which it hit over .300 as a team, but didn’t score until the eighth inning off Lavallee. The righty improved to 6-1 on the season.
“He just gets better and better every week,” Valenzuela said. “When you go though those wars with good teams… when you’re battle tested that helps. I’m proud of him.”
LBSU gave Lavallee a lead in the first inning, and then scored again in the third, fourth and sixth innings. The Dirtbags finished with seven hits and four drawn walks.
“Knowing that we have an explosive offense makes you so much more comfortable,” Lavallee said. “Being able to trust them and play nine-on-one baseball makes pitching so much easier.”
Center fielder Connor Kokx had two hits, an RBI and a run scored in the leadoff spot for the Dirtbags. Right fielder Clavin Estrada also had an RBI.
The Dirtbags currently sit in fourth place in the Big West. In terms of winning percentage, they are behind Bakersfield, UC Santa Barbara (30-16, 21-11) and UC Irvine (30-15, 22-7) in the standings. Valenzuela still thinks his team has a chance to be in the running for an NCAA at-large bid with 11 games left in the regular season.
“We don’t know what the NCAA Committee is going to do,” Valenzuela said. “Is it just going to go off RPI? Are they going to look at teams like us and the Big 10 different? If we finish second, if we go on a run these last couple weeks… and they look at the at-large teams and they look at ours, how could they not (take us) because to me we’re an NCAA Regional caliber team, 100 percent.”
The Saturday doubleheader between LBSU and Bakersfield is scheduled to start at 12 p.m.