The Long Beach State Dirtbags are trying to make things difficult for the NCAA Baseball selection committee this weekend.
LBSU (27-15, 25-14) swept its doubleheader with visiting UC Davis at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field on Saturday to win its fifth consecutive game and 14th in the last 16 games. That puts the Dirtbags squarely on the bubble for the NCAA postseason.
“If you compare I think we’re in ahead of a lot of those teams,” Dirtbags coach Eric Valenzuela said of other conferences like the Big Ten. “Especially what we’ve done the last 15 games which is very important to the committee. When it comes down to the at-large bids they want the best teams to get in there. I think we’ve been every bit of that.”
The Dirtbags are third in the Big West Conference standings behind UC Irvine and IC Santa Barbara and are most recently No. 86 in the RPI rankings. LBSU hasn’t dropped a weekend series since the season opener in Hawaii.
“It’s been a lot of consecutive weeks of good baseball,” senior Cole Joy said. “We didn’t start off well but we didn’t quit or make any excuses. We’re just playing good baseball and we’re excited about it.”
The seniors will be honored before the regular season finale today at 1 p.m. and there will be a moment of silence before the game in honor of former Dirtbags coach John Gonsalves, who passed away this weekend at the age of 79. He was at LBSU for two decades starting in 1969 and is an LBSU Athletics Hall of Famer. Gonsalves’ 460 career wins are the second-most in program history.
“From day one he was a huge supporter and believer in what we’re about,” Valenzuela said. “I was able to have great meetings, breakfasts and lunches with him when I got the job. I learned a lot from him and learned a lot about this program and the history. He was one of our mentors to one of our players, Isaac Ramirez. It’s sad to see him go. We’re not only going to play for the seniors (Sunday) but we’ll definitely play for him.”
The Dirtbags looked good on Saturday while beating UC Davis 7-1 and 7-4 in the doubleheader. Alfredo Ruiz only gave up the one run while pitching 6.2 innings of the first game, and although the Aggies took the lead again in the second game, Tanner Carlson, Clavin Estrada, Chase Luttrell and others came up with big hits to get LBSU the win. Estrada went 5-for-8 at the plate with a homer, and three RBI on Saturday.
“It’s the end of the season and we’re just giving it everything we’ve got,” Luttrell said. “There’s been the spark the past couple of seasons. We’re playing well as a team and when it’s rolling it’s rolling.”
“They know what’s on the line but more than anything I think they’re enjoying playing good baseball,” Valenzuela said. “It just took us a little while to get where we wanted to be and where we knew we could be. We’ve said ‘backs against the wall’ for months already and every time we’ve challenged them they’ve come through. This weekend I didn’t even mention the challenge.”
Joy, Estrada and a handful of other seniors could be playing their last games at home today, and Joy said that’s not lost on them.
“I’m excited and it’s been a long journey,” Joy said. “I just love to be out here with these guys one more time and we’ll see what happens when regionals come around.”
“He’s been through so much from the first day we got here and he didn’t think he could play anymore (because of injury) to starting arguably the most important game of the year on Saturday,” Valenzuela said of Joy, who also had a highlight throw to cut down a would be base stealer on Saturday. “He plays up to the challenge and we love to have him in there. He doesn’t talk very often but when he does (his teammates) listen. It’s nice to have that presence.”
The NCAA Selection Show is Monday morning.