The562’s coverage of Dirtbags Baseball for the 2022 season is sponsored by P2S, Inc. Visit p2sinc.com to learn more.
Only six games into the 2022 season and it’s already been quite a roller coaster ride for the Dirtbags. After winning a series on the road against defending national champion Mississippi State, the Dirtbags came crashing down to earth this weekend suffering a three-game sweep at the hands of Sacramento State.
The Hornets delivered the most crushing blow of the weekend on Sunday afternoon, battling back from an early 4-0 deficit with five runs in the last three innings to come away with a 5-4 victory. All three of Sac State’s wins were of the one-run variety, leaving Long Beach State on the short end of a frustrating weekend.
“This was a very emotional, physical, grueling weekend,” said Dirtbags head coach Eric Valenzuela. “Three one-run ballgames, the home runs late, it was the same thing all three games. But we’ve got to stay together. It’s tough because you go from such a high last weekend to this this weekend, and it can only make us better and that’s how we have to look at it. Sac State played as good of baseball as you can play all three games, and they deserved to win.”
LBSU got off to its best start of the weekend, staking starter Juaron Watts-Brown to an early lead thanks to a four-run second inning. After three infield singles, Tanner Carlson ripped a two-run double into left center, then leadoff man Eddie Saldivar pulled another two-run base hit through the right side.
The Dirtbags take the lead! Tanner Carlson delivers a 2-out, bases-loaded double to score Alex Pimentel & Jonathon Long. @LBDirtbags up 2-0 in the 2nd and still threatening. pic.twitter.com/VPGUamjYHS
— The562.org (@562sports) February 27, 2022
The two-out rally was a needed lift for the offense, but it was all the scoring the Dirtbags could muster on an overall frustrating day at the plate. LBSU collected five hits in the second but managed just three hits in the other eight innings combined. Though Carlson was a real bright spot out of the No. 9 spot in the lineup, collecting a career-high three hits.
“I think we’re scrambling a little bit offensively, I really do,” said Valenzuela. “I think for as good as our offense is, I feel like we’re not close to what we should be … We’ve got to understand that we haven’t scored all weekend and that team’s gonna battle until the end no matter what. We’ve got to continue to keep the gas pedal down. We let them hang around and they got the big punch when they needed to.”
Sac State struggled to get anything going against Watts-Brown, who was terrific through the first six innings. He was lifted with two outs in the seventh as closer Devereaux Harrison came in to protect the 4-0 lead. The Hornets plated one run in the seventh after a walk and a single off Harrison.
That run was charged to Watts-Brown, representing the only blemish on his line: 6.2 IP, 2H, 1ER, 1BB, 8K on 84 pitches. He struck out the side in the third and didn’t allow his first hit until there were two outs in the fourth inning.
“Establishing the fastball early in the game, that allowed for a lot of swings and misses on off-speeds,” said Watts-Brown of what he had working on the mound. “Connor behind the plate worked his butt off today and got me a lot of strikes that were probably pretty close, the defense was behind me the whole game as well, so it was a good game.”
Unfortunately for the Dirtbags, All-American closer Devereaux Harrison was off his game. Pitching for the first time since locking down the save on Opening Night in Starkville, Harrison allowed four runs on five hits with a pair of walks. The big blow was a three-run homer by Cesar Valero in the eighth to tie things up at 4. In the ninth, a solo shot by Sac State’s Josh Rolling proved to be the game winner, saddling Harrison with the loss.
“I think he’s an emotional, fiery guy that goes in that situation and instead of being under control and pitching, he’s overthrowing and trying to do too much,” said Valenzeula of Harrison. “Just like I think our whole team did this whole weekend. He unfortunately got some base runners on and left a pitch up and the guy hit it–twice. Both of those pitches were up in the zone, and that’s not him when he’s good.”
Harrison’s brother, Griffin, was in the opposing dugout, which may have gotten Devereaux a little too amped up, according to Valenzuela. The two home runs allowed are as many as Harrison has surrendered in his first two seasons at Long Beach State.
Valenzuela indicated he would make a change to the weekend rotation going forward. The manager confirmed that Jack Noble will be moved into the starting rotation and pitch next Saturday’s home game against North Dakota State. Noble has thrown 9.1 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts this season, making two extended relief appearances each of the past two Saturdays.
Before next weekend’s series with NDSU, the Dirtbags will visit UCLA on Tuesday for their first midweek game of the season. The team is just six games into a long season, and despite the tumultuous start, the Dirtbags know they’ve got the talent and depth to get things sorted out for the long haul.
“We’ve kind of been through everything honestly,” said Watts-Brown. “Through Mississippi last week and now Sacramento State sweeping us, we know what feeling good feels like and what being down feels like. We’ve got a day off tomorrow and then it’s time to reset. We’ve got a big game on Tuesday so we’ve gotta bounce back. We’re ready.”