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The Long Beach State Dirtbags took a collective sigh of relief on Sunday after their rubber game against North Dakota State at Bohl Diamond at Blair Field.
It looked like the Dirtbags were headed towards another close loss when a five-run eighth inning and good pitching out of the bullpen delivered an 8-5 victory.
“Sometimes you need to win that way to bring a group back together and out of the rut we’ve been going through,” LBSU coach Eric Valenzuela said. “To get a win like that is big against a very good team. I’m thankful and excited about how we played this last game.”
The decisive eighth inning started with a two-base error for catcher Chris Jimenez. Shortstop Sebastian Murillo singled through the right side to cut the lead to one, and an error off the bat of Chase Luttrell tied the game. Consecutive RBI singles by center fielder Rocco Peppi, second baseman Eddie Saldivar and first baseman Jonathon Long put the Dirtbags up 8-5.
“There’s never a doubt in our dugout,” Saldivar said. “We always bring the E and E, the energy and enthusiasm. It was just a matter of time until we broke it open. This team is resilient and it’s just a matter of time before we get this rolling.”
Saldivar finished with two hits, two RBIs and a run scored. The freshman also made a pair of nice plays in the late innings on sharply hit balls to the right side.
“He’s a special player and a special talent,” Valenzuela said of Saldivar. “He turned down a ton of (MLB) money to come to school here. I’m glad he did. He’s something else. He does all the things right and he deserves success.”
Murillo went 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. Peppi had two more hits giving him three consecutive multi-hit performances. He also drove in a run and scored two more.
“I still feel like we’re nowhere near where we’re going to be offensively, but we won this series with toughness and staying together when times are tough,” Valenzuela said. “We have a long way to go and hopefully we continue to get better.”
North Dakota State scored four runs in the first three innings off LBSU starter Juaron Watts-Brown. Relief pitchers Dalton Ponce, Josh Haley, Jake Rons and Devereaux Harrison scattered four hits and allowed one run in 5.2 innings. Harrison pitched the eighth and ninth to pick up the win.
This is the second series win for the Dirtbags, and they stay at home to host Pepperdine on Tuesday before traveling to Nebraska for a weekend series.