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After dropping the series opener against No. 15 Gonzaga (11-4) on Friday night, Long Beach State put together two very different wins to pull out an impressive series victory over the Bulldogs. The Dirtbags (7-7) slugged their way to a 13-3 win on Saturday before grinding out a 1-0 win in a pitcher’s duel for Sunday’s rubber match.
Dirtbags starter Juaron Watts-Brown was stellar in seven shutout innings on Sunday afternoon, and Tyler Porter delivered a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth to plate the game’s only run.
“Words can’t explain how awesome that feeling is, seeing all the guys running up to you,” said Porter after his first career walk-off hit. “Going into that (9th) inning we knew that it’s been a pitcher’s duel the whole entire game, so we knew we couldn’t take selfish at-bats, couldn’t go for the long ball. We had to just focus on getting the next guy up to the plate so that’s what we did and I think we capitalized on that for sure.”
Porter was a strikeout victim in his first two trips to the plate, but singled in his last two plate appearances, including the game-winner in the ninth. Prior to his final at-bat, with runners on first and second with one out, Dirtbags Associate Head Coach Bryan Peters pulled him aside for a brief conference along the third base line.
According to Porter, Peters wanted to go over the scouting report on Gonzaga closer Michael Spellacy, who had yet to allow a run in 9.1 innings this year. Peters told his sophomore shortstop to be ready for a steady dose of change-ups in this situation, and that proved to be sound advice.
“I didn’t hit it the first two pitches, and then he threw that last one and kind of left it hanging up,” Porter explained. “So I just capitalized on that.”
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Porter’s two hits were as many as Gonzaga’s entire lineup mustered against LBSU’s trio of righthanders. Watts-Brown was nearly untouchable through the first seven innings, allowing just a walk in the fifth and a leadoff single in the sixth to break up an otherwise perfect outing. Watts-Brown covered a career-high 7.0 innings with just 75 pitches before giving way to Matt Fields in the eighth and Devereaux Harrison in the ninth.
“After what he went through last weekend, which wasn’t good, for him as a young kid to do this on the big stage when it’s 1-1 against a Top-15 team is incredible,” said Dirtbags head coach Eric Valenzuela of Watts-Brown’s performance. “This is his fourth appearance in college. I’m so proud of him and we needed him big time to come through, and he did that.”
Watts-Brown credited the work he put in with the coaching staff during the week, to bounce back from his start against North Dakota State last Sunday when he surrendered four runs on five hits and four walks without making it through the third inning.
“This week, we really worked on throwing strikes,” Watts-Brown said. “This week the goal was to get ahead of every batter and then go from there, and it really worked.”
His start helped the Dirtbags secure a major series win against a top program on the west coast. After a 7-2 loss on Friday with ace Luis Ramirez unable to make his start, the feeling around the program changed drastically less than 48 hours later.
“After Friday, they came in and punched us in the mouth, honestly,” Watts-Brown admitted. “But we had a team talk–the hitters got together and the pitches got together–and we decided we’re not gonna let that happen anymore. And yesterday was a good statement for that, we kind of destroyed them yesterday and then today we made it out in the end and it worked out perfectly.”
Rocco Peppi continues to swing a hot bat for the Dirtbags. After collecting a pair of hits in the series opener and launching a pair of homers with 5 RBIs on Saturday, it was his single to the opposite field that started the game-winning rally in the 9th inning on Sunday.
Two games into the season, the momentum couldn’t have been stronger around the program with two huge wins at Mississippi State. Now with the final series in the books before Big West play gets going next Friday, the Dirtbags once again seem to have that swagger back with two more Top 15 wins on the resume.
“From a coach’s side of things, we’ve faced everything,” said Valenzuela. “We’ve faced arguably the best pitcher in college baseball, we’ve faced guys that can pitch backwards, we’ve faced good defensive teams, good hitting teams. Once we get into conference, now we’re going to be prepared, and there isn’t anything that we haven’t seen … (Gonzaga) is one of the best pitching staffs in the country, so it’s huge for us to fight through that and get that win. I think we’re swinging the bats better, we’re pitching good, and we’re playing good defense. So yeah, this is a good time right now.”
The Dirtbags have one more midweek tune-up before Big West play gets going next weekend. LBSU will host UConn on Wednesday at 6pm, welcoming a team that boasts the second-best ERA in the nation at 1.58 entering the weekend. After that, the Dirtbags will host Hawai’i for a three-game series in Long Beach.