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Baseball Long Beach State

Long Beach State Dirtbags Edged By No. 22 UCLA In 13 Innings

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There’s nothing quick or easy when it comes to Long Beach State and UCLA playing baseball games.

Once again Tuesday, the Dirtbags and No. 22 Bruins played long into the night on Bohl Diamond at Blair Field. It took four and a half hours and 13 innings but eventually UCLA emerged victorious 4-3. UCLA also walked off winners when the Dirtbags visited Westwood in early March.

“We’re going to use it as momentum going into the weekend,” Dirtbags coach Eric Valenzuela said. “We’re playing good baseball. We had plenty of opportunities to win… But the competitiveness that we showed, the fight is there… We’re battle tested with so many one-run games. All of these situations are only going to help us.”

The Dirtbags (18-9, 6-3) used nine pitchers out of the bullpen— three of whom limited UCLA (17-8) to only three hits in the first seven innings.

LBSU led 3-1 in the ninth inning, and were one out away from a ninth consecutive victory, when Duce Gourson hit a 2-run home run to center field that sent the game to extras. The Bruins scored the winning run four innings later on a sacrifice fly.

“It breaks a streak, but let’s start another streak,” Valenzuela said to his team after the loss. “I’m proud of all of the (pitchers) who got in there. Some of them haven’t pitched a lot, or in big situations, and we were one at-bat away from winning. But there’s more that goes into a game than that one at bat.”

LBSU catcher Connor Burns was the star of the night for the home team going 3-for-6 with two doubles, a run scored and an RBI. He also had two hits and two runs in the first meeting with the Bruins.

“It’s a well respected program over there with a wonderful head coach, and I thought in this game and at their place we played them really well,” Burns said of UCLA. “It was just a matter of a couple pitches changing the game. It could’ve gone either way, it just didn’t fall our way.”

Dirtbags leadoff hitter Eddie Saldivar also had a three-hit night with a double and two runs scored. First baseman Jonathon Long and center fielder Kyle Ashworth each had two hits. LBSU racked up 12 as a team and have nine or more hits in the last four games.

“I think we just have to take the positives out of this one,” Burns said. “We have to stick to what we’re doing well. We outhit them, we pitched well and we just have to keep that up to keep the positive momentum. We have to go into UCI with a little chip on our shoulders to keep this thing moving.”

The Dirtbags visit UC Irvine this weekend for a three-game Big West series.


Just like every other Tuesday night game this season, Valenzuela turned to his unproven bullpen in order to piece the game together. Starter Grant Cherry gave way to Jake Rons, Jonathan Carlos and Sky Wells who worked to the ninth inning when UCLA got to Dalton Ponce for the blown save.

“It’s about coming out and establishing strikes,” Burns said of his pitchers coming out of the bullpen effectively. “We’re looking for guys to step up in certain positions and I thought today was a hell of a way to work though it in a really tight game. Being able to pound the strike zone is huge.”

“He helps a ton,” Valenzuela said of having Burns behind the dish. “To have the best defensive catcher, the best catcher in the country in my opinion, is just so valuable. Especially when you have so many guys we’re using. It’s like having another coach out there. And then the fact he’s hitting in the four hole and doing big things… he’s a pretty special kid.”

Valenzuela added that he’s literally trying everything to get his bullpen situated for the stretch run.

“I know it’s there, it’s just my job to piece it together properly,” he said. “I’ve never done so much looking at numbers to be strategic in all of these moves. You might see some odd things like me making a move from a righty to another righty, but a lot of it is velo and the pitches that we have that (challenges) the hitter. I just have to make good choices.”

The game started brightly after Saldivar was hit by a pitch to leadoff the bottom of the first inning. Long came up and went the other way for a single and then Saldivar moved to third on a sacrifice fly before Burns scored him with a single through the left side to put the Dirtbags up 1-0.

Cherry struck out the side in the first, but Cherry lost his command in the second and walked three batters before hitting another to bring in a run and tie the game 1-1.

Burns helped Rons get out of the third inning with a strike them out, throw the out play.

Burns then led off the bottom of the fourth by going the other way and bouncing a double off the wall in right field. Hammond came up next and scored him with a clean single to center field for a 2-1 Dirtbags lead.

UCLA’s Ethan Flanagan came in to pitch the bottom of the fifth after Bruins starter Michael Barnett gave up four hits, two runs and a walk in four innings. Saldivar greeted the lefty with a leadoff single through the left side, and then Long drilled an RBI double down the left field line to push the lead to 3-1. 

Burns made another great play on a high pop up for the first out of the sixth. The Bruins then got their third hit of the night, but Burns came out to make a play on a bunt attempt to end the inning.

Dalton Ponce was called to close the game in the ninth for the Dirtbags, and after a leadoff walk he got a strikeout. Then with Malachi Knight at the plate he sent a shot to deep center field where Ashworth crashed into the wall while robbing the home run. However, Duce Gourson's 2-run home run for UCLA with 2 outs in the top of the ninth ties the game and is a blown save for Dirtbags reliever Dalton Ponce.

In the bottom of the ninth, Saldivar singled on the first pitch he was to bring up Long with 1-out and the winning run on base. He fouled out and Rocco Peppi grounded out to end the inning and send the game to extra innings.

Neither team threatened in the extra inning until UCLA scored on a sacrifice fly in the 13th inning.

LBSU had a chance to tie the game in the bottom half, but stranded that run on third base.

Only a small portion of the great crowd was still on hand to see the final out, but the energy was palpable in the stands all night long.

“It’s exciting,” Valenzuela said of the atmosphere. “It’s a home field advantage, for sure. I’m loving it, these kids are loving it. Over 2,000 fans here on a Tuesday night is pretty cool.”

JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.