Baseball Long Beach State

Long Beach State Dirtbags Stay Undefeated By Sweeping Omaha

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Trust is paramount in any relationship, and the Long Beach State Dirtbags are living that truth.

The Dirtbags (5-0-1) swept Omaha over the weekend to stay undefeated and it started with a walkoff home run from Cole Santander on Friday night. The designated hitter leads the team with a .346 batting average, .615 slugging percentage, 10 RBI and three extra base hits.

“I’m just trying to stay loose and stay confident… the coaching staff has really allowed me to just be really relaxed up there,” said Santander, who thinks that’s the same reason LBSU is averaging 6.5 runs per game. “We’re not afraid to fail. We have a coaching staff that knows how much they care and how much they want us to succeed. If I’m hitting I know that if I don’t do the job that Jack Hammond or John Newman Jr.) are right behind me and they’re going to get it done.”

A pair of stellar starts from Myles Patton and Kellan Montgomery carried the Dirtbags to victory on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Patton struck out seven and didn’t give up a walk until the seventh inning before Montgomery scattered four hits over seven innings while striking out seven. LBSU won 6-0 on Saturday and 4-1 on Sunday.

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The Dirtbags pitching staff is now carrying a 2.43 team ERA with 75 strikeouts and a big reason for that improvement from last year is new pitching coach Jeff Opalewski.

“The reason it’s working so well is because they’re trusting it and its execution,” said Opalewski. “If you put in the work and you develop a plan and you trust the plan, confidence is a byproduct of that preparation.”

Patton said the experience of starting as a freshman before working with Opalewski’s unorthodox style has been a recipe for success and more control on the mound.

“He’s definitely very educated and he’s put decades into this and he’s evolved with where baseball is going with the technology,” said Patton of Opalewski. “He’s dug super deep into all of that. He’s also creative with how he thinks about stuff. We do some stuff that not a lot of people do and it’s worked pretty well for us.”

The sophomore Sunday starter Montgomery leads the staff with a 0.75 ERA, 12 strikeouts and one walk in 12 innings.

“He does so much research and works just as hard as us,” said Montgomery of Opalewski. “With any opponent he dissects everything about them and that gives us a great advantage.”

“He carved up our hitters in the fall because it’s different from the traditional west coast style of pitching,” said Dirtbags coach Bryan Peters of Opalewski. “Our players are so bought in because they’ve been able to see so much success.”

The staff also got some great defense behind them, specifically center fielder Alex Champagne who already has a few highlight plays that robbed extra base hits.

“My guys were really working for me,” said Montgomery. “We’re so good at trusting each other and our defense and letting guys get out themselves.”

Peters added that his team is playing good, clean baseball because of what they’re doing before the wins.

“We pride ourselves on preparation,” he said. “After a late night they came out here and prepared like this was everything to them… We’re not in the position where we can just win based on who we are, we have to earn it every game, and I love that mentality.”

The Dirtbags visit No. 20 UCLA on Wednesday before returning to Bohl Diamond at Blair Field for a weekend series against visiting Milwaukee.

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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.