On this date one year ago, Long Beach State was 0-10 and on its way to a 14-41 record.
With most of the same players back, the Dirtbags are 8-3 and coming off three straight weekend series wins, the last two against nationally ranked Wake Forest and Mississippi State.
“They’re really good players. That’s where it starts,” first-year coach Eric Valenzuela said. “They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder. When you have a team that’s angry and wants to be really good — and they’re (mad) about what happened last year and it’s real, man — it’s a dangerous team. That’s where we are right now.”
Long Beach State, with its popular nickname, has been a strong brand in college baseball for decades. There have been 22 NCAA Tournament appearances and four trips to the College World Series. It was only three years ago the Dirtbags won the Big West and advanced to a super regional, coming one win short of the CWS.
They slipped to 27-30 in 2018 before the bottom fell out and Troy Buckley was fired at midseason when the Dirtbags were 5-26.
Valenzuela, hired in June after six years at Saint Mary’s, said he and his assistants inherited players who were beat up mentally and perhaps questioning whether they belonged at LBSU.
“If you’re playing at Long Beach State, you’re one of the best players on the West Coast if not in the country,” Valenzuela said. “I don’t think it was a talent type of thing. We put them in a good, positive environment, harped on the basics, and it’s been working. We have a long season. It’s three weekends and it’s three quality opponents, but it’s going to be this way every weekend.”
The Dirtbags’ Nos. 1 and 2 starters are returning left-handers Adam Seminaris and Alfredo Ruiz, followed by freshman right-hander Luis Ramirez. Seminaris hasn’t allowed a run in 15 innings and has 22 strikeouts against just two walks.
Valenzuela has brought an aggressive offensive approach, putting power hitters Calvin Estrada and Leonard Jones at the top of the order and often letting his batters swing away in situations where other teams would choose to bunt to move runners over.
Long Beach State has posted one shutout in each weekend series. Seminaris struck out 10 in eight innings of Friday’s 4-0 win over Mississippi State. The Dirtbags were beaten 9-0 on Saturday, with Ruiz stretching his personal shutout innings streak to 19 before the Bulldogs got to him in the sixth inning. The Dirtbags won the rubber match 6-2.
Athletic director Andy Fee said last year he didn’t anticipate it would take long to turn the program around. The Dirtbags are more than halfway to their 2019 win total, so Valenzuela would appear to be ahead of schedule.
IN THE POLLS
Florida remains No. 1 in rankings by D1Baseball.com and Baseball America. The Gators swept three games from Troy and, at 11-0, have matched the 1989 and 2002 teams for best start in program history. UCLA (11-0) is No. 1 by Collegiate Baseball newspaper.
D1Baseball.com has Texas Tech (11-1) second and Vanderbilt (10-3) third. Baseball America has Vanderbilt No. 2 and Louisville (8-3) No. 3. Collegiate Baseball’s Nos. 2 and 3 teams are Florida and Texas Tech.
The weekend featured two individual, nine-inning no-hitters. San Diego’s Jake Miller tossed one against Monmouth on Friday, striking out 10, and Oklahoma’s Dane Acker did it against LSU on Sunday, striking out 11. Acker’s no-hitter was OU’s first by one pitcher since 1989, and it marked the first time LSU has gone hitless in recorded program history.
New Mexico State’s Nick Gonzales continued his early season tear with five home runs in a doubleheader sweep of Purdue Fort Wayne on Saturday. He went deep twice in a 19-5 win and three times, including an inside-the-park grand slam, in a 14-5 win. “This is Nick’s yard. Special things happen in this place for that guy,” coach Mike Kirby said.
Gonzales leads the nation with 12 homers in 13 games, mostly against light competition. The Aggies play at Texas A&M this weekend.
Memphis’ Hunter Goodman set set school and American Athletic Conference records with 11 RBIs against Western Illinois on Sunday. Three of his four home runs in the three-game series were grand slams, and he totaled 22 RBIs in the series.
THAT TOOK A WHILE
The three longest games of the season were played over the weekend. UC Davis beat Loyola Marymount 4-3 in 24 innings, one short of the NCAA record. Grand Canyon won 5-3 over Stanford in 18 innings and Florida Gulf Coast beat Bethune-Cookman 5-3 in 16 innings.