Daily 49er

LBSU to face UC Irvine in crucial conference series

Dirtbags faced with opportunity to sit atop of the Big West standings by sweeping upcoming series

Eddie Rivera, contributing writer

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The Long Beach State baseball team hits the road this weekend to take on UC Irvine in a three-game Black and Blue Big West series starting Friday night.

The Dirtbags (18-10, 4-2) are riding a season high five-game winning streak, but will face the hottest team in the Big West this weekend. The Anteaters (19-10, 6-0) are on 13-game winning streak and lead the conference standings.

“It’s going to be a test, especially on the road over there,” junior catcher Eric Hutting said. “We have to be prepared to do the little things the right way because they turn into big things real quick.”

Mike Gillespie is in his eighth season as the Anteaters head coach and won the 2014 National Coach of the Year. Freshman Keston Hiura poses the biggest threat to the pitching crew of the Dirtbags as he just won Big West Player of the Week honors.

Hiura is on a 16-game hitting streak and leads the Big West in total hits. As a team they have the biggest slugging percentage and most homeruns in the Big West.

The Anteaters’ rotation has been nearly perfect so far. Junior right-hander Matt Esparza (6-1) is second in the Big West in wins and holds a 3.12 ERA. Junior left-hander Elliot Surrey (4-2) has at least seven strikeouts in three consecutive starts.

Shortstop sophomore Garrett Hampson said it’s a big week in terms of preparation because Irvine presents challenges that differ from every other team.

“They’re willing to do anything at any time [including] squeeze bunts and hit and runs,” Hampson said. “We’re getting ready to defend that stuff.”

Hampson continues to be the most consistent Dirtbag on offense and leads the team in multiple categories including runs, hits and stolen bases.

Junior right fielder Zack Rivera’s continued his consistent season when he drilled his third homerun of the season Monday night against San Diego State. Rivera leads the team in RBI and slugging percentage.

Junior right-hander Tanner Brown earned Big West Pitcher of the Week after he threw a complete game shutout Friday night against Cal State Northridge. Freshman right-hander Chris Mathewson, who earned the same recognition on March 3, said he does not like to worry about awards and accolades until after the season.

“In the end, it’s about wanting to win and getting better,” Mathewson said.

The first pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Cicerone field on Friday.

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