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Long Beach State Dirtbags check-in at No. 12

LBSU reached highest ranking since 2008 season.

Junior+pitcher+Darren+McCaughan+is+looking+to+build+on+his+2016+Big+West+West+Pitcher+of+the+Year+award.
Junior pitcher Darren McCaughan is looking to build on his 2016 Big West West Pitcher of the Year award.

Junior pitcher Darren McCaughan is looking to build on his 2016 Big West West Pitcher of the Year award.

Benjamin Hammerton

Benjamin Hammerton

Junior pitcher Darren McCaughan is looking to build on his 2016 Big West West Pitcher of the Year award.

Luke Ramirez, Assistant Sports Editor

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Scoring runs in bunches and offering stingy pitching performances has been the winning formula for the Long Beach State Dirtbags, who have now scaled to No. 12 in Baseball America’s top 25 ranking – the highest team’s highest placement since being ranked fourth by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper in March of 2008.

Looking back to the low point in the season, the series in which LBSU was swept by Arizona State in March, reliable starting pitching began and ended with junior Darren McCaughan. The Dirtbags ace was struggling to build on his remarkable 2016 campaign, in which he won Big West pitcher of the year and didn’t seem to be throwing with the same type of conviction.

Head coach Troy Buckley and his staff had trouble committing to pitchers that could round out their weekend rotation after McCaughan had a record of 6-9 heading into a midweek game on March 14 against then-No. 3 Texas Christian University.

LBSU (20-11, 5-1) exploded for seven runs against TCU while junior starting pitcher AJ Jones (1-1, 2.37 ERA) and the Dirtbags bullpen held the opposing offense scoreless and started the recent trend that has improved their record to 20-11.

The Dirtbags have gone on to outscore their opponents 96-50 since March 14, including a series in which they swept then No. 5 Cal State Fullerton (21-10, 5-1) for the first time since 2002. Since that series, McCaughan (3-2, 3.02 ERA), junior John Sheaks (4-1, 3.38), and senior Dave Smith (3-1, 0.62 ERA) have cemented themselves as the Dirtbags rotation.

The biggest factor that has allowed LBSU’s arms to be more effective is the massive run support the Dirtbags have received in the last few weeks. The starters look much more confident when pitching with big leads and don’t have to be so finicky with their opponents, knowing that the offense is firing on all cylinders.

Junior Lucas Tancas (.364 BA, .586 SLG, 5 HRs) has won two Big West player of the week awards and has been LBSU’s best hitter to date. Junior third baseman Ramsey Romano (.359 BA, 1 HR, 23 RBIs) pushed a hitting streak to 20 games this season, and has locked down the hot corner defensively as well.

McCaughan finally had a showing strong enough to re-affirm him as one of the conference’s premier pitchers, throwing eight scoreless innings and setting a new career high of 13 strikeouts against UC Riverside on April 7. LBSU scored four runs in the first two innings of that game.

Another headline has been how tough the Dirtbags have been to beat at home, having won 12 of 13 games total and now nine in a row after the sweep of UCR. If LBSU can keep up their recent trends, Cal State Northridge is in big trouble. The Matadors visit Blair Field for a three game series against the red hot Dirtbags April 13-15.

 

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