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Long Beach State defeat Texas 2-1; punch ticket to Super Regional

Long Beach State wins three games in 24 hours to advance to Super Regional.

The+Dirtbags+shower+head+coach+Troy+Buckley+with+water+after+defeating+the+Texas+Longhorns+2-1+in+the+final+game+of+Regionals+Monday+at+Blair+Field.+The+Dirtbags+will+now+head+to+Super+Regionals+for+the+first+time+since+2004+and+will+face+Cal+State+Fullerton.
The Dirtbags shower head coach Troy Buckley with water after defeating the Texas Longhorns 2-1 in the final game of Regionals Monday at Blair Field. The Dirtbags will now head to Super Regionals for the first time since 2004 and will face Cal State Fullerton.

The Dirtbags shower head coach Troy Buckley with water after defeating the Texas Longhorns 2-1 in the final game of Regionals Monday at Blair Field. The Dirtbags will now head to Super Regionals for the first time since 2004 and will face Cal State Fullerton.

Jose De Castro

Jose De Castro

The Dirtbags shower head coach Troy Buckley with water after defeating the Texas Longhorns 2-1 in the final game of Regionals Monday at Blair Field. The Dirtbags will now head to Super Regionals for the first time since 2004 and will face Cal State Fullerton.

Luke Ramirez, Assistant Sports Editor

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The most heroic performance out of any of the 2017 Long Beach State Dirtbags came in the most crucial game of their season. Senior starting pitcher Dave Smith took the mound in the Long Beach Regional Championship game against Texas and threw four scoreless innings on just two days rest.

It was more than enough for LBSU (41-18-1) to defeat Texas (39-24) 2-1 and advance to the next round of the NCAA playoffs, the Super Regional.

Jose De Castro

The feat was more impressive as Smith was on two days rest after throwing complete game shutout (5 H, 96 pitches) in LBSU’s regional opener against San Diego State on Friday night.

“I just told (coach Troy Buckley) that I would be ready to go,” Smith said after the Dirtbags defeated Texas Saturday night to force a game seven. “I love these guys to death; I’d take a bullet for them so the least I could do was go out and pitch.”

Smith has had a great second half of the season for the Dirtbags, rounding out the weekend rotation and finishing the regular season as the Big West Conference’s leader in ERA (1.32).

“It’s been an emotional last couple of weeks with graduation and senior day,” Smith said. “(Seniors) don’t want it to end. From here we just lay it out on the line.”

LBSU’s offensive catalyst, sophomore second baseman Jarren Duran, picked up right where he left off against Texas with a 2-for-3, two-RBI performance. The Dirtbags’ spark plug lead off the bottom of the first with a sharp single into center field that Texas senior Zane Gurwitz did not handle cleanly.

Duran took the extra base sliding into second base safely on the Texas miscue. Two pitches later, Texas sophomore starting pitcher Nick Kennedy threw a wild pitch that allowed Duran to take third base and ultimately score after a second Texas error by sophomore catcher Michael McCann.

Just five pitches into the game, Texas had made two errors to gift the Dirtbags a 1-0 lead.

“He’s been unbelievable,” Buckley said about Duran. “He really should be considered for post-season MVP at this point even though we’re enjoying this collectively right now.”

Duran finished the Regional tournament 9-for-21 with six RBIs and three runs scored. The sophomore’s performance on such a big stage goes to show his ability to rise to the occasion.

“It’s not about me it’s about what the team has accomplished here tonight,” Duran said. “I just like to play the game —lay it hard and just do my best.”

LBSU’s junior left fielder Lucas Tancas lead off the bottom of the third inning with a double into the right centerfield gap. Junior third baseman Ramsey Romano struck out struck out in the next at bat but made it to first base safely on a dropped strike three. Tancas took third on the play to put runners on the corners with no outs.

Kennedy made three pick off attempts to first base as he tried to pick off Romano, who was taking a sizeable lead to second. On the fourth, Romano took two steps toward second base, intentionally getting into a pickle.

During the play, Tancas made a head’s up move and sprinted home to give LBSU a 2-0 lead.

Texas scored with two outs in the top of the fifth inning after freshman relief pitcher Connor Riley threw a wild pitch. It was the only blemish in five innings of work for the LBSU bullpen arms.

One of the biggest moments of the game came with one out in the top of the sixth inning as the Longhorns threatened with runners on second and third. Senior first baseman Kacy Clemens and junior second baseman Bret Boswell, two of Texas’ best hitters, were due up in the tight spot.

LBSU handed the ball to freshman Zak Baayoun, the lone left-handed pitcher on the Dirtbags’ roster. Baayoun delivered striking out Clemens and Boswell to end the inning and end Texas’ best chance of tying the game or more.

“He is huge,” Buckley said of Baayoun. “Against Texas, (their) better hitters are left handed and we knew we needed to neutralize them.”

Baayoun has been vital in LBSU’s incredible run toward the NCAA Super Regional and had clutch performances in several tough situations the Dirtbags found themselves in. None bigger than the two strikeouts against Texas Monday night.

“You love the adrenaline in those spots, especially being at home,” Baayoun said. “Hopefully there’s some even better things to come this year, but until then this will be the moment I look back on.”

The play that capped off the Dirtbags’ night and acted as the last nail in Texas’ coffin came in the top of the eighth inning as Longhorn’s sophomore pinch runner Tyler Rand took a lead from first with two outs. Perfect in five stolen base attempts this season, Rand went for number six in a one-run ballgame.

LBSU’s junior catcher David Banuelos, Johnny Bench Award finalist, denied the speedster with an immaculate throw right to the corner of the second base bag and into the glove of junior shortstop Laine Huffman. In an instant after Huffman caught the ball, Rand’s cleat slid right into his glove as the umpire signaled for the third out of the inning.

“He’s a difference maker,” Texas head coach David Pierce admitted after the game. “He really does control the running game and he’s going to be a great professional ballplayer one day.”

Senior reliever Josh Advocate and junior closer Chris Rivera threw the final six outs before sending the Dirtbags into a frenzy in the center of the diamond at Blair Field while the crowd of nearly 3,000 chanted “Long Beach State.”

With the win, LBSU sealed its spot to play a three-game series against Big West rival Cal State Fullerton in the Super Regional next weekend.

“Any way you slice it, it’s pretty cool that there will be a Big West team in Omaha for the fourth straight year,” Buckley said. “It’s going to be fantastic just like it always is. There will certainly be a lot more at stake this time around.”

The Super Regional will start on Friday at 3 p.m. at Blair Field Saturday and Sunday’s (If necessary) will start at noon. This classic college baseball rivalry will be renewed unlike ever before with a trip to the College World Series on the line.

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