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Dirtbags defeat St. Mary’s in season opener

LBSU wins first game of 2018 thanks to late inning rally and a strong start from Zak Baayoun.

Clayton+Andrews+%28center%29%2C+Luke+Rassmussen+%28left%29+and+Santino+Rivera+%28right%29+celebrate+after+taking+the+lead+in+the+bottom+of+seventh+inning+on+a+two-out+single+from+catcher+Chris+Jimenez.
Clayton Andrews (center), Luke Rassmussen (left) and Santino Rivera (right) celebrate after taking the lead in the bottom of seventh inning on a two-out single from catcher Chris Jimenez.

Clayton Andrews (center), Luke Rassmussen (left) and Santino Rivera (right) celebrate after taking the lead in the bottom of seventh inning on a two-out single from catcher Chris Jimenez.

Jose De Castro | LBSU Athletics

Jose De Castro | LBSU Athletics

Clayton Andrews (center), Luke Rassmussen (left) and Santino Rivera (right) celebrate after taking the lead in the bottom of seventh inning on a two-out single from catcher Chris Jimenez.

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Sophomore left hander Zak Baayoun didn’t take long to prove he’s made the transition from bullpen arm to starter after a stellar performance to kick off the Long Beach State Dirtbags 2018 season. He threw seven innings, gave up one earned run and struck out 12 batters to help Long Beach to a 4-1 win over St. Mary’s.

“I couldn’t wait to get to the yard,” Baayoun said. “The fans, the lights and just that feeling… It was awesome to be back.”

With a fastball reaching 91 mph and a slider he was able to throw in a variety of counts, Baayoun navigated through his maiden voyage as a starter with poise far beyond his experience opening games.

“Baayoun pitched great as far as keeping us in the game,” head coach Troy Buckley said. “It was nice for him ro get the win.”

After a homerun surrendered to St. Mary’s sophomore right fielder Joe Vranesh, Baayoun was able to settle into a groove and hold the Gaels (0-1) scoreless until his departure after the top of the seventh with a pitch count of 106.

Jose De Castro | LBSU Athletics
Sophomore Zak Baayoun pitched well enough for the victory against St. Mary’s in LBSU’s opening night win Friday.

The Dirtbags (1-0) offense was dormant until the bottom of the seventh inning when it gave the home crowd excitement similar to what it enjoyed late last season. A two out rally consisted of four straight singles, all from players making their team debut, that turned a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead and eventual victory.

“I thought it was a nice first game for a lot of new faces in different spots,” Buckley said.

Back-to-back singles from junior third baseman Shaq Robinson and freshman second baseman Santino Rivera put runners on first and second with two outs. Junior center fielder Clayton Andrews then battled through a seven-pitch at bat that resulted in a game tying single to center field.

“We gathered in the dugout before the inning and decided we had to get one for Baayoun after he pitched his heart out,” Andrews said.

The next man up was freshman catcher Chris Jimenez, who worked deep into another count and eventually got a mistake from St. Mary’s junior pitcher Conner Loeprich. He hit a sharp line drive into left center for two more runs.

“I wanted to keep things simple,” Jimenez said. “I had two strikes on me early, so I had to keep battling, fouled two [pitches] off and then the guy threw a slider right over the plate.”

Long Beach took a 4-1 lead into the top of the ninth inning and junior closer Chris Rivera entered to strike out the side and nail down the first win of the season. It was his 27th career save, which now puts him solely in second on the all-time Dirtbags’ list.

Robinson was 2-for-4 with one RBI and a run scored while Jimenez finished the game 3 for 4 with two RBIs.

The team also had a total of 17 strikeouts in the game, already besting the 2017 high of 15 set on March 14 against Texas Christian University.

Four Dirtbags players, junior Jarren Duran, senior Tristan Mercadel, junior Domenic Colacchio and junior Eli Villalobos were held out of the lineup on Friday due to team disciplinary actions. All four will be available for games two and three.

The Dirtbags take on the Gaels in game two of the series at 2 p.m. Saturday at Blair Field.

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