Saturday Statements - This Beach Ain't Crashing

If there's something called a "second wind" during the season, I've got to believe that Long Beach State has caught it.

A 16-12 start has given way to a 13-2 sprint to the top of the Big West standings, at 9-2, and an overall record only a home regional could love. Sure, 29-14 doesn't sparkle like a Hollywood starlet, but as is the case just about every season, the Dirtbags have a root canal-of-a-schedule (No. 2 nationally) and a usually black-and-blue won-loss mark.

What has really jump-started this team recently is the return of pitcher Manny McElroy and stud shortstop Danny Espinosa from injury.

As many teams experience at this time of year, Long Beach has been a MASH unit scrap heap. But on Friday, McElroy proved he was rounding back into form after missing a month of action. He improved to 4-1 by going 7.0 innings, scattering eight hits, striking out six and walking none.

In meeting with a few media types after the game, Coach Mike Weathers was quick to point to the biggest reason, "He's getting better every time out, looking stronger, building his durability and he hasn't walked a guy in 20 innings... or something like that."

"It's 21 and a third coach." Dr. Dan, the Long Beach Diamond Notes legend reminded him.

Coach concluded, "He hasn't walked anybody. That's who he is. And he doesn't strike a lot of guys out either. But putting the ball in play is a big deal for Manny."

Then, thinking about the effect on the entire staff, "His getting better is huge for us. We needed someone to step up besides (Anthony) Liebel. Now we can put (Shane) Peterson on the back end and still have Omar Arif out of the pen."

Meanwhile, Espinosa is not only the latest in a line of All-American infielders, following the likes of Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria, but he's just now getting back to full strength after missing a couple of weeks with a bad back. Today, he teamed with Robert Perry to give Long Beach a new facet to their offense.

"Well, putting Espinosa in the four-hole has given us a different look. It's been a big lift for us." Weathers said in reference to moving him and Perry into a four-and-five spots in the order. "And Robert has really picked us up. His RBI total is jumping up and I think we were missing that in the middle 4-5-6."

Yep, Long Beach is hitting its stride. But they still have Friday ace Vance Worley (1-1, 3.40) and 1B Brandon Godfrey (.290, .972 fielding percentage) on the shelf for another week. But if they get those guys producing at the level they were before they were injured, this Beach will hit a much higher tide.


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What I saw at Blair Field today---
Cal Poly - 4
Long Beach State - 15
Dare I say, the Dirtbags played a near-perfect game in today's shelling of the Mustangs. They hit early and often and with good good discipline. They pitched efficiently. They played good defense. They pressured the Cal Poly defense and played mistake-free themselves.

"Our bats have been alive all weekend." Coach Mike Weathers said afterward. "The big thing was our execution and our guys were getting some two out hits and swinging the bats real well."

The biggest thing the Dirtbags did was put the pressure on from the word go. In each of the first three innings, The Beach was able to get their first two batters on base. This led to a rather easy 8-0 lead a third of the way through the game. That allowed starting pitcher Andrew Liebel to settle in for a comfy day on the mound. His first six innings saw him face three, five, three, four, three and four batters each time out.

Dustin Rasco, Adam Wilk and Daniel Wolford combined to give up just two hits in the last 2.1 innings to help Long Beach cruise.


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Mea Culpa---
My apologies to the Beaver nation. Patrick was right, in my Thursday Thoughts comment section, I mentioned the "buildingthedam.com" website and accidentally typed it up as "buildthedam.com." Please make that change in your internet bookmarks.


. Our first tux fitting---
Penn - 0
Brown - 1

Penn - 6
Brown - 20
The Bears earn the first NCAA tournament bid of the season with its two-game sweep of the Quakers in the Ivy League playoffs. And what a way to do it. First Jeff Dietz goes out and throws a complete-game three-hitter. Oh and while he was at it, he went ahead and got the game-winning RBI with an 8th-inning sac fly.

Game two saw the Bears go into mauling mode, rapping out a mind-knumbing 22 hits. It didn't take long for BU to put the screws to Penn in this one, as Robert Papenhause and Devin Thomas each hit a grand slam in innings one and two respectively. Getting back to pitching, game two starter James Cramphin went 5.1 innings, but struck out 12 Quakers while doing so.

This is Brown's first-ever Ivy League title.


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Top 10 stories in college baseball so far this weekend---
1- Brown earns first NCAA bid.
Not to repeat myself here. But this is the first NCAA bid to anyone in Division I this year AND the first NCAA bid ever in school history for Brown as well. Nice work Coach Drabinski.

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2- Coastal Carolina takes first two from Nebraska.
Man, these guys are balling. And give them plaudits for knowing when to put on their shiniest leather shoes before they hit the mainstage. Today's 5-4 win means that CCU has already won the series and done it against two very reputable pitchers, Tony Watson and Johnny Dorn. This weekend puts some juice into the post-season hosting argument for the Chanticleers.

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3- Record crowds.
- LSU and Arkansas played in front of a Baum Stadium record crowd of 10,147 on Friday.
- Washington beat Oregon State 6-2 in front of the biggest crowd to ever see a Pac 10 game, 10,421 at Safeco Field in Seattle.
- Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have played two games in their Bedlam Series to a combined 23,291 fans. Don't know if it's a record, but man, that's huge. OSU has won both games, 8-7 and 10-2.

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4- Changing fortunes in Conference USA?
East Carolina - 6
Houston - 3
A Jamie Ray grand slam in the 9th does the trick and pulls the Pirates to within a half-game of 2nd place. Here's Doug Kroll's take on things:
http://slog.cstv.com/touchingthebases/east_carolinahouston/

Marshall - 3
Southern Mississippi - 18
USM is now at .500 in CUSA play (10-10) and has won its third conference weekend series in a row.

Central Florida - 3
Memphis - 7
Tigers pull into a second place tie with Houston. But have the Coogs and Rice remaining on the slate.

Alabama-Birmingham - 11
Tulane - 8 (11inns)
I can't help but think this might be sayonara for the Green Waves. I can't imagine they'll put together a strong enough late season run to make the Big Dance.

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5- SEC upsets.
LSU - 6
Arkansas - 5
(From Friday) Who Would've thought that LSU would beat Arkansas with Nick Schmidt on the mound?

Mississippi - 2 6
Tennessee - 3 7
Two wins over the No. 13 Rebels vaults UT into the SEC tourney field and shows they can't be counted out yet.

Vanderbilt - 0
Georgia - 7
The amazing part is that UGa nearly came close to winning the first two in this series if not for a three run 9th inning the Dogs allowed on Friday.

Kentucky - 8
South Carolina - 4
A Mike McKinney two-run triple was the crushing blow as UK scored five runs with two out in the 4th inning.

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6- Shrinking field of Regional hosts?
- In the SEC:
The upshot of these upsets is not necessarily good for the big money conference.
Ole Miss is now 31-18, probably not a host-like mark now.
South Carolina is in danger of dipping below .500 in SEC play (at 12-11)
Florida, Tennessee and LSU are making runs at the post-season, but don't have sparkling won-loss marks.
Mississippi State is 30-12, but isn't a world-beater by SEC standards.
- In the West:
Cal State Fullerton lost at home to UC-Santa Barbara 12-10 to drop their Big West mark to 8-6 and 28-17 overall. Even as the biggest home draw on the West coast, is that good enough?
Oregon State was upset for the second day in a row at Washington, 9-6. The Beavs are now just 6-8 in Pac 10 play. Don't you figure a sub-.500 mark will kill their home host chances?

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7- Big 10 race tightens.
Illinois - 7 6
Michigan - 4 3

Northwestern - 4 4
Minnesota - 7 7
With the pair of losses by Michigan, the Wolverines fall to 16-3, while the Gophers recover from Friday night's upset and pull to within 14-4. The biggest loser? Ohio State, who lost a pair of games at home to Michigan State, denying them a chance to get back into the race and are now 12-9.


8- Surging Long Beach State takes over Big West.
With their above mentioned win vs.Cal Poly coupled with Pacific's stunning upset of UC Riverside (5-3), the Beach is now all alone in first place at 9-2. The Tigers went to the Riverside Sports Complex winless in Big West play, but scored four runs in the 1st inning alone and got the help of four UCR errors to help pull out an unlikely W. UCR falls to 8-3.

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9- MEAC no-hitter, regular season title decided and a winless team almost wins.
This conference was THE place to be today.
Norfolk State - 1
Florida A&M - 3
The Rattlers haven't had a season worth remembering, except today, as Austin Dill tossed the 5th no-hitter in FAMU history. The lone run was scored as part of Dill's six walks he issued in the 7-inning game. FAMU has now won 14 of its last 19 games.

Delaware State - 1 1
Bethune-Cookman - 11 11
With the pair of wins over the 2nd-place Hornets, B-CC improves to 15-1 in MEAC play, solidifying their top seed status for the conference tournament. Luis Gonzalez went 5-for-7 in the DH. The Cats have now won 12 straight games.

Coppin State - 3
North Carolina A&T - 5
The Eagles (0-43) let a 3-1 lead slip its grip late in the game. Dammit! Tomorrow is CSU's last game of the year and last chance at a W. Tomorrow we are ALL Eagles fans!

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10- Canisius obviously cheats its way to "wins" over St. Peter's
St. Peter's - 4 4
Canisius - 5 5
The Peacocks, long known as the best story in college baseball this year, and my new favorite team, were victims of the horrible, under-handed, cheating ways of the Griffins in a pair of games today. They say that Kevin Mahoney and Ian Choy each smacked a jog-off, game-winning hit in the two games, but SPC is the best team in the country when the umpires don't conspire against them. So something must be rotten here. I say the Peacocks improve to 44-0 now, but the MAAC officials claim they drop to 20-24.


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In closing---
Usually, this late here on the left coast when I'm typing up my nightly garb, I like to put the TV on some kind of music channel of sorts. Well I had TiVo'd the 1996 Crowded House "Farewell to the World" concert off of VH-1 earlier this week and had it on tonight (a special thank you to the Doctor of College Baseball for the suggestion). I have to admit, this is one incredibly cool concert. Filmed in front of thousands shoe-horned on the plaza in front of the Sydney Opera House, one of the most incredible pieces of architecture in the world. And it's a very rockin' and at times, a very moving concert, to say the least. Great show. Remarkable atmosphere. If you get the chance, buy, rent or TiVo the show whenever you can. This was Neil Finn and the boys at their best. And at their last.

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I'll try to refrain from any crappy, "Don't Dream It's Over" closing line here before I go to bed. Aw hell... I just did it anyway, didn't I? Stupid me.

G'night.

Comments

Hey Eric, love your column. How 'bout sneakin' a little kudos in the Sunday article for your hometown Bluejay team? They are playing some good baseball, aren't ranked, and and went undefeated for about three weeks and never even got a Team of the Week mention... just a though.

Also, don't know if you heard about this, but Omaha is looking at a new stadium for the CWS.

Here is the link, let me know what you think.

http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_page=2798&u_sid=2378684

Keep up the great work.

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Eric Sorenson Eric Sorenson
Eric Sorenson is CSTV.com's National Baseball Columnist, and also appears on CSTV as a baseball expert