49er Revival Comes at Perfect Time


At one point, they were 6-10 and showed all the promise of a sinking ship.

They weren’t hitting or making clutch plays, and that wasn’t the worst of it. Their pitching, to put it kindly, wasn’t shaping up as expected.

The Long Beach State baseball team was a big mess. It looked as if the 49ers were headed for an extremely long season.

Then, as quickly as the 49ers came apart, they came together. The turnaround was so swift, so complete, that the 49ers are now among the nation’s best.


They are the class of the Big West Conference and are closing in on yet another conference title. Not bad for a bunch that appeared dead in the water.

“What we’ve done is a real credit to our players,” 49er Coach Dave Snow said. “I took a while, but we got it going.”

Long Beach dropped to 6-10 on March 2 after being swept by Tennessee in a three-game nonconference series. The 49ers’ overall losing streak reached a season-high five games.

Long Beach was out of the national polls and Snow was trying to figure out how to get on track.

“Sure, there was concern,” he said. “Any time you’re getting ready to open up conference play and your team is struggling, you better be concerned. I was kind of shocked that we started out so poorly because I felt this team had a lot of potential.”

Potential, yes. Experience, no.

Only eight lettermen returned from last season’s Big West championship team. Snow had eighteen new players to work with, most of whom lacked Division I know-how.


Snow figured on some bumpy moments early on, but not quite so bumpy.

But Snow stayed the course. He continued to stress his proven approach of defense, pitching and opportunistic hitting. He tinkered with his lineup to find the best combinations.

The results are obvious. The 49ers have won 20 of their last 25 games. Included in that stretch are winning streaks of nine and six games, and they have won four of six from rival Cal State Fullerton.

Long Beach (26-15, 16-3 in conference) has a four-game lead over Fullerton in the Big West’s South Division. Long Beach is back in the national polls--and moving up--ranked 11th by Baseball America and 12th by Collegiate Baseball.

The big difference? Pitching, pitching and pitching.

Though the offense has steadily improved, pitching was by far Snow’s biggest concern. Snow has won five Big West titles at Long Beach with teams of varying offensive skill, but the common denominator on all his title teams has been pitching.

Starters Rocky Biddle and Marcus Jones were preseason All-American selections, so Snow didn’t think he had too many concerns on that front. But Biddle and Jones didn’t start out like All-Americans and their problems affected all their coach’s pitching plans.

Fortunately for Snow, Biddle and Jones got themselves back on track. Going into this weekend’s series with Nevada, Biddle is 7-3 with a 3.91 earned-run average and Jones, last season’s Big West pitcher of the year, was 7-3 with a 4.36 ERA.


Iran Barrera (5-1, 4.17 ERA) has been solid as a third starter and reliever. Ara Petrosian (3-1, eight saves, 3.33 ERA) is doing well in the closer’s role.


At the plate: The 49ers don’t have a lot of big power guys, so they can’t sit back and wait for three-run homers.

However, what they do have is a balanced offense with several players capable of driving in runs. Six 49ers have at least 27 RBIs, again before Friday’s game.

“If you look at our stats, we don’t have a lot of power or RBI numbers,” Snow said. “We don’t have any one guy who is carrying us. We have different heroes every day.”

Center fielder J.J. Newkirk has provided a spark in the leadoff spot. Newkirk is batting .333 and leads the team with 39 runs scored.

Toby Sanchez, a first baseman/outfielder, is batting .417 and leads Long Beach with seven home runs and 31 RBIs. Third baseman Izzy Gonzalez is batting .358 with three home runs and 30 RBIs.



Playoff blues: The men’s volleyball team opens the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoffs against UC Santa Barbara at 7:30 tonight at the Pyramid.

Coach Ray Ratelle hopes this postseason adventure will be better than the last. The Gauchos upset the 49ers in an MPSF playoff opener last season.

Ratelle said that defeat was the toughest of his career.

“We’ve talked a lot about what happened last season,” Ratelle said. “Quite frankly, we were the better team and to lose in the first round was very disappointing. So we’ve talked about the fact that anything can happen, so we can’t take anything for granted.”

Long Beach (19-9, 12-7 in the MPSF) finished second to Stanford in the MPSF’s Pacific Division. Long Beach is ranked eighth in both the American Volleyball Coaches Assn. and Volleyball Magazine polls.

Santa Barbara (16-8, 13-6) finished third behind UCLA and Brigham Young in the Mountain Division. Santa Barbara is ranked fifth by Volleyball Magazine and sixth by the AVCA.

49er Notes

Third baseman Izzy Gonzalez was selected the Big West position player of the week for last week. Gonzalez batted .368 (seven of 19) for the week.



Coming Attractions

Here’s a look at key upcoming games for Long Beach State:

* Men’s volleyball against UC Santa Barbara at 7:30 tonight at the Pyramid in the opening round of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoffs. On March 14, Long Beach defeated Santa Barbara, 15-7, 15-13, 15-3.

* Baseball against Nevada at 7:05 tonight and at 1:05 p.m. Sunday at Blair Field. Long Beach leads the all-time series, 10-5-1.