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Long Beach State Hits Stride During Run to World Series

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was the last Tuesday in April, and Dave Snow was still trying to figure out what kind of team he had, with the season three months old and only a few weeks to play.

Long Beach State had won 22 of 27 games over one stretch. It had lost eight of 11 over another. It had beaten Nevada on April 17, 30-6, scoring 17 runs during a seventh inning in which Jaron Madison and Justin Hall had gotten three hits each.

It had lost, 17-3, to Nevada the next day and 17-12 the day after that.

It had just been swept by Big West Conference rival Cal State Fullerton in three weekend games, then lost to UCLA on a Tuesday afternoon.

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The 49ers had gone to seven consecutive NCAA tournaments, but they were 26-20-1 “and I began looking at the record and saying ‘If this thing swings any worse, I’m going to end up watching the junior college playoffs up in Fresno instead of playing in regionals,’ ” Snow said.

Instead, he’s back in Omaha, where on Friday the seventh-seeded 49ers (41-21-1) begin Snow’s fourth College World Series quest in 10 seasons with a game against second-seeded Miami.

There was no sermon preached in late April. No great oration.

“I was trying to find something positive to say, and I merely told them that I had a team in 1991 that had been swept by Fullerton and had gone to Omaha,” Snow said.

No lightning struck.

“I remember, I had a team in 1993 that was 12-12 at one point and went to Omaha,” Snow said.

No mountain was moved, though there has been a tsunami of sorts in Long Beach’s winning 15 of its last 16 games, largely on a tidal wave of Dirtbags who became Guys.

Snow lives in a land of Dirtbags, hoping to develop Guys through accomplishments.

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You get as many definitions of Dirtbag as you have 49ers, though each is a twist off a central theme:

“A Dirtbag is going out there with intensity day in and day out,” said center fielder Terrmel Sledge.

“A Dirtbag is a guy who plays the game with emotion and passion and does what you have to do to win,” said catcher Bryan Kennedy.

“A Dirtbag is rugged, scrappy, a team that will do anything to win, get dirty, pretty much will go all out to get the job done,” said second baseman Scott Redfox.

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The original Dirtbags were Snow’s first team, in 1989, which was made up of almost all new players and practiced on a local all-dirt Pony League field.

Now they’re all Dirtbags, even on old Blair Field’s pristine grass, and they all wear a T-shirt that says so.

“Coach stuck it to us a little bit,” said Sledge, remembering the aftermath of the Fullerton series. “He said we can be the best Dirtbag team ever. We just needed to jell a bit more together. We were more a bunch of individuals. It wasn’t as much of a team effort as it is now.”

Guys is another story. A Dirtbag is a part of the Long Beach team. A player has to do a lot more to make Guy.

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Sledge made it. He’s a junior from Granada Hills who transferred from Cal State Northridge after the program folded and before its resurrection.

Sledge had played poorly at first, but his grand slam in Sunday’s 5-1 victory over Alabama was his second homer of the day and fourth of the tournament, and it sent Long Beach from the West Regional to the College World Series. It helped him win the regional’s most-valuable-player award.

And now the player is a Guy, with a school-record 95 runs scored, 105 hits, a .500 average in the regional, .390 for the season. He has hit safely in 31 of his last 34 games, and 42 of his last 46, and he has stolen 26 bases in 29 attempts.

“It’s the Mike Gallos, it’s the Terrmel Sledges . . . those Guys’ seasons typify what happened with this ballclub,” Snow said. “They were slow starters. Terrmel got off to a really slow start and here he is in the tournament, the MVP, hands down.

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“And Gallo, here’s a guy we couldn’t count on most of the season. We didn’t know what was going to happen when he got in the ballgame and he got things turned around.”

Gallo, a junior left-hander, was 0-1 with a 10.97 earned-run average last season and was the losing pitcher in this season’s opener, a 16-4 defeat by USC. He then found himself pitching in long relief and not liking it. Eventually he became the midweek starter, which meant he couldn’t be trusted to pitch in conference games.

When Long Beach was struggling, Snow went back to Gallo, who is 4-0 with a 1.64 ERA in his last five outings, one of them a shutout that eliminated Fullerton from the Big West tournament, another a six-hit victory over Stanford on Saturday in the West Regional.

“I’ve learned to calm myself down,” said Gallo, who will start against Miami. “I take a half-hour nap before every game, in the dugout or in the clubhouse, while we’re taking batting practice or something.”

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And there is Kennedy, a freshman catcher who looked like a first baseman last fall. And Chuck Lopez, who is batting .522 over the last 16 games. Guys all.

Snow looks back and ponders what happened.

“The one thing we always did is respond to screwing up,” he said. “We could screw up and say, ‘Look, here’s what we did and here’s what we didn’t do,’ and they always responded to that and that’s important.

“The other side of that is giving into it and we didn’t give in to it.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

LONG BEACH AT A GLANCE

THE COACH

Name: Dave Snow

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Years: 10

Record: 408-251-4

YEAR BY YEAR

*--*

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Overall Big West Year W L T Pct. W L 1989 *50 *15 *0 *.769 **17 **4 1990 36 *22 *1 *.610 **12 **9 1991 45 *22 *0 *.672 **14 **7 1992 37 *20 *1 *.638 **18 **5 1993 46 *19 *0 *.708 **17 **4 1994 41 *19 *0 *.683 **16 **5 1995 39 *25 *1 *.600 **16 **5 1996 34 *26 *0 *.567 **15 **6 1997 39 *26 *0 *.600 **22 **8 1998 41 *21 *1 *.651 **23 **7

*--*

(* Overall)

(** Big West)

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THE TEAM

Record: 41-21-1

Conference: 23-7

Home: 20-9-1

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Away: 16-11

Neutral: 5-1

POSSIBLE BATTING ORDER

*--*

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Player Pos. Avg. 1. Terrmel Sledge CF .390 2. Chuck Lopez RF .426 3. Paul Day 3B .404 4. Bryan Kennedy C .369 5. Mike Hota DH .353 6. Jaron Madison LF .351 7. Jason Yount 1B .350 8. Justin Hall SS .315 9. Scott Redfox 2B .321

*--*

OTHER KEY BATTERS

Jason Berni: DH/P .373

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Curt Lee: 2B .299

Team batting: .357

TOP PITCHERS

Mike Gallo: 6-1, 3.25

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Caleb Balbuena: 7-3, 5.12

Jeff Leuenberger: 6-2, 5.76

Jason Marr: 3-1, 4.66, 7 saves

Team ERA: 4.89

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SERIES SCHEDULE

First game: Friday vs. Miami (50-10), 4:30 p.m. ESPN2, KPLS (830 AM).


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