Chris Rivera got it done this time and Long Beach State is moving on.
The Dirtbags closer pitched a perfect ninth inning Monday night at Blair Field to seal his team’s 2-1 victory over Texas, two days after he allowed two late runs to facilitate a Longhorns comeback.
Rivera hurled his glove into the air in celebration after shortstop Laine Huffman ranged up the middle and made a strong throw to first base to get Bret Boswell for the game’s final out. Rivera also won an 11-pitch duel with Texas slugger Kacy Clemens, striking him out on a full count.
Long Beach State is headed back to an NCAA baseball super regional for the first time since 2004.
The Dirtbags (41-18-1) will play Big West Conference rival Cal State Fullerton in the super regional later this week. Long Beach State is fortunate to be making the return trip.
With his team facing a jam with runners on second and third base and only one out in the sixth inning, Long Beach State coach Troy Buckley summoned freshman reliever Zak Baayoun. Smart move. The left-hander struck out Clemens and Boswell to end the inning and preserve the Dirtbags’ 2-1 advantage.
Long Beach State received a boost from catcher David Banuelos in the eighth inning when he threw out pinch-runner Tyler Rand attempting to steal second base for the final out.
Hurt by two wild pitches in the game’s early going, Texas (39-24) benefited from one in the fifth inning that cut the Longhorns’ deficit to 2-1. Boswell led off with a single to right-center, stole second with nobody out, advanced to third base on a groundout and came home when Long Beach State reliever Connor Riley threw a wild pitch with two out.
Long Beach State scored the game’s first run in the first inning thanks to a series of mistakes by the Longhorns. Leadoff hitter Jarren Duran singled to left-center and took second base when Texas center fielder Zane Gurwitz could not come up with the ball cleanly. Duran advanced to third base on a wild pitch and came home when Texas catcher Michael McCann’s throw to third base skipped into left field.
Another Texas mistake contributed to the Dirtbags’ second run. After Lucas Tancas doubled leading off the third inning, Ramsey Romano chased a third strike but was able to take first base because of a wild pitch that also allowed Tancas to take third base. With Brock Lundquist at the plate, Romano got caught in a rundown that allowed Tancas to race home and extend Long Beach State’s lead to 2-0.
Dirtbags fans got a bit cheeky with Texas’ Kody and Kacy Clemens, chanting “Who’s your daddy?” when they batted in the fourth inning in reference to their father, seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens. Neither Kody nor Kacy could make the fans regret their taunts, both hitting fly balls that went for outs.
When Kody stepped to the plate in the sixth inning, fans chanted “Steroids!,” a not-so-subtle allusion to his father having been accused of using anabolic steroids by the Mitchell Report. (Roger Clemens has denied using performance-enhancing drugs.) Kody was caught looking at strike three by Long Beach State reliever Eli Villalobos.
Long Beach starting right-hander Dave Smith, pitching on only two days’ rest, looked even stronger than he did in the regional opener when he pitched a shutout against San Diego State. Smith was perfect through the first three innings, pumping his arm after retiring a ninth consecutive hitter. His only blemish in four scoreless innings was a leadoff single in the fourth.