The celebration was instant, players streaming out of the dugout and into a dogpile on the mound as soon as the final out was recorded. Fists and voices were raised in jubilation, SnapChats snapped, and an ice bucket tossed.
But the Dirtbags late-night party following their clinching 2-1 victory against Texas in the Long Beach Regional championship game was something of a delayed reaction, having been held up by an added day, another game and extra innings.
Despite all that, Long Beach State managed to hold off the Longhorns to earn its first berth in a Super Regional since 2004. The Dirtbags will face Big West foe Cal State Fullerton in a best-of-three series starting Friday at Blair Field. Long Beach State has beaten the Titans five times in six games this season.
Fullerton advanced with a pair of key victories against Stanford, the national No. 8 seed.
“That’s a magical night and we are elated,” Coach Troy Buckley said late Monday night. “If you’re going to script things out it doesn’t get any better. This has been a team all year, and it showed tonight from start to finish.”
The Dirtbags didn’t make it easy on themselves. They stranded 11 runners and garnered just two runs on nine hits. The pitching, however, more than made up for their lack of offense.
Starting senior right-hander Dave Smith threw four solid innings on two days rest, allowing just one hit and no runs and striking out two. The bullpen combined to hold Texas to one run on an additional three hits.
“I told (Buckley) I took it easy on throwing (Saturday) and that I’d be ready to go,” Smith said. “It’s been emotional, but none of the seniors wanted it to end so we put it all on the line. I love (my teammates) to death. I’ll take a bullet for any one of them. The least I can do is go out and pitch.”
The Dirtbags scored early, taking a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Jarren Duran lined a single to left center but the ball was misplayed and he headed to second. Duran advanced on a wild pitch and then scored on an errant throw to third.
Long Beach State added another run in the third when Lucas Tancas led off with a double then sprinted home when Ramsey Romano was caught in a rundown at first in a pickoff play.
Texas cut the lead with a run in the fifth and came close to tying the game in the sixth with runners on first and second. Freshman left-hander Zak Baayoun came on and struck out the next two batters to end the threat.
“The energy was amazing,” Buckley said. “When you’re fatigued and you have to play three games in 24 hours, that’s tough on your body. But when there’s energy in the stands these guys can get through that.”
After playing five games in three days, the Dirtbags have three days to rest before facing Cal State Fullerton for a berth in the College World Series. Long Beach State last made an appearance at the CWS in 1998.
“I think it’s pretty cool that there will be a Big West team in the College World Series for a fourth straight year,” Buckley said. “(Playing Fullerton) is like playing yourself at this point. This place will be electric and it’s going to be fantastic like it was (this weekend) and like it always is (when we play Fullerton). It’s going to be a lot of fun.”