May 1, 2008
Puzzling Season at Long Beach
By Abbey Mastracco
LONG BEACH, Calif. —Long Beach State began the
season as a puzzle that had so intricately been put together
after an off-season of hard work.
The Dirtbags continued their long-standing
dark-horse tradition, as they went on a torrid stretch to open
the 2008 season, going 18-3 through March, winning five straight
series and sweeping four straight. Three of those series (two
sweeps) were over ranked opponents while the other two were no
The Dirtbags fought and scraped and pulled out
some stunning come-from-behind wins when it mattered the most.
They were ranked as high as No. 3 in the country and owned the
second-best team ERA as well, but a 10-game road stretch
suddenly sent them on a dismal 1-9 skid that carried over into
their first two conference series against UC Riverside and No. 5
It was so unexpected and uncharacteristic; the
puzzle was suddenly in pieces, leaving the team puzzled
themselves and leaving head coach Mike Weathers with the
daunting task of putting those pieces back together right before
the most important part of the season, conference play, began.
Where it started
The Dirtbags went into their spring break in the
last days of March on quite a high, as they swept UCLA and
handed Harvard a beating. Junior first baseman Shane Peterson
(right, photo by Mike Plaza, Daily Forty-Niner) said the team knew they would be good but they didn’t expect to
be this good.
As it turns out, they weren’t.
The Dirtbags headed up to Malibu for a Tuesday
game against Pepperdine to being their 10-game road trip. The
Dirtbags committed three errors in the first inning and one
more, late in the game. They got on board early but Tuesday
starter Tyler Topp, who started his slide before the rest of the
team did, was roughed up early on, and despite a ninth-inning
push, his crew behind him was unable to recover.
This game provided an omnipresent look as the
wave (no pun intended) that was about to come crashing down on
Long Beach State.
Problem No. 1: Defense
“We’re not playing Long Beach State baseball,”
Weathers said. To him, Dirtbag baseball is more-than-solid
defensively. And the 20 errors committed over a 13-game stretch
just won’t cut it.
“We’re in a team slump defensively,” Weathers
said. “Our people are capable [of getting out of it], I don’t
believe that we’re not capable of playing better defense, we’ve
got too good of players. But right now, we’re not playing good
defense and it cost us.”
Over that 13-game stretch (which included midweek
contests against Pepperdine, Stanford, Fresno State and Loyola
Marymount and three-game series against California, UC Riverside
and UC Irvine) the Dirtbags fielded just .956.
Problem No. 2: Untimely hitting
Jason Corder provided a much-needed offense spark
for the Dirtbags over that stretch, clubbing seven homers,
including a grand slam against his former team, California, and
driving in 15 runs. Corder made up the majority of the Dirtbags
.247 average the team hit throughout those games, as the rest
contributed just four homers and not one had more than six RBI.
Weathers tried anyone and everyone in the lineup,
much to no avail.
“Almost every game there seems to be a new face
in there, and that face does nothing,” Weathers said. “I’m
looking for someone to be Lou Gehrig and take Wally Pipp’s spot.
I tell the team every year about the old Wally Pipp story.
“Wally Pipp was a first baseman for the Yankees,
came to the stadium sick one day and the manager said ‘take
first base today’. Wally Pip never played again. I’m looking for
someone to do that.”
The Dirtbags have had no problems putting runners
in scoring position; it’s capitalizing on those runners that are
problematic. Runs come, just not enough in time.
Problem No. 3: Bullpen Breakdown
To be fair, the bullpen is not completely at
fault. With the exception of Andrew Liebel who continues to
dominate every Friday night, the Dirtbags regular rotation has
been fairly shaky lately. But the slightly-inflated 5.83 ERA
over those 13 games is largely a result of relief pitching.
The once rock-solid bullpen looked as if it
nearly imploded, giving up a total of 21 earned runs in relief
over the 13-game span, with a high of six in the UC Irvine
“It’s conference time and everyone wants to win a
championship,” Weathers said. “But we can’t continue to give up
Drawing a parallel
After being one of the top teams for several
weeks, Arizona began a troubled start in Pac-10 conference play
that seemingly mirrored that of the Dirtbags’.
Both are ranked similarly in their respective conferences: On
the lower end in team batting and team fielding and on or near
the top in team pitching. Preston Guilmet and C.J. Ziegler have
some notable stats that rank in the Pac-10, as do Peterson and
Corder. But few others fail to compare to the strong numbers put
up in two conference comprised of incredible depth.
The poor play of both clubs could be a result of scheduling, but
for very different reasons.
The Wildcats easily defeated unranked teams like Texas
A&M-Corpus Christi. The tougher teams on Arizona’s schedule,
such as CS Fullerton and Georgia, were struggling early in the
season when Arizona faced them. Their non-conference schedule
may possibly have left them ill-prepared to handle the high
level of talent and competition in the Pac-10.
But the Dirtbags, however, have no excuse.
Weathers is infamous for his near-torturous schedules from
year-to-year, with this year’s nearly topping all others with a
difficult non-conference stretch that ended with that 10-game
road trip, something just one other Long Beach team has done
before and Weathers says he will never do again.
Riverside head coach Doug Smith said he didn’t think the
Dirtbags were slumping, he just felt they were tired when they
fell to his Highlanders in Riverside to open Big West play. And
Big West play is never exactly easy.
Signs of Life
The fragmented pieces of the Long Beach State puzzle look as
though they have finally started to fit together once again. Now
at 26-15 overall and 8-4 in the Big West (tied for second), the
Dirtbags have managed to hang around the rankings with two
conference sweeps of CS Northridge and Pacific, and in a rematch
against Pepperdine, Peterson became the first Dirtbag ever
recorded to hit for the cycle as the Dirtbags routed the Waves,
What may be the determining factor in their turnaround is
acknowledgement of their troubles, as their veil of ignorance
was a sham, as the more the team pretended they didn’t exist,
the more they continued to struggle. Admitting they had problems
may have been the first step.
think that now we know something is wrong,” Peterson said.
“Before we were just playing like everything was good, we were
still playing pretty similar. But now, I think we all need to
bear down and make adjustments.”
"It's nice to see that we're finding a way to stay in the game,"
Weathers said. "It’s like we did in the beginning of the year
against all of those ranked teams. A lot of those [wins] were
come-from-behind or 'leave them on the field.' Very close to
what we were doing at the beginning of the year, that's a good
The question remains how Long Beach State will fare against
teams at a higher level, as Northridge and Pacific were
bottom-of-the-barrel Big West teams. With conference losses to
two of the top-ranked Big West teams already and archrival CS
Fullerton still yet to come, the Dirtbags are running out of