The rivalry between Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton is one of college baseball’s best, but as the Dirtbags went down in three games this weekend you had to wonder if the rivalry has lost some of its luster.
No. 4 Cal State Fullerton (39-7, 15-3) swept Long Beach State (21-24, 9-9) over the weekend at Goodwin Field. It was the second time this season the Titans swept the Dirtbags and the first time since 2006 that Long Beach failed to win even one game out of six against their Big West rivals.
The Titans produced two gritty performances, finding ways to win Friday night (3-2) and Saturday night (2-1) in a pair of nationally-televised affairs. Sunday, first baseman Carlos Lopez supplied the big hit in the form of a three-run homer in the sixth inning that ultimately propelled Fullerton to a 9-4 win.
Lopez nearly had a home run in the at-bat prior but right fielder Juan Avila made a bad jump for the catch, dropping the ball at the warning track for a costly error.
The error was indicative of how the series went for the Dirtbags.
“I think (the rivalry) died down, not as much the last two years but more in my sophomore year (2011),” Lopez said. “When Irvine was playing really well and battling us, that became a rivalry of sorts.”
Thomas Eshelman (8-2), the winner of Friday’s game with a seven-inning, six-strikeout effort, said the Titans have begun to develop rivalries with other teams in recent years as Long Beach State has experienced a handful of down seasons since last winning the Big West Championship in 2008.
“There’s been a lot more rivalries with us and like TCU and other teams,” Eshelman said. A freshman, Eshelman only got his first experience with the storied rivalry this season and came out on the winning end both times. Regardless, there is too much history and too many times a year these teams play one another for the rivalry to disappear completely.
“I do know that dating back to the 90s, it was pretty gnarly,” Eshelman said. “But we do play these guys every year. There’s always going to be a rivalry here because we do play them every year and it’s important to win league (games), more important than the non-conference games.”
Performance of the series
Jake Stassi (4-2) pitched a gem Saturday night. The junior lefthander scattered five hits and gave up only one earned run while striking out five, keeping a lineup of heavy-hitting Titans off balance all night while dueling Justin Garza. But Stassi’s effort went for naught, as the Dirtbags allowed an unearned run in the eighth inning to fall 2-1.
Garza had an equally as impressive performance, giving up just one earned run and striking out four in eight innings. The effort kept his perfect record in tact, moving him to 10-0 on the season.
Brothers Anthony and Eric Hutting finally got a chance to face off against one another in Sunday’s game. Anthony, a senior outfielder for Cal State Fullerton, didn’t see any action in the season’s earlier series at Long Beach State’s Blair Field but finally got a chance to play against his brother Eric, the Dirtbags’ freshman catcher, and made the most of it. The left fielder went 3-for-4 with three RBIs while brother Eric went 0-for-3.
“He started off really hot then he got cold. He’s been in and out a little bit but I thought his at-bats today were great,” said Cal State Fullerton head coach Rick Vanderhook. “He had a little brother on the other side. He’s 6-0, his little brother is 0-6.”