Monday, May 28, 2007


They closed the book on Long Beach State’s regular season last weekend but before we go forward we need to look back. The 2007 baseball campaign was book ended with marquee matchups against historic programs.

The season began in the chill of February when the 49ers, picked fourth in their own conference, won a series with 12 time National Champion Southern Cal. It ended in the sizzle of May winning a series over arch rival and four-time National Champion Fullerton. In between, now there is the story.

Faced with the dilemma of trying to simultaneously earn RPI points by playing the toughest schedule in the land and getting 30 something in wins the no-name Niners did both. Missing the 2006 party with just 29 victories, LBSU jumped that number up to 37 this season and although it is the lowest win total of any this year’s16 host schools that single digit RPI turned the heads of the selection committee. By Sunday noon the host honors were in hand, so the ’07 Niners sent their back book-enders, Fullerton, to the showers with a 10-11 conference record.

That brings us back to the future which begins Friday at Blair field when the LB Regional opens with second-seeded Pepperdine (35-20) playing third-seeded UCLA (30-26) in the 3 p.m. game before the Dirtbags welcome the fourth-seeded Illinois-Chicago Flames (34-19) at 7 p.m. Last year UIC made a non-conference visit and was swept but this year’s club has a series win over Tennessee in Knoxville, played #1 Vanderbilt tough and has a lockdown closer in Missouri transfer David Cales (0.84 ERA and 12 saves). The Beach also was perfect in four contests with Pepperdine and UCLA but those were all on Tuesdays when the front line pitchers usually just watch.

As Blair Field regulars know, pitching is the key in the wide open and sometimes misty spaces of the Niners home field. So how do the Niners go in this year when the winning has been done without a clear ace in their deck? One guess might be to mimic the 2004 regional when coaches Weathers and Buckley hid Jered Weaver in game one and used Jason Vargas to beat St. John’s. That set up two wins over Stanford before being upset by Arizona in the super regional the next weekend. How about using the 2007 Mini-Vargas Shane Peterson in game one and hold Andrew Liebel, Manny McElroy et al for later?

The Beach of course is still on an emotional high from winning the series at Fullerton getting bonus offense from Jason Tweedy and Travis Howell plus fine pen work from David Roberts and Jason Markovitz. The normal offense is built around core guys like Cline, Peterson, Godfrey, Mittlestaedt and Espinosa but the margin of excellence this season is effective team work and great depth.

Three other Big West teams are also at work this weekend, Riverside at Arizona State, Fullerton at San Diego and Irvine at Texas. Unlikely, but if everybody wins out three BWC teams could actually make it to Omaha. The exception would be Fullerton or Long Beach since the winners of their regional play each other in the Super Regional, and yes it might be LBSU and CSUF in round three.

Closing Quotes. Mike Weathers, "Illinois-Chicago played us tough last year, coming out from the snow. Last year it was a tough one. We do know all of our opponents. That works for us and against us. Odd years have been good to us, both with the College World Series (1989, 1991, 1993) and in hosting regionals (2003, 2005, 2007)."

Ticketing is through the normal LBSU box office (562-985-4949) but there is a neat twist this year. The beyond the left field wall knot-hole gang that would stand around and watch for free will have bleacher seats and a $10 ticket. Golfers on Big Rec Number 14 are still free but must let faster foursomes play through.—DR. DAN


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