Dirtbags Drop 11-Inning Heartbreaker to Miami, 4-3
The Dirtbags tied the game with a Jeff Nellis home run with two outs in the ninth inning, but fell short in 11 innings at Miami.
Coral Gables, Fla. - Trailing 3-2 and down to their final out in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Dirtbags got some postseason magic from junior Jeff Nellis. Entering the game as a pinch hitter, Nellis hit a game-tying home run to left field on a 1-2 pitch from Miami closer Bryan Garcia, but Long Beach State (37-21) would ultimately fall, 4-3, in 11 innings as Miami (47-11) remains in the winner's bracket of the Coral Gables Regional. LBSU will face Florida Atlantic on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET in an elimination game at Alex Rodriguez Park.
"I thought it was a hard-fought game," said LBSU head coach Troy Buckley. "I told the guys they played really well. We had some opportunities that we didn't take advantage of which could have extended our lead a little bit early. But for the most part, nobody is going to sit here and complain about the effort and the competing and everything that the guys did. Disappointed? Yeah. But at the same time proud. But we have to turn the page and we've got to get ready for tomorrow real quick."
The home run for Nellis was just his third hit of the season, and his first since a two-hit performance at UCLA on Feb. 23. Two of his three hits on the season have been home runs and it was just the second pinch-hit appearance of his Dirtbags career.
Long Beach State took the lead in the third inning on the first career home run from freshman second baseman Jarren Duran. The lefthanded hitting Duran got a ball up in the zone and drove it the other way to left center, carrying it over the 365-foot marker. Duran became the 10th Dirtbags player to hit a homer this season, up from six players in 2015.
Starting pitcher Darren McCaughan was in his typical solid form on Saturday, working well in the hostile road environment, even though LBSU was the designated host team on Miami's field. The Big West Pitcher of the Year faced the minimum through 4.2 innings, and didn't run into any real trouble until the sixth.
Christopher Barr led off the sixth inning with a single to left, and was advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, giving the Hurricanes their first runner in scoring position on the night. Leadoff man Carl Chester delivered his first of three hits in the game, an RBI single to left to bring in Barr for the 1-1 tie.
LBSU responded immediately in the bottom half of the inning, as Zack Domingues led off the frame with a four-pitch walk. Garrett Hampson then delivered one of his two sacrifice bunts on the night to put the senior in scoring position. Luke Rasmussen then lined a base hit to left on the first pitch he saw to put runners at the corners for Brock Lundquist. The sophomore left fielder then drilled a ball to left center for an RBI double, putting the Dirtbags back in front, 2-1.
An intentional walk to Daniel Jackson loaded the bases with one out, but `Canes starter Michael Mediavilla picked up a huge pair of strikeouts, getting both pinch-hitter Alex Muzzi and catcher David Banuelos to strand the bases loaded. Though Long Beach State held a 2-1 lead, they stranded four runners in scoring position through the first six innings.
Miami would respond in the very next half inning with two more runs, as the first three batters on the seventh reached base. Brandon Lopez started with a single, then Johnny Ruiz knocked a double to right center to put McCaughan in trouble. After a walk to Willie Abreu, a sacrifice fly from Jacob Heyward tied the game, 2-2. Another fly ball gave McCaughan his second out of the inning, but then a costly play allowed Miami to take its first lead of the night.
On a ground ball to Domingues at third, he opted for the shorter throw looking for a force out at second base. His throw to Duran was wide, however, careening off the glove of the second baseman and allowing Ruiz to score from second. Chris Rivera came in to relieve McCaughan after 115 pitches, and following a hit-by-pitch the freshman was able to induce a third flyout to center to strand the bases loaded.
Miami nearly added to its lead in the ninth inning with Heyward at third and one out, until LBSU delivered the defensive highlight of the night. With the infield in, a ground ball to the left side pulled Hampson deep into the hole at short. The junior made an incredible off-balance throw to the plate, delivering a perfect strike to Banuelos who didn't have to move his glove at all to apply the tag on Heyward and cut down a run.
That set the stage for Nellis' pinch-hit heroics, which were ultimately upstaged by a Hurricanes rally in the 11th. After a leadoff walk to Heyward, followed by a sac bunt and a flyout, Chester came up in a key spot and delivered with a game-winning single to left as Heyward snuck in under Banuelos' tag on the play at the plate.
LBSU will need to regroup for a quick turnaround game on Sunday. The Dirtbags have a rematch with Florida Atlantic at 1 p.m. ET in an elimination game. A Long Beach State win means a rematch against Miami on Sunday night at 7 p.m. ET. LBSU would need to beat Miami twice (once on Sunday then again on Monday) in order to win the regional and advance to the next round.
NOTES: Nellis' home run actually nicked off the glove of Heyward in left as he attempted to make a leaping catch at the wall ... The Dirtbags fall to 4-2 in extra-inning games this season, and it was LBSU's first extra-innings game that lasted fewer than 12 innings ... Lundquist was removed from the game in the eighth inning after lining out to left field and suffering an apparent knee injury as he prepared to make the turn around first base ... Duran's home run extends his hitting streak to 13 games ... McCaughan delivered his 14th quality start in 16 appearances this season allowing two earned runs in 6.2 innings pitched.
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