Trailing late into games has been a season-long habit the Aggies are trying to kick. This past weekend, UC Davis (29-16, 9-6) overcame two late deficits to take a crucial weekend series from No. 23 Long Beach State (27-17, 9-6) and stay in the contention for a postseason birth.
The series win was the Aggies’ first-ever against a ranked Big West Conference team and puts them in a three-way tie for third place in the league standings.
“Winning a series against a team like Long Beach is a big step for this team and this program,” head coach Rex Peters said. “You really have to earn these victories. We’re just trying to fight and prove that we belong with those elite teams in the conference.”
Friday – Long Beach State 6, UC Davis 0
It had been 16 starts dating back to last season since senior Dirtbag right-hander Andrew Liebel handed the ball over to head coach Mike Weathers before the seventh inning.
On Friday, he never gave it up.
The Long Beach State ace extended his streak of consecutive six-plus inning starts to 17 games in dominating fashion, tossing his third complete-game shutout of the season to defeat UC Davis, 6-0.
The Aggies had been blanked in only one other game this season – a 7-0 loss to then-No. 17 Fresno State in their third game of the season.
“I don’t think we played horribly – we just ran into a buzzsaw,” Peters said. “Liebel pitched very well today. You hope that he makes some mistakes and you get a few pitches to hit, but he didn’t give us many of those.”
Liebel, who is considered one of the premier MLB draft prospects from the Big West, retired the first eight batters he faced and allowed just seven Aggie baserunners overall.
“When he’s spotting up pitches like that, it’s just a matter of whether we can hit it or not,” said third baseman Ty Kelly, who went 1-for-4. “Today, we really couldn’t.”
Saturday – UC Davis 5, Long Beach State 4
Even with a 3-0 count, Ryan Royster wasn’t going to pass up a pitch that he liked.
“I actually should’ve taken that pitch – it was probably ball four,” the senior outfielder said. “But that’s the way it works out sometimes – you get a little lucky.”
The Aggies’ leadoff man beat out a game-tying infield single in the bottom of the seventh inning before senior first baseman Evan Hudson launched a go-ahead, two-run double to lift UC Davis past Long Beach State, 5-4.
“It’s a big win,” Peters said. “You definitely don’t want to drop the first two of a series and just try to salvage the weekend.
“Their starter was kind of in a groove there early on, so we just tried to keep fighting, put some runners on and get a big swing of the bat. That’s what Hudson did for us.”
Brad McAtee was wild in his start but didn’t factor into the decision. The junior right-hander walked four Dirtbags, had two wild pitches and a throwing error, but managed to limit the damage to three runs – two earned – over 5 2/3 innings.
Junior southpaw Andy Suiter entered in relief and held down the fort, striking out five batters in 2 1/3 scoreless innings. After Suiter completed his first full inning of work, his offense came through with the three-spot in the seventh.
“It pumps me up to get back out there and shut them down for our hitters,” Suiter said. “We basically told each other in the bullpen that we have to be ready, aggressive and have fun. And it’s been working.”
Sunday – UC Davis 3, Long Beach State 2
One controversial umpiring call halted an Aggie rally in the seventh inning. They didn’t let a second one stop them.
Sophomore outfielder Kyle Mihaylo stroked a pivotal bases loaded, game-tying single in the eighth to help UC Davis overcome two costly umpiring calls and defeat Long Beach State, 3-2, and claim the important weekend series.
Trailing 2-0, a ground rule double in the seventh by Mihaylo put the potential game-tying run into scoring position for the Aggies with nobody out. Senior outfielder Kevin James then delivered what seemed to be a lineout deep enough to score freshman outfielder Ryan Scoma from third.
Before Scoma reached the dugout after crossing home plate, the Dirtbags threw the ball back to third and won the appeal to third base umpire Kenneth Durham for a double play.
“That call probably took at least two runs away from us and took us out of our rally,” junior closer Justin Fitzgerald said.
“I was looking at the same play as the umpire and I don’t think he left early,” Peters said. “I think the Long Beach crowd and dugout talked him into it.
“But the good thing is that we kept playing and didn’t let it bother us.”
The Aggies started another rally in the eighth, eventually loading the bases with just one out for Scoma. In another controversial call, home plate umpire Jim Lenau rung the outfielder up on a full-count pitch that appeared to be outside. Mihaylo and James picked up their teammate with the game-tying and go-ahead hits against junior Dirtbag closer Bryan Shaw, who entered having allowed just one run all season.
“We could’ve folded up our tents and packed it home,” Fitzgerald said. “But we kept fighting and that just shows how much pride our team really has.”
Fitzgerald hammered the nail into the coffin in the ninth, blowing away senior Dirtbag outfielder Jason Corder on three pitches for his program-record 10th save of the season.
“With that last batter, the adrenaline just started pumping and I didn’t want anyone else to get him out – I wanted to strike him out,” Fitzgerald said. “We talked about yesterday’s game being the biggest win of the year, but now it’s probably this one.”
RAY LIN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.