Sports

Dirtbags to face Pepperdine and the NC Dinos

The Long Beach State men’s baseball team continues its home-heavy early season schedule as it turns its hosts Pepperdine and NC Dinos of the Korea Baseball Futures League at Blair Field.

Before the start of the season, sophomore shortstop Garrett Hampson said he believed junior right-hander Tanner Brown was ready to become a leader for the mostly inexperienced pitching staff.

“I think [Brown] is going to step up,” Hampson said. “Our pitching’s a little young, but so far, he’s really stepped up.”

Junior catcher Eric Hutting said before the season that the Dirtbags would need to excel in their ability to manufacture runs, and that the pitching staff and defense would be the team’s strengths.

“That’s what LBSU baseball’s all about,” Hutting said. “It has been for years, and I think we have the same recipe this year.”

The Dirtbags (2-1) welcome back head coach Troy Buckley this week, following his suspension from opening weekend due to an NCAA violation in fall 2014. LBSU did not go into further detail when asked about the suspension.

The Dirtbags’ pitching staff didn’t miss a beat in Buckley’s absence. Brown made an immediate impact in his first Division I start. Brown had an impressive debut at Blair, throwing six innings of one-run ball while striking out eight and walking none.

Assistant coach Jesse Zepeda, who took over in Buckley’s absence, said his team’s pitching staff impressed him in the series against Michigan. He praised Brown and senior right-hander Kyle Friedrichs for their outstanding starts as well as junior right-hander Ty Provencher for his work in relief.

“Offensively, we still have a ways to go on some things,” Zepeda said. “I like the flow and dynamics. We have a tough opponent in Pepperdine around the corner.”

Pepperdine had a stellar year last season, winning its 17th regular West Coast Conference title and making it to the NCAA Super Regional round for the first time. The Waves posted a 43-18 record last season.

Head coach Steve Rodriguez leads the Pepperdine team, which is full of young talent. Returning players include freshman All-American catcher Aaron Barnett, WCC All-freshman outfielder Brandon Caruso and WCC All-freshman shortstop Manny Jefferson.

Junior right-hander Jackson McClelland and sophomore right-hander A.J. Puckett are the only returning starting pitchers for the Waves. McClelland posted an 8-3 record last season, and only allowed opponents to hit .269 against him. Puckett posted a 3.58 ERA last season.

Pepperdine’s only road game out of its first 12 contests will be against the Dirtbags. The last time these two teams met was Feb. 18, 2014, when the Dirtbags lost 6-3.

After Pepperdine, the Dirtbags will take on professional Korean team NC Dinos in an exhibition game. This is the beginning of NC Dinos’ 2015 spring training, which they call the “Desert Drive” tour. The NC Dinos became a part of the Korea professional baseball league in 2013.

The Dirtbags host Pepperdine Tuesday night and NC Dinos Wednesday night. First pitch for both games is scheduled for 6 p.m.

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