Dirtbags fighting to prevail over top teams

Six weeks, six different top-30 teams. Half of those teams ranked in the top-15. It could be worse – the Dirtbags could have been scheduled to face the top six college teams, consecutively. But even if they did, they would probably be successful.

The Dirtbags have opened up their season with a very tough schedule and are slowly climbing in the rankings, becoming a surprise contender in the NCAA.

So far, LBSU (5-4) has managed to take a pair of games from both USC and Texas, knocking them down in the rankings, and one game from Rice, which was ranked No. 1 preseason. The Dirtbags have now gone from No. 30 to No. 20 in the rankings.

It hasn’t exactly been easy. The two games won against Texas were both hard-fought games in which the Dirtbags came back from as much as a seven-run deficit to win. The game won against Rice was in 11 innings. But the club is showing the NCAA that they may be underestimated.

As a team, the Dirtbags are currently batting .245. Danny Espinosa continues to shine as the Dirtbags’ shortstop in his sophomore season. Last season’s Big West Freshman of the Year has started in all nine games and is batting .250, slugging .389 with an on-base percentage of .289. Espinosa was named last week’s Big West Conference Player of the Week with closer Bryan Shaw.

The Dirtbags are 3-1 against games started by left-handed pitchers, due in part to Steve Tinoco, the club’s answer to lefties. Tinoco had a breakout series against Texas, going 4-for-4 with a double and two RBIs in the second game of the series, and hitting his first collegiate career homerun the following day.

Pitching has been a strong point for the Dirtbags this season. Stellar outings by middle reliever Andrew Liebel and Shaw have helped the Dirtbags in the clutch. Both right-handers are 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA.

Omar Arif is fast proving himself as a strong starting pitcher. Arif currently has a 2.20 ERA in three games started, the lowest of any of the Dirtbags’ starting pitchers.

In the coming weeks, the Dirtbags face No. 15 UCLA, No. 11 Arizona State and fellow Pac-10 team California. But their real challenge will come once they open conference play with a series against No. 8 Cal State Fullerton.

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