Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Dirtbags 2014 Out-Of-Conference Preview: part 2

We opened our examination of Long Beach State's 2014 schedule by looking at schools like Vanderbilt, Arizona State, and UC Irvine. If that wasn't enough, we still have two teams left on the home schedule that are only coming off of College World Series qualifying, and College World Series winning, seasons.

Indiana (ISR: 12, RPI: 12)The Hoosiers only traveled west of Omaha once last year, and that was all the way to Lincoln to take on the Cornhuskers. Yet in 2014 they'll be spending a weekend in Long Beach, their first trip to California since 2012 when they went 3-5 against Cal Sate Northridge, San Diego, and Loyola Marymount. Though they don't go west often, last year's IU team was well traveled, going to Florida four times, twice for tournaments, once to play the Gators (a series they won), and finally to face the Seminoles in the Super Regionals (a series they swept). Despite their somewhat improbable 2013 season, Indiana looks poised for a repeat, returning four of their five biggest workhorses from their pitching staff, including LHP Joey DeNato (2.52, 87/43, 103.2 IP), who tossed a shutout against Louisville in the College World Series.

On the hitting side, the Hoosiers return an experienced and well-balanced lineup, with good speed, solid power, and a strong ability to draw the walk and get on base. They're lead by All-Americans, C Kyle Schwarber (.366/.456/.647) and 3B Dustin DeMuth (.377/.433/.545), among several other returning starters from the 2013 lineup.

Between this, the Vanderbilt series, and the trip to Wichita (more on that later), the Dirtbags are going to have a well geographically-balanced schedule on their hands next spring.

UCLA (2013 ISR: 6; RPI: 9) – For the second consecutive season, the Dirtbags will host a series against the reigning national champions. UCLA small-balled their way to the title last year, hitting zero homers at TD Ameritrade Park, with something like 477 bunts. Such an offensive output could yield similarly successful results in spacious Blair Field, where the Bruins scrapped together a 3-2 mid-week win over the Dirtbags a year ago. Pitching was obviously UCLA's strength in 2013 and despite suffering some major losses to their championship staff, they return a solid crop of arms in 2014. Leading the way will be RHP Cody Poteet (4.84, 56/31, 70.2 IP), top prospect in the West Cost Summer League according to Perfect Game; LHP Grant Watson (3.01, 55/16, 92.2 IP), LHP Hunter Virant, and living legend RHP David Berg (0.92, 78/11, 78 IP, 24 saves).

The Bruins return the majority of its relatively light-hitting lineup, including OF Brian Carroll (32 steals) and it's top four leaders in sacrifice hits, meaning this series could quickly turn into a repeat of last June's Omaha bunt-a-thon. Also back is three-hitter 3B Kevin Kramer (.278/.382/.376), who had a team best four hits against LBSU last season.

In the Dirtbags' corner is that 11-1 victory over the Bruins at Jackie Robinson Stadium last year against an erratic Poteet; easily the worst loss of the Bruins' championship season.

Up next, we wrap up our look at the out-of-conference slate by looking at the foes Long Beach State will be facing on the road.