RIVERSIDE, Calif. — UC Riverside ace Eddie Orozco is not an easy pitcher to score against. If the sparkling 1.56 ERA coming into Friday night’s game at Riverside Sports Complex wasn’t enough proof, Long Beach State could have looked at the boxscores and saw that Orozco had allowed more than one earned run only once this season.
But even against pitchers like Orozco, it’s all about hitting the ball where the defenders aren’t…and that’s exactly what Long Beach State did en route to a 5-4 victory. The Dirtbags (11-17, 3-2) had nine hits and scored five runs (four earned) off Orozco, but only two of their hits were struck really well. Instead it was a steady diet of choppers through the middle, flares into shallow right field and grounders that squeaked through the infield.
“Baseball’s a funny game that way,” Orozco said with a short smile that hid his incredulous frustration.
After getting an unearned run in the first inning, Long Beach made an adjustment the second time through the lineup.
“We actually couldn’t recognize his slider the first time through the lineup,” shortstop Matt Duffy said. “It’s not the biggest slider, but it’s got the same look as the fastball so it’s tough to see. We just moved up in the box to take away that little speed difference and I think that paid off.”
In the continual chess game, Orozco said he noticed the Dirtbags inching closer toward him and began pitching inside more. But he said he struggled to finish off batters because he wasn’t able to “bury the slider” down and away for a strikeout pitch.
The Riverside (9-14, 2-3) offense twice answered Long Beach’s attack. The Highlanders scored a run in the third inning to tie the game when Nick Vilter was hit by a pitch, advanced to third on an error and scored on a groundout. After the Dirtbags manufactured a run in the fourth, UC Riverside rallied back to take the lead with two runs in the bottom half — again started with a Ryan Strufing hit batsman.
But Long Beach was able to get a big inning, scoring three runs in the fifth. Jeff McNeil lined a single into right field, followed by a grounder by Duffy that went just under the outstretched glove of Eddie Young at shortstop. A sacrifice bunt and groundout scored one run and Brennan Metzger’s hard hit double just inside the third base foul line put Long Beach back ahead. A lazy single to right-centerfield plated Metzger to make it 5-3.
After a leadoff single to start the fifth, Strufing settled in nicely, pitching three scoreless frames.
He was chased in the eighth inning after allowing a leadoff double and hitting his fourth batter of the night. Kyle Friedrichs entered trying to get a six-out save. Eddie Young squared to bunt, but pulled back and slashed his way to an infield single to load the bases with no outs.
Riverside had something cooking, but Young killed the inning’s momentum. Vince Gonzalez hit a sacrifice fly to centerfield, scoring Clayton Prestridge. The runner on second tagged as well, sliding in safely. Young tried to tag and advance to second base, but he hesitated and didn’t take off until Duffy had relayed the ball to Avila at third base, making him a sitting duck when Avila fired to second.
Friedrichs then got David Andriese to hit a pop fly behind home plate, on which Kellen Hoime made a diving catch to end the inning. Friedrichs then retired the side with two strikeouts in the ninth to pick up his third save of the season and appears to have solidified himself as the closer.
“He’s been our most consistent guy out of the bullpen, both with inherited runners and just quality execution,” Long Beach head coach Troy Buckley said.
Strufing picked up his fourth win of the season while Orozco fell to 4-3 as his ERA rose to 2.18. While Orozco had trouble, Riverside reliever Mark Garcia did not. Garcia was impressive, throwing four scoreless innings and striking out three.
Offensively, the Highlanders’ struggles continued as they managed only six hits. In contrast, Duffy now has six hits in the series as he put together another three-hit performance. McNeil and Metzger both had three hits as well. Metzger had a complete game as he also scored a pair of runs and drove in another pair.
The two teams return to Riverside Sports Complex Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. Long Beach State will send Shawn Stuart to the mound. Stuart pitched a one-hitter in his last start. Trevor Frank will get the ball for UC Riverside.
Check out the photo gallery from Friday evening’s UC Riverside/Long Beach State matchup below: