LONG BEACH, Calif. — Jeff McNeil is Mr. Versatilty for Long Beach State. He does a little bit of everything for the Dirtbags(19-21, 8-6), including now taking over the shortstop role after previously playing centerfield and second base. But his biggest impact has been as a spark plug at the top of the lineup.
Though he went hitless for the first time in 10 games, McNeil beat out a fielder’s choice in the eighth inning that led to the winning run scoring two batters later as Long Beach defeated Cal Poly 3-2 Saturday afternoon at Blair Field.
Cal Poly starter Matt Imhof had retired the previous 14 Dirtbag hitters entering the eighth inning, but Colby Brenner snapped that streak with a flare to left field to lead off the inning. After McNeil tried unsuccessfully to bunt, he worked the count full and chopped a grounder to second base.
Denver Chavez couldn’t get the ball out of his glove cleanly and his flip to second base was late. Shortstop Peter Van Gansen also had trouble making a clean transition from glove to hand and a hustling McNeil beat the throw to first. What went from a potential two-out, no runners situation became a two-men on, no-out rally for Long Beach.
Jeff Yamaguchi chopped a ball over the mound that worked as effectively as a sacrifice bunt and Juan Avila did his job, hitting a ball hard and deep. His flyball into the left-centerfield gap was caught, but brought home Brenner with the game-winning run.
Long Beach State took a 2-0 lead in the second inning. Three different types of singles loaded the bases as Ino Patron lined one off the glove of Mustangs’ first baseman Tommy Pluschkell, Richard Prigatano flared one into right field and Colton Vaughn hit a high chop behind the mound that shortstop Peter Van Gansen couldn’t make a play on. Zach Miller hit a tailor-made double play ball to second base that easily plated one run, but Van Gansen short-hopped the throw and Pluschkell couldn’t keep it in front of him, allowing Prigatano to also score.
The Mustangs tied the game up in the seventh inning. After a Brian Mundell reached on a bobbled groundball, senior catcher Elliot Stewart hit a line drive to centerfield that Colby Brenner got a bad read on. Brenner took a hard step or two in before turning to sprint back. He leapt for the ball, but it went just over his outstretched glove. Mundell scored from first and following a sacrifice bunt, pinch hitter John Schuknecht singled home Stewart.
In the ninth inning, Ryan Millison walked a batter and the Mustangs pinch runner extraordinaire Tyler Evanoff took over at first base. But Miller, a senior catcher who plays sparingly, hosed Evanoff to end the game when he tried to steal second base on a 1-1 pitch.
Millison collected the win to improve to 2-1 while Imhof fell to 4-3. The two teams will be back in action tomorrow at Blair Field for the all important series rubber match at 1:00 p.m. PST. David Hill will be on the mound for Long Beach State while Bryan Granger gets the ball for Cal Poly.
Check out the 18-shot photo gallery from Saturday afternoon’s action between the Dirtbags and Mustangs: