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Texas takes on Long Beach State in the winners bracket of NCAA regional

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The Longhorns will have their hands full when they take on the Dirtbags tonight.

Texas defeats UCLA in the NCAA tournament.
@TexasBaseball Twitter

After defeating UCLA 3-2 Friday night, Texas Longhorns baseball (38-22) will face off with the Long Beach State Dirtbags (38-17-1) at 9 pm CST in the Long Beach regional of the NCAA tournament. This winners bracket match-up will be broadcast on ESPN 2.

“The Long Beach State Dirtbags” may not be the first name that comes to mind when considering dominant NCAA teams, but Troy Buckley’s club has made the NCAA tournament three out of the last four years. This season was a particularly remarkable season, as the group won the Big West championship for the first time since 2008 and are, of course, regional hosts in the NCAA tournament.

Long Beach State was hot out the gate in the tournament with a 6-0 thrashing of San Diego State on Friday night. The good news for Texas is that the ‘Horns won’t have to face the Dirtbags’ stud Dave Smith (1.25 ERA), who recorded a complete game shutout last night.

The bad news is that the Dirtbags have two studs.

Texas will have to face Darren McCaughan (2.66 ERA). McCaughan leads the team in innings pitched with 108.1 and opponents have hit only .193 against him this year. The junior was named a second All-American on Thursday for the second year in a row, and he also was a member of the Team USA Collegiate team.

Not only is McCaughan ready to go, but the Dirtbags’ bullpen will be fresh as well after not being used last night due to the complete game by Smith. Chris Rivera (2.51 ERA) is the Dirtbags’ main closer who has racked up 11 saves on the year, and the team also has a very solid reliever in Josh Advocate (1.91 ERA).

The Longhorns will counter Long Beach State’s pitching with a pretty damn good starter of their own in Morgan Cooper (2.32 ERA). The biggest concern for the ‘Horns tonight is Cooper’s health — he struggled with arm soreness in the conference tournament. In the Big 12 championship against Oklahoma State, the junior looked a little off as he only went three innings and struggled a bit with his command.

Hopefully Cooper can deliver a deep performance like Nolan Kingham did last night, but if not, Texas has solid reliever options available. Though Texas’ middle relieving has been shaky, the ‘Horns have occasional starters Nick Kennedy (2.82 ERA) and Blair Henley (4.22 ERA) available who could see action in a tight game. Neither have NCAA tournament experience, but both have been very good as of late.

The Dirtbags are less menacing on the hitting side of things, but are still a more formidable foe than UCLA. Long Beach State is hitting .274 on the year, though with only 29 homers.

The regional hosts have three players hitting above .300 -- Ramsey Romano (.332), Lucas Tancas (.315), and David Banuelos (.309). Tancas may be the biggest threat, as he leads the team with nine homers and hones a .517 slugging percentage.

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For as crucial as winning the first game of the NCAA tournament is, the second game may be even more essential. The winner of tonight’s game will need to go only 1-1 to advance to the supers, while the loser will have to climb out of the elimination bracket and win three straight.

Texas will have its hands full with Long Beach State, but it is a very winnable game. The Longhorns have fared well against a West Coast style of play, and the Dirtbags certainly fit the mold.

The key in this one will be how deep Cooper can go, and if he can’t give six or seven innings, how good the relief will be. Expect it to be another pitchers’ duel tonight in Long Beach.

Hook ‘Em!