Long Beach State starter Chris Mathewson had one recurring thought as he stepped onto the mound for his first career NCAA Tournament start.
“Just stick with it,” the sophomore righty said. “Keep getting outs.”
And each time he took the mound, the outs kept piling up. Mathewson was masterful with his command, giving up just two hits in 6.2 innings of work as the Dirtbags opened NCAA Tournament action at Mark Light Field with a 5-1 win over Florida Atlantic on Friday.
Mathewson had a no-hitter through the first six innings, allowing just four FAU baserunners in the process.
His breaking ball and slider hit the zone for strikes.
He eluded a fifth-inning bases-loaded jam — caused by a fielding error and back-to-back walks — by forcing FAU’s Brett Lashley to weakly chop a pitch to the first baseman.
His lone blemish came in the seventh, when FAU first baseman and cleanup hitter Esteban Puerta hit a first-pitch home run to break up what could have become the eighth no-hitter in NCAA Tournament history and first since Jonathon Crawford accomplished the feat for the University of Florida in 2012.
All in all, though, Mathewson did enough on the mound to earn his first career NCAA Tournament victory and eighth win of the season.
“He’s obviously very talented,” Long Beach State coach Troy Buckley said of Mathewson. “He hasn’t had the year I think we all think he’s capable of having, but no better time than to pitch extremely well in this type of environment, in this type of setting.”
The offense clicked, too. Long Beach State (37-20) sprayed 10 hits across the field, with all nine starters reaching base.
Junior Alex Muzzi opened scoring in the second when he laid down a perfect squeeze bunt down the first-base line, plating Brock Lundquist from third base. The Dirtbags extended their lead to 2-0 on an RBI groundout from David Banuelos on the next at-bat.
Shortstop Garrett Hampson knocked an RBI double in the fifth, Zack Domingues an RBI sacrifice bunt in the seventh and Luke Rasmussen capped Long Beach State’s scoring with an RBI single in the ninth.
“These last few weeks, we’ve just gotten in a groove,” Hampson said. “We can put up hits. It’s just a matter of stringing them together.”
FAU’s David McKay earned the loss after giving up three runs (two earned) in five innings of work, his first The sophomore righty gave up six hits — including three doubles — and walked two batters.
Florida Atlantic (38-18) attempted to rally in the seventh, hoping to use Puerta’s team-leading 10th home run of the season and a double from Christian Dicks on the next at-bat as a spark.
But the Owls fell flat after the flicker of life and now find themselves in the loser’s bracket for the second straight year.
“It makes the road a little tougher, but it’s not the end of the world,” said FAU coach John McCormack, whose team is on a season-long three-game losing streak. “You can still get through these things. We’ve just got to play better baseball.”
Long Beach State, winner of 11 of its past 13 games, advances to the winner’s bracket and will play at 7 p.m. on Saturday.