Troy Buckley didn’t want to say it, but the numbers kind of forced him into it.
The Long Beach State baseball coach doesn’t want to single out one guy over the rest of his squad. But one guy makes that kinda tough, because that one guy has the team’s best batting average (.292), the best ERA (2.66), best record of hitting triples, is tied for best in runs and is second best in RBIs.
And that same guy had an 11-strikeout performance against UC Irvine Saturday to earn Big West Pitcher of the Week honors — two weeks after he was named Big West Player of the Week. In doing so, that guy — Maria Carrillo grad Clayton Andrews — became the first Big West player ever (going back to 1987) to win both pitching and player honors in the same season.
So one can forgive Buckley for breaking an old coach’s rule about calling out the top dog in a team game. Andrews kind of forced his hand.
“I don’t like to talk about who is our best player, but … ” Buckley said. “He’s our best player.”
After a raft of injuries did a number on the Dirtbags’ roster, Andrews —a junior transfer from Cabrillo College in Aptos — has emerged as Long Beach’s go-to guy in just about every situation. He’s an uncanny athlete with a head, and discipline, for the game.
“There’s not a lot of overhaul with this guy,” Buckley said.
It seems like the only thing Andrews doesn’t do is strike out. He has three on the season. Andrews averages a strikeout approximately every 38 at bats — best in the nation, making him the most difficult guy to strike out in college baseball.
“He’s got the instincts that are hard to teach,” Buckley said. “He doesn’t strike out.”
And he’s doing a job no one, not even Andrews, expected he’d do this season.
At Cabrillo, Andrews earned All-American honors as a sophomore after hitting .410 in 40 games and serving as a relief pitcher for the Seahawks, but Buckley wanted him mainly for his prowess in center field.
“We were looking for a center fielder,” Buckley said. “On our really good team last year, we didn’t have a center fielder — that was the only piece we didn’t have. The fact that he pitched and did it so well as a reliever was a bonus honestly.”
A bonus that turned into a lifeline for the Dirtbags.
After those roster-altering injuries, the lefty Andrews was moved from primarily center-field duties (with the occasional midweek outing on the mound) to a Saturday afternoon starter who plays center when he’s not pitching.
“We all thought Clayton could pitch out of the bullpen and maybe dabble in Tuesday games,” Buckley said. “That really changed once the injuries hit.
“Even if the injuries were not there, I still think he would be one of our better arms,” he said.
So Andrews, The Press Democrat All-Empire Player of the Year in 2015, has become Long Beach’s all-arounder.
“He’s getting us deep into games and getting us a chance to win every time,” Buckley said.
On rare occasions, Andrews will be called on to both pitch and play the field in the same game. He did it March 25 in Long Beach’s 3-1 win against Fullerton. Andrews allowed one run in eight innings, allowing six hits, getting three strikeouts and giving up two walks.