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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.

For good measure, he also hit a two-run triple in the eighth inning to crack a scoreless tie.

“He was the best player on the field,” Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook told The Orange County Register.

Buckley’s only real worry with Andrews is that he relies on him too much.

“I’m very cognizant of wearing the kid down to a certain degree,” he said. “Even though he’ll do it, he’s very competitive and driven in that way. I need to make sure, ‘Hey, enough is enough, young man. You did a helluva job, but let somebody else track that ball down.’

“It would be nice to surround him with some more talent and tools so he doesn’t feel like he has to carry everyone on his shoulders,” he said. “That can be heavy.”

But ask Andrews, and he says that all of the playing time and having a hand in everything the Dirtbags are doing on the diamond is what it is about.

“I wasn’t expecting to be on the mound as much as I have been, but I definitely have no complaints,” Andrews said.

And on the mound is where Andrews has a chance to play at the next level, Buckley said.

Taken by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 40th round of the Major League Baseball draft last June, Andrews has a chance to be a big-league pitcher, according to his coach.

“I think he will get a chance,” Buckley said.

“He’s got a change up that is devastating,” he said. “He has enough life on his fastball. He has a breaking ball. It’s not really a vicious breaking ball but it works and you have to respect it as a hitter. He can throw all three as strikes.”

“He’s an unbelievable athlete,” said his former high school coach, Derek DeBenedetti, who now coaches at Cardinal Newman.

“He was doing things as a freshman in high school that a lot of seniors weren’t doing as far as instinct and knack for the game,” he said. “He’s extremely baseball savvy.”

DeBenedetti said Andrews was a jack of all trades for the Pumas, but that is kind of par for the course in high school. For a guy to be a jack of all trades — and to dominate those trades — at the highest level of college baseball?

“It doesn’t surprise me,” DeBenedetti said. “He is one of the fiercest competitors I have ever coached.”

For his part, Andrews says he just tries to do his job, no matter where he finds himself on the field.

“I just love being out there,” he said.

The Dirtbags were 12-20 overall and 1-2 in the Big West conference heading into Tuesday night’s home game against No. 17-ranked UCLA.

Andrews’ next start is expected to be Saturday at CSU Northridge.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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