The recent surge of the CSUN Matador softball team could be best described by head coach Barbara Jordan.
“We’re peaking at the right time,” Jordan said.
The UC Riverside Highlanders became the latest victim of the Matadors’ rise this past weekend, as Northridge swept Riverside, taking both games of a Saturday doubleheader by scores of 12-4 and 5-1, then taking the final game on Sunday 11-3. The three-game sweep gave the Matadors its sixth win in its last seven games.
In game one, Northridge jumped on Riverside right from the get go. CSUN loaded the bases in the first inning, then freshman first baseman Jaclyn Rymer sent a blooper into right field for a base hit, scoring two runs. Senior left fielder Megan Smith then hit a hard grounder that went off shortstop Kristine Martinez’s glove, allowing Smith to reach first base safely and another run to score.
The Matadors were not done yet. Freshman second baseman Amanda Pitzenberger hit a long flyball towards first baseman Marissa Alvidrez. Alvidrez apparently lost track of the ball in the sun, as the ball went off her glove and into the field, enabling another Matador run to score. The next batter, sophomore shortstop Micah Putnam, blasted a two-run home run over the wall at left-center field, and by the time the Highlanders finally got out of the inning, the Matadors had built a 7-0 lead.
The Matadors salted the game away in the fourth inning. Junior center fielder Jackie Duree led off the inning with a single, then freshman designated player Christina Saenz reached first on a fielding error by Martinez, allowing Duree to take third and Saenz to take second. Compounding the error, Alvidrez, apparently trying to make sure Duree did not score, threw towards home plate, only to see her throw get away from catcher Cassie Greenwaldt and into the backstop. Duree scored on the error and Saenz took third. Sophomore catcher Amanda Peek then hit a two-run home run, almost to the same spot Putnam hit her home run. Peek’s blast, just like Putnam’s blast, accounted for two runs, and it gave Northridge a 10-0 lead.
CSUN pushed across another run in the inning, and its huge advantage after four innings invoked the eight-run mercy rule. Riverside though managed to temporarily put a halt in that scenario, scoring four runs in the top of the fifth inning to cut CSUN’s lead to 11-4, but the delay turned out to be just temporary, as Saenz became the third Matador to send the ball over the wall to left-center field, ending the game right there.
In game two, Riverside struck first, scoring off an RBI sacrifice by catcher Rachel Crawford in the top of the first inning.
Northridge came back to tie in the bottom half of the first on a Saenz single, then in the bottom of the third, Northridge loaded the bases with one out, then Highlander pitcher Sara Radabaugh sent a pitch past the catcher and into the backstop, allowing the lead runner, Duree, to score, giving CSUN the lead.
Rymer then reached on a fielder’s choice, which allowed Pitzenberger to score. Northridge added two more runs in the fourth inning, which was more than enough for Pitzenberger, as she went the distance, striking out three and allowing one unearned run for the 5-1 win.
“Even though the score didn’t show it, we really did well offensively,” Jordan said of game two.
Riverside hoped to salvage the series finale on Sunday, and things started out well, as the Highlanders again scored one in the top of the first, then after Northridge again came back to tie in the bottom first, Riverside loaded the bases in the top second, then April Murray reached first on a fielders’ choice, allowing one run to score, but the Highlanders sent home another run on a Matador error.
CSUN though responded in a huge way in the bottom of the second. CSUN loaded the bases, then senior third baseman Kelly Zakosek singled to left field to bring home the tying runs.
CSUN grabbed the lead on a Duree base hit which she stretched into a double, but a throwing error enabled Duree to get to third and Zakosek to score to give CSUN a 4-3 lead.
Three more Matador runs capped off a six-run third inning that gave them a 7-3 lead.
Riverside threatened briefly in the top third, putting runners on second and third base.
Katie Curtis then hit a liner to left field that looked like it might drop in for a hit, but Smith ran in and made an extraordinary diving catch that saved two runs.
Smith then threw to Zakosek originally to keep the runner at third, but the umpires later ruled that runner out because that runner did not tag up at third properly.
“I had to lay it all out to keep it in,” Smith said.
CSUN added another run in the bottom third on a solo home run by Pitzenberger, then in the fourth, the Matadors put two runners on and Smith sent a deep flyball to left-field. The left fielder tracked the ball all the way to the wall and looked to make the catch, but the ball instead went off her glove and over the wall, giving Smith a three-run home run that made it an 11-3 Matador lead.
“I didn’t think I hit it out, but it kept going,” Smith said.
Northridge’s eight-run lead again invoked the eight-run mercy rule, only this time, the Matadors held on to that lead in the top of the fifth inning, as junior pitcher Mercedes Lovato, who came in as a reliever in the third inning, shut out the Highlanders the rest of the way.
“I was trying get ahead of the batter and trying to stay in control of the game,” Lovato said.
CSUN is now 19-19, 7-8 and in fifth place in the Big West Conference. The Matadors now brace for a pivotal three-game series with the Pacific Tigers, who are 33-17, 8-4 and are currently in third place in the Big West.
All three games, starting with a doubleheader on Saturday, followed by Sunday’s finale, will start at 12 noon at Matador Diamond.
Sunday’s game will also be the final home game for seniors Smith and Zakosek. Both players will be honored prior to Sunday’s game.