After a brief two-year hiatus, the CSUN Matador softball team is back in the NCAA Tournament, and they won’t have to travel far to start its playoff run.
The Matadors will start its 2007 playoff run up North, as they travel to Palo Alto to participate in the Stanford regional. In addition to host Stanford, Northridge will also be joined by Louisiana State University and Fresno State University. CSUN will face LSU Thursday at 3 p.m.
“The players put us here,” head coach Barbara Jordan said. “They worked hard all year and they deserve to be here.”
The Matadors finished the regular season with a record of 23-21-1, 9-9 in conference play, which placed them in a tie for fourth with Pacific. The Matadors playoff hopes didn’t look good back in April, when a doubleheader sweep at the hands of conference champion Cal Poly San Luis Obispo dropped CSUN to 1-7 in the conference.
The Matadors fought back, taking the series finale from the Mustangs the next day. That win, followed by two of three wins in series against UC Santa Barbara and Pacific and a sweep of UC Riverside evened the Matador’s conference record, thus improving their playoff chances.
Northridge also helped its playoff chances prior to the start of conference play, as it defeated two nationally ranked opponents at the time, 24th ranked Florida State and 12th ranked Washington. Both games were at Cal State Fullerton’s Judi Garman Classic the weekend of March 15-17. CSUN is one of five Big West Teams to make it to postseason play.
“It’s important how you finish the season,” Jordan said of CSUN’s strong finish. “I think it’s given us confidence (because) we’ve played some good teams along the way.”
Northridge’s offense has been among the best in the Big West. CSUN is third in overall batting average (.278) and on base percentage (.361). The Matadors also clubbed 36 home runs as a team, which also ranks third in the Big West and is second in the conference in slugging percentage (.429).
Sophomore catcher Amanda Peek has picked u p where she left off last year, batting .352 with 13 home runs and driving in 29 runs. Senior left fielder Megan Smith and freshman Christina Saenz tied for second with five home runs. Saenz also leads the team in batting average (.375) and is second in RBIs (26).
“I don’t want to them to change and do anything differently, I want them to keep doing what got us here,” Jordan said.
LSU comes in as the Western Division champions of the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers went 52-10, 22-6 in the SEC West. LSU were ranked fifth in the last ESPN.com poll and start the playoffs as the No. 10 seed. Jordan said the key to beating a team like LSU is to come out as the aggressor early.
“The main thing is to come out and attack them and not sit back on our heels and see what they’re like,” Jordan said. “If we wait to see what they’re like, it’ll be too late.”
The Tigers pitching appears to be its strong point, with Emily Turner and Dani Hofer provide the LSU’s starting 1-2 punch. Turner is 19-6 with a 1.17 Earned Run Average while Hofer is 23-2 with a 1.27 ERA and has also struck out 234 batters. Cody Trahan and Tiffany Garcia supply the relief for the Tigers. Trahan is 4-1 with a 0.54 ERA and Garcia is 6-1 with a 1.33 ERA.
The Tigers are also dangerous on the basepaths. LSU stole 93 bases out of 105 attempts, which ranked sixth in the 11-team SEC. DeeDee Henderson is the Tigers’ main threat, as she stole 29 bases in 31 attempts. Henderson’s 29 steals ranks seventh in the SEC. Leslie Klein stole 21 bases in 25 attempts and Jazz Jackson has stolen 15 bases in 16 attempts. Still, Peek is looking forward to the opportunity of facing LSU’s base runners.
“The coaches said a good throw beats speed,” Peek said.
Should the Matadors win on Thursday, they will face the winner of the Stanford-Fresno State matchup, which takes place shortly after CSUN’s game with LSU. The NCAA softball tournament is a double-elimination process, meaning if the Matadors lose on Thursday, they must win on Friday to avoid elimination. The Matadors are confident they have what it takes to be successful in the playoffs.
“We have to come out the same ay we come out every day,” Smith said. “Everyone’s gotta be there. I think we can do it.”