After being swept last weekend by Big West Conference rival University of California, Santa Barbara, the CSUN men’s baseball team bounced back with its first conference sweep in four years.
Northridge (13-13, 3-3 BWC) hosted Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo (9-17, 1-5 BWC) this past weekend for a three-game series at Matador Field.
On Friday, the Matadors defeated the Mustangs 9-7, edged them out 3-2 in extra innings on Saturday, and won convincingly on Sunday, 8-3.
“Sweeps in the Big West are really hard” CSUN head coach Steve Rousey said. “You target it as a goal to win a series and if you win a series, you’ve done an excellent job. If you get a sweep, you have done something special.”
While the club was putting some Ws in the win column, it was keeping some Es off the scoreboard. CSUN has struggled on defense this season. In the last series alone, Northridge committed seven errors. In this series, the Matadors had only two fielding miscues.
“The funny thing about baseball is when you have a ball hit at you and you make an error, the next one is coming at you again,” freshman shortstop Justin DeMarco said. “Making that second play is the biggest thing and we’ve done a good job of that.”
In the series opener on Friday, a trio of freshman led the Northridge offense. Designated hitter Drew Muren went 4-for-4 and scored three runs, third baseman Ryan Pineda was 3-for-3 and knocked in three RBIs, and DeMarco was 2-for-3 with five RBIs. Not only did DeMarco knock in more than half the team’s runs, but he did it all with two outs.
“Justin is what we refer to as a gamer,” Rousey said. “He’s at his best in the big situations. How people come to be like that, nobody knows but he’s definitely one of them.”
On defense, it was a pair of junior relief pitchers that shutout Cal Poly in the last four innings of the game. P.J. Rousey worked the sixth and seventh, giving up one hit and striking out three batters. Edwin Quirarte pitched the final two innings, giving up one hit and two walks.
Cal Poly jumped out to an early 4-1 lead, but in the bottom of the fourth the CSUN bats came alive. Junior catcher John Parham started the inning with a double down the right field line. The next batter, junior left fielder Richard Cates reached on a throwing error by the pitcher, scoring Parham from second. Junior first baseman Dominic D’Anna singled up the middle scoring Cates, closing the Mustangs’ lead to 4-3. Four batters later, DeMarco doubled down the right field line, knocking in Pineda and Muren. Northridge ended the inning with a 5-4 lead.
Cal Poly regained the lead in the top of the fifth, scoring three runs on three hits. Northridge fired back with two runs in the bottom half of the frame to tie the game at 7-7. Pineda and DeMarco each recorded an RBI.
Northridge took the lead for good in the bottom of the seventh. Muren hit his fourth single of the day, followed by Pineda’s single to left. Two outs and two batters later, DeMarco singled to right field, scoring Muren and Pineda.
“It was a good day,” DeMarco said. “They left some balls up for me, so I just put some good swings on it.”
On Saturday, senior Phil Hann took the mound and pitched six strong innings, giving up four hits, two earned runs and striking out six batters.
Offensively, Cates came up big, hitting the walk off double to give the Matadors a 3-2 win in the 10th inning. Cates said he was relaxed at the plate and felt no pressure.
“Worse comes to worse our pitchers go out and throw another good inning,” Cates said. “But it was a good way to end the game.”
Both teams had a relatively quiet day at the plate. Cal Poly had five hits, 10 strikeouts and left 11 runners on base. Northridge had nine hits, seven strikeouts and left nine on base.
Northridge got on the board in the bottom of the fourth. Sophomore left fielder Billy Swanson and Parham led off with back-to-back singles. Swanson scored on a Cates fly out to center field.
In the bottom of the fifth, senior pinch hitter Jowen-James Murray-Thornton doubled down the right field line with one out. DeMarco followed with a single, but advanced to second on a throwing error. That allowed Murray-Thornton to score, giving CSUN a 2-0 lead.
Cal Poly followed with two runs of its own in the top of the sixth ending Hann’s chances for a shutout. Junior Bryce Schoenig came on in the seventh inning and pitched one and a third, giving up one hit and walking three. Quirarte relieved Shoenig with one out in the eighth, and pitched two shutout innings. While recording the win, he walked one batter and struck out four.
On Sunday, Cal Poly jumped out to an early lead with four hits and two runs in the top of the first inning. The early offensive attack led to an early exit for starting pitcher Davin Tate after facing only seven batters. The Matador bullpen delivered another strong relief performance, giving up only one run in the next eight innings.
DeMarco had another good day at the plate going 1-for-3 and knocking in two runs, but it was the bat of sophomore center fielder C.J. Belanger that sealed the game. Coming into Sunday, Belanger was in the midst of a hitting slump and batting .211 in 71 plate appearances. On Sunday, he went 3-for-4, and scored three of the Matadors’ eight runs. He also knocked in two runs.
“I hurt my elbow in the weight room a little bit ago and have been working on getting it better,” Belanger said. “Today’s the best my elbow has felt in a long time.
With an 8-3 CSUN advantage going into the sixth, frustration settled in for the Mustangs. In the bottom of the inning, Parham flied out to shallow center and DeMarco tagged up on third. Tempers flared when DeMarco collided with Cal Poly’s catcher at home plate. The players from each team jumped off the benches, but most remained in the dugouts. The coaches for each team ran on the field to prevent the situation from escalating.
“We can all say you’re not supposed to do that, but you’re a catcher, you’re having a tough go at it and somebody runs over you, you get mad,” Rosuey said. “I can’t say that I blame him but at the same time, it was not a dirty play.”
The Matadors scored eight runs on nine hits, and freshman Peter Mendez was credited with his first win of the season.
Belanger said having the season record back at .500 is very important for the team and the Big West Standings.
“We have Fullerton next weekend and 3-3 is a lot better because it gives us a lot more confidence going into that series,” he said.
Northridge travels to No. 16 nationally-ranked California State University, Fullerton (18-10, 4-2 BWC) on Friday for a three-game Big West Conference series. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Goodwin Field.