The CSUN men’s baseball team completed a two-game series with UCLA that first began on Feb. 26. The first game was called in the eighth inning due to darkness, but only after the Bruins put 22 runs on the board, compared to Northridge’s two. The last two innings were completed Tuesday, followed by the second game of the series at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
UCLA (18-14) faced a different Northridge (15-17, 4-5 BWC) team then it had the first time. The Matadors followed the 22-2 loss with a 4-0 win. The victory broke a four game losing streak to the Bruins, and was only the second shutout of the season.
“We came into the first game knowing they were the preseason number one (team),” sophomore pitcher Billy Ott said. “We played them, not necessarily scared, but tried to do more than we are capable of. So this time, we came out there with everyone trusting their stuff and doing what they’re supposed to do.”
CSUN head coach Steve Rousey said the differences were evident in every facet of the team, especially at the plate.
“Offensively we’re much better and more efficient,” Rousey said. “We’re much better with our bunting game and we run the bases much more intelligently than we did back then.”
The Matador pitching staff held the Bruins to just four hits and two walks, while the offense put up four runs on seven hits.
Northridge got on the board early in the top of the first inning. Sophomore left fielder Billy Swanson reached base on a bunt down the third baseline. He advanced to third on junior catcher John Parham’s single to center and a throwing error by the center fielder. With runners on second and third, junior first baseman Richard Cates grounded out to second base, scoring Swanson from third.
Swanson was 1-for-5, while Parham was 2-for-3 with two hits and one run. Parham and Cates are tied for the best batting average (.405), slugging percentage (.603), and hits (49) on the team.
“I’ve been trying to stay with my approach at the plate and it’s been working out well for me,” Parham said. “Other guys are picking me up when I don’t come through, and I try to do the same thing for them. It’s been an overall team effort so far this year.”
Ott shut down the Bruins in a five inning, two hit outing. He had two strikeouts and a pair of walks on the way to his first win of the season (1-2, 5.96 ERA). Ott retired the first six batters he faced for a 1-2-3 first and second inning. He said this might have been his best start of the year, but certainly hopes it is not his last.
“The cornerstone of my performance was going out there and challenging guys,” Ott said. “I’ve had a lot of talks with Coach Rousey this year about trusting my stuff, getting it to where it is and not trying to overpower hitters.”
In the top of the fourth inning, CSUN tacked another run onto the scoreboard. Freshman designated hitter Chris Hannick and sophomore center fielder C.J. Belanger walked to start the inning. Freshman shortstop Justin DeMarco knocked Hannick home with a single through the left side. Belanger advanced to third and DeMarco to second on a throwing error by the left fielder. DeMarco went 2-for-4 and is batting .275 in 91 plate appearances.
Parham led off the top of the fifth inning with walk and moved to second on a wild pitch. With two outs, freshman third baseman Ryan Pineda doubled to right center, knocking in Parham from second. The Matador lead was now 3-0.
In the bottom of the sixth, freshman Davin Tate relived Ott and pitched three innings of near perfect baseball. He gave up only one hit, struck out three, and retired nine of the eleven batters he faced.
In the top of the eighth, CSUN got an insurance run to bring the score to 4-0. Hannick led off with a double to center field. Freshman Todd Eskelin came in to pinch run and advanced to third on Pineda’s sacrifice bunt to the pitcher. With two outs, Eskelin scored on a passed ball, leading to the unearned run.
Junior Edwin Quirarte came in to pitch the bottom of the ninth. UCLA was threatening with runners on first and second with two outs, but Quirarte got the Bruins’ Mickey Weisser to strike out swinging to end the game. Quirarte (2-2, 4 saves) is leading the team with a 1.23 ERA and is second with 23 strikeouts.
“Lately we’ve proven to ourselves that we can beat big competition,” Ott said. “We’re just happy to get the W.”
The Matadors return to action on Friday for a three-game conference series with No. 25 nationally-ranked California State University, Long Beach (20-14, 2-4 BWC). Northridge is sixth in the Big West Conference rankings, while Long Beach is seventh. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Matador Field.