CSUN’s walk-off home run leads to series-opening win against UC Irvine


The team celebrates after Ryan Ball hits a walk-off home run to seal their win against UC Irvine at Matador Field in Northridge, Calif. on Saturday, April 3, 2021.

Blake Williams, Reporter

Matadors’ designated hitter Ryan Ball stepped to the plate against Anteaters’ pitcher Tanner Brooks in the 12th inning of a 7-7 ballgame. There was one out and no one on base nearly 21 hours after the first pitch of the game.

After a strike on the first pitch, Ball battled to get to a full count. Brooks then came set and threw a changeup. Ball swung and pulled a fly ball into right field. Nathan Church, the Anteaters’ right fielder, raced back to the wall and leaped in an attempt to make the catch.

But the ball just cleared his glove and went over the fence — a walk-off home run for Ball.

As Ball was rounding the bases, his teammates all ran onto the field and surrounded him when he arrived at home plate. Ball gave the Matadors an 8-7 win and handed UC Irvine their first in-conference loss of the season.

“It’s a moment I’ll never forget,” Ball said in a phone interview. “And honestly, I was kind of numb going around. I didn’t really feel anything, I don’t really remember much, but it’s definitely something I’ll never forget.”

The game started at 3 p.m. on Friday, but after 11 innings and more than four hours of play, it had to be suspended due to darkness. It resumed the following day at noon.

The Matadors jumped out to an early lead in the second inning when they batted around and scored five runs. Brandon Bohning opened the scoring with an RBI single that brought in Sean Skelly. The Matadors also had RBIs from Ball, Carlos Arellano and Kai Moody, who had two.

Sean Skelly makes a sliding catch against the UC Irvine Anteaters at the Matador Field in Northridge, Calif., on Friday, April 2, 2021. The Matadors won the game 8-7 in 12 innings. (Blake Williams)

CSUN starting pitcher Blake Sodersten pitched into the eighth inning, allowing only two runs, which came on a home run by UCI catcher Dillon Tatum.

“I believe I got behind in the count and the hitter was just hitting sitting on a fastball and he went out there and hit it really well,” Sodersten said in a phone interview. “So I tip my cap to him for hitting that fastball over the fence.”

Sodersten started the eighth inning, but he walked the leadoff hitter. Head coach Dave Serrano then went to the bullpen and gave the ball to Blaine Traxel, who pitched a scoreless inning.

Sodersten finished the day throwing seven innings while allowing two runs on four hits with eight strikeouts and three walks.

“I just committed to the strike zone,” Sodersten said. “I stuck with the plan that I was going to commit to throwing my fastball in the zone and letting the hitters get themselves out, letting my pitches work for myself, and just really trusting my defense behind me.”

The Matadors then handed the ball over to closer Blake Schriever in the ninth inning with a four-run lead. Schriever recently moved into second place on CSUN’s all-time saves list and has been one of CSUN’s top pitchers over the past two seasons.

It felt like the game was over, but the Anteaters didn’t agree.

Adrian Damla opened the inning with a leadoff single. After a line out to right field, Tatum walked and Justin Torres doubled to make it a three-run game. Tatum then scored on a wild pitch but Josh Sheck struck out to give the Matadors two outs in the inning.

But after back-to-back doubles from Jake Cosgrove and Nathan Church tied the game at 6-6, Mike Peabody singled to right field to give the Anteaters a 7-6 lead.

It was a stunning five-run inning for the Anteaters against one of the most effective closers in the NCAA.

In the bottom of the ninth, trailing by one, Jose Ruiz opened the inning with a single. Nathan Barraza pinch-ran for Ruiz and was bunted over to second by Dalton Vanhille. Barraza then took third on a passed ball and Robert Bullard came in to pinch hit.

On a 1-1 count, Bullard singled through the left side of the infield to tie the game 7-7. The Matadors then loaded the bases with two outs and had a chance to win but Ball flew out to center and the inning was over.

Jackson Cunningham throws a pitch against the UC Irvine Anteaters at the Matador Field in Northridge, Calif., on Friday, April 2, 2021. Cunningham, who came in to pitch during extra innings, was credited with the win after throwing three innings of the Matadors’ 8-7 win. (Blake Williams)

Jackson Cunningham was brought in to pitch the 10th inning and held the Anteaters scoreless for three innings — two of which happened on Friday and the other on Saturday.

The Matadors had a chance to win in the 11th inning when Denzel Clarke came up to the plate with two outs and a runner on second. Clarke hit a ball past the Anteaters’ third baseman that would have won the game, but it was just foul by a few inches. The chance ended when he hit a hard ground ball to shortstop to end the inning and the umpires then suspended the game.

Denzel Clarke swings at a pitch against the UC Irvine Anteaters at Matador Field in Northridge, Calif., on Friday, April 2, 2021. The Matadors won the game 8-7 in 12 innings. (Blake Williams)

After getting the win on Saturday, the Matadors improved their record to 4-5. Game two of the series started 50 minutes after the end of game one.

The Matadors will play a doubleheader on Sunday with the first game scheduled to start at 11 a.m.