Matadors top UC Irvine in extra innings


Mikaella Salazar

Mason Le returns to the dugout to be greeted by his team as they take on Long Beach State on March 27, 2022, at Matador Field in Northridge, Calif. Photo courtesy of Cal State Long Beach Athletics.

Jordan Puente, Sports Editor

Drama in baseball is what makes the sport electrifying for so many. CSUN (14-10, 3-4 Big West Conference) versus UC Irvine (15-9, 5-2 Big West) on Friday night at Cicerone Field was exactly what you would expect. The game ended in 14 innings, but it is what happened in between that makes you appreciate the game.

“We were in some tough situations, but they stayed together and we came out on top, [but] that was a really special Friday night of college baseball,” CSUN coach Dave Serrano said.

Indeed it was a special Friday night of baseball for Serrano. He got to come back to Irvine where he coached the Anteaters in 2007, leading them to their first College World Series appearance.

“You know this is a special weekend for me. I coached this program at Irvine and I get to bring my team back here in Northridge,” Serrano said.

The Anteaters were down 4-3 throughout most of the game until first baseman Dub Gleed, in the bottom of the eighth, sent the ball deep enough into right field to help bring in left fielder Justin Torres to tie the game 4-4.

Even in extras, both teams had a chance to win it. UCI had a few moments where they had the walk-off in play, but it was CSUN’s composure and will to win that kept them in the game. In the 11th inning, CSUN regained the lead, but UCI found a way to stay in the game by bringing in a run as well.

Extra innings after innings, neither of the teams could get a run in, but it was the Matadors who broke that scoreless streak in the top of the 14th inning.

The Matadors came out on top in the 14th inning, 7-5, with the help of pinch hitter Drew Porter, who came in for designated hitter Gabe Gonzalez.

Porter was able to advance to first after a throwing error, allowing right fielder Andrew Sojka to score the go-ahead run, pushing CSUN in front 6-5. Then the very next batter, third baseman Mason Le added to that lead with a sacrifice pop fly extending it to 7-5.

A game does not go to extras without great pitching from both teams. The Matadors were on alert the whole game because the Anteaters did not back away once. In the first few innings both teams traded blows with CSUN starting the first inning off hot with a two-run single from first baseman Joey Kramer.

It was a duel between the batters and pitchers despite the Matadors having multiple chances to blow a lead. CSUN has been in this position before. The last extra-inning game they were in was against UCLA, but in that game they lost. Serrano mentioned that he was proud of the way the team has learned from those mistakes.

Starting pitcher Blaine Traxel, who is 3-1 in starts, might have pitched his best game of the season. Serrano even noted that he would pick Traxel above anyone he has coached.

“I will pick Blaine Traxel any day of the week. Throughout my whole career, he battles. He’s a warrior. He’s tough [and] he’s got a bit of savvy,” Serrano said.

Traxel pitched a dynamite seven innings, despite being responsible for four runs, while striking out nine. His energy and mantra sat with the team the whole game. Anytime Traxel got a batter out, he would in excitement throw a fist in the air while looking at his teammates as if they just won the game.

The crowd shrank as the game headed late into the night, but you would not have been able to tell with the energy from family and friends supporting the UCI and CSUN players. Chants broke out, and kids even got an extended bedtime, since the game ended around 10 p.m. after starting at 6 p.m.

“I think as a fan, it keeps you on the edge of your seat all day or night and allows us to stay in the game a lot longer. With the blowout people leave and it’s not as exciting, but a game like this, everyone is waiting for the next pitch, waiting for the next hit. So I think it’s more of an exciting game,” Gonzalez said.