Matadors fall in back-and-forth game against Creighton

Infielder Joey Kramer, 6, prepares to bat. Kramer had two hits and one walk in the 7-6 loss to Creighton University on Friday, March 3, 2023, at Matador Field in Northridge, Calif.

José C. Delgado, Reporter

The CSUN men’s baseball team lost to the Creighton Bluejays in a close game on Friday, where the Matadors committed costly errors and left several runners on base.

The three-game set marks the first time the two programs have faced each other since 1992. The Matadors were coming off of three days of rest after their exhibition match against Waseda University was canceled due to weather conditions.

In the first inning, both teams threatened by putting a runner in scoring position, but neither was able to drive them in. A 5-4-3 double play ended the inning.

Creighton cracked the scoreboard first with a two-run home run by left fielder Jack Grace at the top of the second inning. The home run was Grace’s third of the year and the second allowed by CSUN starter Lucas Braun.

The Matadors managed to pull back a run in the bottom of the third via an RBI single by right fielder Andrew Sojka. The run was followed by a single from catcher Graysen Tarlow, putting two runners on. The Matadors were unable to capitalize and stranded them both.

Tarlow came into the game as the team’s leader in hits, RBIs and batting average. He finished the game 2-3, hitting two singles and scoring a run.

“A lot of it is just taking a good approach going into the game,” Tarlow said. “I know we like to do a lot of scouting reports before games and just kind of continuing to do my routine and preparations before the games and just going up there. ‘Seeing ball hitting ball’, as cliche as that is, but it kind of just comes down to that.”

The Matadors were able to tie the game at two in the bottom of the fourth after stringing together some hits and capitalizing on an error by the Bluejays. But again, the Matadors left runners on, ending the inning with the bases loaded.

The Bluejays reclaimed the lead after Grace hit a leadoff double at the top of the fifth. A pair of groundouts allowed him to come around and make the game 3-2.

“We’ve been preaching the freebie war all year, and if we continue to lose that freebie war we’re not going to win very much, so that’s on us to clean up,” head coach Eddie Cornejo said.

The Matadors were finally able to take advantage with runners in scoring position in the bottom of the seventh. After loading the bases and forcing a pitching change, the Matadors saw designated hitter Emanuel Dean step up to the plate. Dean brought two runners home with a single into left field. The Matadors loaded the bases a second time, which yielded the same result for CSUN. This time, the single into left came from left fielder Kevin Fitzer.

With two innings to go, the Matadors found themselves in front, 6-3.

The Bluejays came into the top of the eighth and quickly filled the bases. A hit by pitch brought a run across, trimming the Matadors’ lead to two. Braun was pulled from the game after this mistake, bringing his final line to 7.1 innings pitched, six earned runs and 10 strikeouts.

A nightmare play ensued for the Matadors. Creighton shortstop Nolan Clifford greeted reliever Xavier Martinez with a single that ricocheted off the right field wall, scoring two. A throwing error on the play home allowed the third runner to score and suddenly, the Matadors were down 7-6.

In the bottom half of the inning, Tarlow was hit by a pitch above the knee. He hit the ground and appeared to be in a lot of pain. Tarlow was able to finish the game, but Cornejo said he will be a game-time decision for the second leg of the series.

The Bluejays threatened again in the top of the ninth, but were shut down by the Matadors. As they faced their final chance at winning, the Matadors started the bottom of the ninth with a strikeout and a walk. A single by Joey Kramer sent pinch runner Elijah Cook flying around the bases. Cook was gunned down at third, leaving little hope for the Matadors. Fitzer grounded into a fielder’s choice on the next pitch, leaving the Matadors short of a victory.

“There were a couple of innings where I thought there was a little bit of a lull. We lost our focus and our energy but we were able to bring it back, so that’s positive,” Cornejo said. “The downside is that we have to do the little things. We’ve gotta be able to take care of the baseball, we have to continue to pound the zone and trust the defense.”

The Matadors dropped to 5-2 overall following the game, while the Bluejays improved to 4-3.

Northridge will wrap up the weekend series against Creighton on Sunday, before traveling to play a three-game series against the Pacific Tigers from March 10-12.