The Matadors score 38 runs in first two games against UC Riverside

CSUN baseball’s Kevin Fitzer, 33, waits for a pitch during their game against UC Riverside on Friday, March 31, 2023, at Matador Field in Northridge Calif.

Charlie Gonzalez and Edward Segal

The CSUN baseball team powered its way through the first two games of the three-game series against the visiting UC Riverside Highlanders, scoring a combined 38 runs to put UC Riverside away.

Only one day removed from heavy rain in the valley, the series went on Friday afternoon. The first inning of game one set the tone for the match, with CSUN scoring as many runs as the Highlanders scored the entire day. The Matadors went through their entire batting order, with leadoff hitter Jakob Simons and Shunsuke Sakaino coming to the plate twice.

UC Riverside’s starting pitcher Tucker Juline was pulled after the fourth at-bat of the third inning, having given up ten hits and seven runs. Relief pitcher David O’Neill, and the others who followed, couldn’t stop the bleeding, and the Matadors matched or surpassed the Highlanders’ run totals for every inning.

UC Riverside’s infield committed three errors, two of which occurred on the same play. In the bottom of the fifth with two outs, shortstop Tyler Weaver had a bad throw to first, allowing Sakaino to reach first and Simons to reach third. This was immediately followed by a throwing error by first baseman Jacob Shanks, which gave Sakaino a window to advance to third and allowed Simons to score an unearned run.

CSUN scored 18 runs, their third-most of the season after Saturday’s game. They also collected 23 hits while committing zero errors. Simons got on base in five of his six at-bats, amassing five hits, five RBIs and three runs to lead the Matadors. His highlight of the day was a two-run homer in the seventh that gave CSUN an 11-3 lead.

“I was trying to be aggressive and received good pitches to swing at,” Simons said. “I knew my home run was gone, it felt good off the bat.”

The Matadors’ starting pitcher, Lucas Braun, threw ten strikeouts in six innings, earning his second win of the season. After the Highlanders fell behind early, many of their batters appeared to be swinging for the fences out of desperation, which led to many strikeouts. This strategy only worked twice, with Marcellus Pearson and Jayden Lopez each hitting a solo home run. Their efforts were futile, as UC Riverside trailed by 13 runs entering the ninth inning.

Coach Eddie Cornejo was pleased with his team’s energy and quick start.

“I attribute this victory to our aggressiveness early,” he said. “That six-run first inning was extremely helpful, but it was the inside game where we bunted and put pressure on them that allowed us to come up clutch and get runners in scoring position.”

Game two played out in a similar fashion, dominated by the Matadors’ offense. The Matadors one-upped themselves as a team, scoring 20 runs on 23 hits. Their 38 combined runs in these two matches are the most they have scored in back-to-back games since April 2019, when they scored 39 against these same Highlanders. Simons one-upped his performance from Friday and hit two home runs, his first time doing that in the regular season since he was in junior college.

“I’m just trying to focus on hitting the ball,” Simons said. “I’ve just been getting lucky and I’ve been able to connect on some good pitches.”

From the moment Simons hit a leadoff homer at the bottom of the first, the Matadors never took their foot off the gas.

Thomas Bainton, the winning pitcher, came through to keep the Highlanders at bay. In the first, he struck out the first three batters in order, and after giving up back-to-back singles in the top of the second, Bainton pitched two strikeouts to leave the runners stranded. He threw eight strikeouts and gave up only one walk.

The Highlanders finally struck on a single in the third, but the Matadors answered in the bottom of the inning with a single from Ali Camarillo.

In the bottom of the fourth, disaster struck when Matadors first baseman Nathan Barraza hit a foul ball over the right field netting and watched it hit someone’s car. The owner of the car made it known the ball made impact by yelling, “You hit my car!” for everyone to hear. But play went on, and CSUN had its best inning of the game.

Simons kicked the bottom of the fourth off with his second homer of the day, sending the ball just inside the foul pole in left field. He also brought in Andrew Sojka, who reached on a hit-by-pitch. Later, catcher Graysen Tarlow singled into right center, forcing the Highlanders into a pitching change. Tarlow stole second right after Vincent Cicolello stepped on the mound. With runners on second and third for the Matadors, left fielder Kevin Fitzer stepped up and singled into left center, bringing them both home to make it 7-1. Camarillo tripled to right center to bring in Fitzer, then scored on a wild pitch. The inning finally ended on a flyout into center field, the score 9-1. Eight Matadors reached in this two-out rally.

UC Riverside did not give up easily. In the fifth inning, second baseman Dominic Martinez buried a two-run homer to left field, making it 9-3. But in the bottom of the fifth, the Matadors scored four more runs. Two singles and a walk loaded the bases, allowing Fitzer to hit a base-clearing triple into right field as the ball rolled into the corner by the Highlanders’ bullpen. Camarillo then doubled into deep center to bring home Fitzer, making it 13-3.

Things got worse for the Highlanders in the sixth. To lead off the bottom of the inning, third baseman Joey Kramer hit a home run into left center to put the Matadors up 11. One out later, Brandon Leon, who pinch hit for Simons, hit the first home run of his college career.

“I felt like I got a little jammed,” Leon said. “But off the bat it felt pretty good, but I saw it in the air and I was hard out of the box, but once it went over, it was just regular to me.”

First baseman Alfredo Capacete homered into left center in the seventh inning to give the Highlanders their fourth and final run of the game. The Matadors tacked on five more in the eighth and won the game 20-4.

UC Riverside went through four pitchers, but none of them could halt CSUN’s offensive onslaught. Twelve Matadors had a hit, 10 had a run and nine had an RBI Saturday afternoon.

“I think they’re playing a little looser and freer,” Cornejo said. “I go back to our last weekend in Santa Barbara, I felt we were a little bit tight, out of character, maybe pressing a little bit too much. We were still able to score runs Saturday and Sunday, but we got shut down on Friday and I think we’re getting pitches to hit and we’re ready for them.”