A surprise start from CSUN sophomore John Baker helped the No. 5 Matadors push their winning streak over No. 6 USC to 16 straight after a 3-1 win over the Trojans on Wednesday night at the Galen Center.
“I found out (that I was starting) today as I walked in here,” Baker said. “Coach (Jeff Campbell) said that we were going with the lineup we had gone with for the past two practices, which I was in, so I was pretty excited.”
Baker led the Matadors (12-4, 9-4 MPSF) in kills with 15 on 25 swings while senior outside hitter Theo Edwards finished with 13. Senior middle blockers Kevin McKniff and Jacek Ratajczak added 12 apiece.
“The big difference for us was our opposite,” Campbell said. “Tanner Nua did not start … and John Baker did.
“John did really well, he hit over .400, and no one expected him to do that. They didn’t really respect him back there and he killed a lot of balls.”
The match began with the teams tied after 14 points. The Matadors, who snapped a two-game losing streak, then used a 2-0 spurt to take a 9-7 advantage thanks to a combined block from Baker and McKniff. CSUN stretched its lead to four (16-12) after a Ratajczak kill.
The Trojans (8-6, 6-5 MPSF) responded with a 5-1 run which tied the score at 17 before the Matadors answered with a 3-0 run. USC did not go away and, after a 5-2 run, was able to once again tie the frame at 22.
But the Matadors took command of the set from that point on, outscoring the Trojans 8-3 and taking the first frame 30-25.
“It took us a little bit to get into it, but then we got fired up and everything started going our way,” CSUN sophomore setter Matt Stork said.
The second set had a bit of déjà vu as the teams split the first 14 points once again, but it was the Trojans that went ahead with a 3-0 run this time. The Matadors came back, though, and even took the lead at 17-16 on a kill by Baker.
However, the Trojans outscored the Matadors 14-7 after that, taking the frame 30-24 and tying the match at one.
The Matadors came out firing on all cylinders with their hitting and blocking in the third set as they got out to a 19-10 lead. CSUN had eight kills and four blocks at that point. USC then responded with an 8-3 run to cut the advantage to 22-18.
But the Matadors put an end to any hope of a comeback from the Trojans via a 3-0 run and finished the frame nine points later thanks to a kill from Baker for the 30-22 win.
“We really focused in on what (USC) was doing and what (USC star opposite hitter) Murphy Troy was going to do, and they stopped setting him,” Edwards said. “We were real disciplined on our blocking and on our defense, and it helped us win that game.”
Feeding off their great third-game play, the Matadors stormed out to an 18-9 fourth-frame lead, an advantage they never relinquished en route to a 30-21 win to finish off USC. The 16-game winning streak over the Trojans dates all the way back to 2004.
“It’s a great feeling to know that you have never lost to those guys, and it’s a hell of an accomplishment,” Edwards said.