A new tradition is underway at Matador Field.
The Cal State Northridge baseball team is in the process of rebuilding a program that was marked by seven consecutive losing seasons after winning the 2002 Big West Championship.
Even after recording its first winning season since 2002 at 29-27 in 2010, the program made a change at head coach, bringing in Matt Curtis, a first-year head coach who was on the College World Series-winning Fresno State staff in 2008.
Curtis brought into his staff a Major League World Series champion in Tim Leary, and Shaun Larkin, a former Matador who was part of that 2002 championship team.
A new coach means new lessons to be learned and new ideas to implement, but the Matador players are excited and optimistic about the prospect of a new system.
“We’re looking to start a new tradition. New faces mean new ideas and new philosophies,” said senior pitcher Paul Tremlin, who won seven games for CSUN with 52 strikeouts last season. “I believe what (coach) Curtis is trying to do and what we’re trying to do.”
Even though they are coming off a plus .500 season, the Matadors have several holes that need to be filled before the start of the season. The team lost several core players that provided much of the offense.
Northridge lost outfielder C.J. Belanger and first baseman Dominic D’Anna. Belanger lead the team in batting average (.357), hits (76), and was second in doubles with 16 and third in runs batted in (43). D’Anna was second on the team in average (.338) and RBIs with 47.
CSUN also lost second baseman Ryan Pineda who was selected to the All-Big West Conference First Team, hit .316 and led the team in home runs (16) and RBIs (66).
Curtis said losing top offensive players is unfortunate, but pointed out that losing players is also an opportunity for other guys to step up and contribute.
“Certainly when you have a guy like Belanger, D’Anna and Pineda, you know, the middle of the order, losing those guys hurts,” Curtis said. “Guys develop and guys get better. Offensively, I think we’ve got a good core, a good nucleus to work with.”
Those players are incoming Ventura College transfer infielder Adam Berry, senior outfielder Ridge Carpenter and sophomore infielder Christian Allen.
Curtis said Barry and Allen have a chance at making an immediate impact on the lineup in the middle of the order if they’re disciplined in their approach at the plate.
Despite key departures, the Matadors have returning players that can prove vital to a smooth transition and successful season.
Carpenter, who hit .298 and was second on the team in stolen bases with 20, is back as well as Tremlin, senior infielders Justin DeMarco and TS Reed and senior pitcher Ryan Juarez. DeMarco and Reed both hit over .300 and hit over 50 hits apiece last season.
After posting a losing 3-7 record, Juarez, who was the 2010 opening day starter, has three years of Division I experience and should pitch valuable innings for Northridge after leading the team in innings pitched with 89.2 last season.
Even if the first season under a new tutelage does not translate into more victories right away, the seniors hope to provide the newer players a foundation for years to come.
“It’s our job to leave a blueprint for the team. We want to leave the guys with something they can translate year in and year out and establish a new tradition of winning because to be honest, every guy here is the best player from their high school,” Juarez said. “We are a team of winners that has been losing for the last few years so now we’ve got some winning coaches with some winning players and now we’re going to win some games.”