A new head coach, new faces and a new approach to the game defines the Matadors as they enter the 2011 season.
The Cal State Northridge baseball team will begin play Friday in a four-game weekend series against the Seattle University Redhawks at Matador Field.
First-year head coach Matt Curtis takes over a team that finished over .500 at 29-27 for its first winning season since 2002, but had a subpar 9-15 Big West Conference record.
Curtis, who was on the College World Series-winning Fresno State staff in 2008, is already influencing a team that had little success under former coach Steve Rousey, going 136-199 over the last six seasons, including a 35-100 conference record.
“We pay attention to every little detail they tell us because they know what it takes to win,” said senior outfielder Ridge Carpenter. “Coach (Shaun) Larkin was here in 2002 when they won the Big West and coach Curtis won a College World Series. They’re perfect, prime examples of winners and they know what it takes to get there so we definitely want to follow and take in everything they tell us.”
The Matadors go into the season without key players that provided much of the offense last season.
Outfielder C.J. Belanger and first baseman Dominic D’Anna have departed, as well as second baseman Ryan Pineda. Belanger lead the team in batting average (.357), hits (76) and was third in runs batted in with 43. D’Anna was second on the team in average (.338) and RBIs (47).
Pineda, who was selected to the All-Big West Conference First Team, hit .316 and led the team in home runs with 16 and RBIs (66).
Curtis said it is unfortunate to lose high-production players, but added that it is also an opportunity for others to contribute.
“That’s college baseball, it’s a cycle and you lose guys each year, but that’s an opportunity for new guys to step up whether guys have been in the program getting better or whether it’s a new guy getting his first opportunity,” Curtis said.
Seattle University finished 2010 with an 11-39 record in its first season since baseball was reinstated as a sport in 2008.
Notable returning players for the Redhawks include outfielder Bryndon Ecklund, who led the team in batting average with .352, and infielder Cullen Hendrickson, who was third in batting average (.290) and hits with 47.
Last season, Northridge faced Seattle University in a four-game March series in Seattle. The Matadors swept the series, outscoring the Redhawks 39-21 in the process. The first game went into the 13th inning, with CSUN scoring on a game-winning hit.
Preparation and the establishment of routines is the focus for the moment Curtis said, citing opponents as second priority.
“Whether we’re starting with Seattle University or we’re starting with Cal State Fullerton, we’re not going to spend a lot of time worrying about the opponent, we got to just worry about what we can control,” Curtis said.
CSUN is 30-20-2 all-time on opening day.