Twenty-five games in the books before beginning what the team has been focused on since the start of the season: Big West Conference play.
“As a team, conference is what we’ve been focused on; it’s what we’ve been building for and what we’ve been building towards. That’s the opportunity to play for a championship,” said head coach Matt Curtis, who is in his first season at CSUN.
With a 14-11 record, the Cal State Northridge baseball team is traveling to Cicerone Field at Anteater Ballpark Friday to face UC Irvine for its first Big West three-game series of the season.
The Matadors are coming off the toughest test yet after facing an exceptional pitching staff in Loyola Marymount. CSUN mustered only four runs in the weekend series, losing two of the three games against the Lions.
LMU displayed the talented staff all weekend long that had it recording an earned run average of 3.08 coming into the series with Northridge. The five runs that the Lions allowed, earned or unearned, brought the team ERA to 2.87.
The level of pitching and competition is only going to get harder as the Matadors will face an Anteater staff that is second in the Big West in ERA at 2.76.
UC Irvine is coming into the series first in conference in terms of records at 14-6 and is first in team batting with a .286 average.
The Anteaters started the season on a hot streak by winning their first seven games and 14 of 15 games before dropping the last five straight, including a three-game sweep at Gonzaga.
Before the series against LMU, Northridge was sporting a hot offense by averaging almost seven runs per game over the eight contests before the series with the Lions.
The bats were silenced, but the Matadors are still ranked third in the conference with a .278 team batting average. CSUN catcher Steven Keller is optimistic with the team’s offense going forward into conference play despite the lights out pitching faced over the weekend.
“I think we talked about getting our foot down earlier on the stride. I think putting your foot down earlier is big key for us getting ready to hit. We got caught a little off guard with the faster pitching, but I think we’ll be ready to go,” he said.
The Matadors’ 3-4-5 hitters, the meat of the batting order, were only able to record two hits in 31 official at-bats against LMU. The hits came from other players Ridge Carpenter, who tallied seven hits in 12 at-bats.
Curtis said the recent weak offense is a concern, but said that it will get better as the caliber of opponent pitching increases and the team starts to face better teams.
“I’m always concerned if any of our areas of play aren’t where we need them to be. I think our at-bats were good and we didn’t get the key hit with the guy on base and hopefully that’s just a matter of time before that comes around,” Curtis said.
Defense was an area CSUN did not lack over the weekend as the Matadors made two important plays at home plate. Northridge shortstop Kyle Attl threw to Keller in the fourth and fifth innings to save two runs and keep LMU’s lead at 1-0.
“The defense was good; I was trying to make the play. The first one we were coming in and I just took my time and threw it out. That was pretty basic, we work on that every day so it translated into the game well,” Attl said.
Matador Justin De Marco scored the go-ahead run for CSUN in the bottom of the eighth inning when he doubled to bring in outfielder Nate Ring, making the score 2-1, which stood for the victory.
NOTES: The Matadors have only won two conference openers since 2001 and have lost eight consecutive. UC Irvine swept Northridge in a three-game series last season at Matador Field. CSUN leads the all-time series 29-25.