IRVINE, Calif. – It was the silent bats against LMU and San Diego State that doomed the Matadors over the past four games. Now it’s the arms.
The Cal State Northridge baseball team (14-14, 0-3 Big West) came into the weekend series and it was unable to figure out a way to stop a UC Irvine (18-6, 3-0 Big West) offense that was hitting .288 collectively coming in.
Despite being swept by Gonzaga and averaging an abysmal 1.7 runs per game over the last week, the Anteaters’ bats boomed for three days as the team averaged nine runs against the Matadors. UCI bumped its batting average to .300, tops in the Big West.
CSUN assistant coach Tim Leary said UCI had very good hitters, but the outcome of the series is not an indication of a bad staff. He said the pitching puzzle is still being assembled.
“We’re figuring out how to piece together our pitching for the rest of the year. You win with pitching, defense and timely hitting; that’s the old formula. It’s disappointing to go 0-3, but on the other hand, we have 21 league games left so I’m looking for good things to happen. Our defense is good, our offense is good, but we just got to get some of our pitchers to step up,” said Leary, who is in his first season in Northridge.
Northridge, now riding a nine-game conference opening game losing streak, was swept by UCI in a three-game series that concluded Sunday in an 8-5 loss at Cicerone Field at Anteater Ballpark.
CSUN starter Alex Muren, who had a 2-0 record and 2.95 ERA coming in to the series finale, was shaky since the beginning after giving up two runs in the first.
After coming back to lead 3-2 in the top of the third inning, the Matadors’ lead was short lived as Irvine roared back to tally a five-run rally in the bottom half.
Muren gave up a leadoff double to infielder Jordan Fox and then a single to Brian Hernandez. The bases were then loaded when Muren hit Drew Hillman with a pitch.
Northridge gave up a costly run when Muren walked in a run with no outs after loading the bases. Another run came in for UCI to make it 4-3 and that prompted a pitching change from the CSUN bench as Vincent Roberts replaced Muren.
Three more runs would score and all would be charged to Muren, who lost his first game of the season.
Roberts filled in well for CSUN, pitching six innings of three-hit baseball and whose lone mistake was a home run to infielder D.J. Crumlich, his first of the season.
“I wanted to keep it close,” Roberts said. “If it makes them feel more comfortable knowing that I can get my job done and I trust them and they trust me.”
The Matadors have hit a terrible rut in losing six of seven games since facing Loyola Marymount last weekend.
Northridge’s offensive woes, which included five total runs scored in the three-game series against LMU and a blank sheet at San Diego State, dropped them to a season-low batting average of .271.
The irony exists in that CSUN was facing the second-best pitching earned run average in conference. The Anteaters had an ERA of 2.76 after blanking USC 4-0 on Tuesday.
The Matadors’ were able to crack that pitching machine since the series opener as they scored first in Friday and Saturday’s games.
The Anteaters came back every time and defeated the Matadors on Friday 9-6 and Saturday 10-4. Despite the run support, CSUN’s batting average dropped to .264.
UCI’s Ronnie Shaeffer recorded seven RBIs and five hits in 12 at-bats to bump his average to .266.
The Matadors’ staff ERA increased a whopping 0.47 points from 4.66 to 5.13. Opponents are now hitting .296 against them this season.
“Some of us didn’t have it. Paul (Tremlin) came out and gave it the best he could, but it just wasn’t his day and it was his first time starting in a while and just got over sickness,” Roberts said. “Alex (Muren) did well, but just couldn’t get out of that one inning. Everyone throws well and one inning kills them when they don’t have their best stuff.”
The team is disappointed after dropping the first Big West series of the season, but is optimistic about going forward.
“We’re bummed that we couldn’t even scratch out at least one win, but we have high hopes,” Roberts said. “We’re a bunch of scrappers so we’ll fight until the end. We’re going to come out the next series and we’ll do our job.”
Series Notes: Northridge is back at .500 for the first time since March 4 when it lost 14-1 against Lamar in Beaumont, Texas. The Matadors were 5-5 at that point… CSUN head coach Matt Curtis was ejected in the game after arguing with UCI’s first base coach.