CSUN loses three in conference opening series

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Entering the opening series of Big WestConference play at Cal Poly Pomona, the CSUN baseball team faced a major test on the road this past weekend, having to battle the Mustangs in a three-game set.

Northridge entered conference play with high hopes of winning the Big West, as many of the players had confidence they could reach the team’s goal.

“I think we got a great shot at the Big West title, and when conference play starts against (Cal Poly Pomona), we will be pumped,” star first baseman Michael Paulk said before the series.

“We have the advantage against Cal Poly because our offense is on track now and that should help us become a contender in the conference,” senior third baseman Alberto Quintana said.

But the Mustangs showed why they are one of the upper echelon teams in the conference, as Northridge was swept in three straight games, dropping their conference record to 0-3.

The Mustangs pitching staff quieted the CSUN bats throughout the series, as Northridge could only muster seven total runs, contributing to the downfall of the Matadors’ during the weekend.

Before the series started, head coach Steve Rousey knew that the Mustangs would prove to be a difficult team to beat, especially dealing with their vaunted pitching staff.

“The strength of the team is they’re starting pitching. They got three excellent starters,” Rousey said. “Plus, offensively, they take very disciplined at-bats, and have a good balance of speed and power.”

Mustang game one starter Garrett Olson befuddled the Matadors by striking out 11 batters in a seven-inning masterpiece. Olson was supported by a Mustang offense that staked him to five early runs, creating an insurmountable lead.

CSUN finally got to Olson in the sixth inning when he balked in a run with the bases loaded, accounting for the first of two Matador runs.

But Olson got out of several jams, including the contentious sixth inning, when he struck out the side to mitigate a potential rally.

The lone bright spot in the Matador line-up was Quintana, who went 3-for-4, but did not drive in any runs.

In game two of the series on Saturday night, the Northridge offense was again shut down, this time by Mustang starter Jimmy Shull, who pitched seven shutout innings. Northridge starter Craig Baker could not match Shull, as the Mustangs gained control by jumping out early and not easing up.

The Mustangs hammered Northridge 10-1, ensuring Cal Poly of a series win in the first week of conference play. Northridge was hoping to rebound from the two consecutive losses against the Mustangs and salvage the finale Sunday afternoon.

CSUN looked good after the offense finally got on track in the top of the fifth inning, scoring three unanswered runs to take a lead. After trailing by two going into the inning, Northridge got run producing singles from Luke Riordan and Quintana to propel the team to a slim one-run lead.

The big hit in the inning came from Quintana, who delivered a two-run single to center field, giving CSUN some momentum. But the lead would not last long, as Cal Poly tied the game in the sixth when Mustang batter Drew Gillmore was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to tie the game.

In the seventh inning, the Matador bullpen faltered as Cal Poly broke the deadlock when Josh Lansford hit a sacrifice fly, driving in what turned out to be the game winner for Cal Poly in their 4-3 win. The three game sweep came at an un-opportune time for the Matadors, because it happened against a conference opponent that might stand in the way of a conference crown.

CSUN’s overall record plummeted to 12-14-1. CSUN’s struggles with Cal Poly are nothing new, as the Mustangs have now won 13 of the last 15 meetings between the teams, in the last five years.

CSUN will face another tough conference rival this week, when the team hosts defending national champion Cal State Fullerton at Matador Field.