NORTHRIDGE, Calif. -
After the two teams combined for 12 total runs through the first two games of the series, the Cal State Northridge Matadors (16-15, 4-2 Big West) eclipsed the mark on their own with a 15-3 victory over the UC Riverside Highlanders (14-13, 3-3 Big West) on Sunday afternoon at Matador Field. Every CSUN starter recorded at least one hit and one RBI as the Matadors swept a Big West Conference opponent for the first time since 2010.
"Getting a weekend sweep is big. Getting a conference weekend sweep is huge," said CSUN head coach Matt Curtis. "The fact is that we got a great pitching performance from John Salas, played good defense there up until the last inning and then obviously the bats came through."
Northridge struck first on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first inning, scoring three runs with two outs against UC Riverside starter Mark Garcia. Alexis Mercado singled home two with a hit to left and Chester Pak drove in a run with a single to center field to put Northridge ahead 3-0.
The Matadors then broke the game open in the bottom of the third by adding four runs to take a 7-0 advantage. After Garcia was relieved by Kevin Sprague, Northridge plated a run on a sac fly by Pak to deep right field. Nicolas Osuna then brought home a run with a ground out to shortstop, Michael Najera hit an RBI single to right center and Michael Livingston drove in a runner with a double to left.
Northridge scored eight more times later in the game, extending its lead to 15-0 in the fifth. In the inning, the Matadors batted around the order and got RBI hits from Livingston, Joshua Goossen-Brown, Kyle Ferramola (two-run double) and Mercado (two-run double). Kyle Attl and Nathan Ring both drew bases-loaded walks to add to their stat lines.
"I was looking for the fastball, something I could drive," said Mercado. "The win gives us confidence. We have been struggling a little bit this year with hitting and hopefully it starts from here and helps us go further."
UC Riverside chipped away for two runs in the top of the eighth, both charged to Northridge starter John Salas, who was a dominant force on the mound all afternoon. He allowed just four hits in the game, two of which came in the Highlander eighth.
"Same thing I do every week: just go out there and pound the zone," said Salas about his approach on the mound. "I was trying to get ahead with the fastball and let the offspeed stuff just work."
Salas recorded a strikeout to open the frame, but Joe Chavez was able to reach first on a passed ball. Following a single up the middle, another passed ball moved the runners up to second and third with no outs. Salas buckled down and got back-to-back strikeouts looking before Robby Witt singled in both unearned runs with two outs.
Michael Coates came in to pitch for Salas and got a fly out to end the inning. The Highlanders scored once more in the game on a pair of errors by the Northridge infield in the top of the ninth, but at that point the outcome of the game was long since decided.
Leadoff hitter Alex Rubanowitz grounded an 0-1 pitch to second base and the ball was thrown away and rolled up the right field line. Rubanowitz attempted to move up to third on the play and the relay throw to the base sailed high and went out of play, allowing Rubanowitz to score. Louis Cohen notched a pair of strikeouts in the inning to put a close to the game.
Salas (2-4) struck out six and walked two in 7.2 innings on the mound to earn the win for Northridge. Garcia (3-3) took the loss after allowing five runs on five hits in 2.0 innings.
Northridge was led offensively by Mercado and Livingston, who each had three hits in the game. Mercado turned in a career-high four RBIs to lead the team while Livingston, Ferramola and Pak each had two. In addition to setting a new team season-high for hits, the Matadors also drew seven walks.
With 15 runs scored, the Matadors put up their highest scoring total since Opening Day of the 2010 season, an 18-4 win over Bethune-Cookman.
Northridge will conclude its current six-game home stand with a game against the University of Washington on Monday, April 8, at Matador Field. First pitch is set for 1 p.m.