NORTHRIDGE, Calif. -
The Cal State Northridge Matadors open up their 56th season on the diamond when they travel to Daytona Beach, Fla. for a Valentine's Day showdown at Bethune-Cookman University. The Matadors begin a new era in 2014 under the helm of first-year head coach Greg Moore and are looking to build off a 2013 campaign that saw them rise to a fourth-place finish in the Big West Conference. All-Big West Honorable Mentions Jerry Keel and Alexis Mercado return for Cal State Northridge and look to play key roles in the Matadors' push for their first postseason birth since 2002.
CSUN will have a difficult road ahead, however, as the team will play its first four games away from Matador Field. The Bethune-Cookman Wildcats are coming off of a 34-25 season and went 17-7 in MEAC play last year but failed to win the conference championship for just the first time in the last eight years and just the second time in the last 14. Following the three-game series at Bethune-Cookman, the Matadors will return to Southern California for a midweek road game at defending national champion UCLA before opening the home slate against Seattle University on February 21st. Live stats coverage for the series at Bethune-Cookman will be available with links on the baseball schedule page at GoMatadors.com and on the CSUN Front Row app.
GAMES #1-3: Cal State Northridge Matadors (0-0) at Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (0-0)
Friday, Feb. 14 - 6 p.m. ET (3 p.m. PT)
Saturday, Feb. 15 - 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT)
Sunday, Feb. 16 - 11 a.m. ET (8 a.m. PT)
Jackie Robinson Ballpark (4,200) - Daytona Beach, Fla.
Follow Your Matadors While On-the-Go
Fans can now follow all of the action for Cal State Northridge's 19 varsity sports right from their phone or tablet! CSUN Front Row, the official mobile app of Cal State Northridge Athletics, is available for free for your iOS and Android devices. Rather than having to navigate to GoMatadors.com from your phone, you can now catch up on the latest scores, schedules and news right from a single app. You can also access live stats coverage of a majority of CSUN home events, as well as audio and video links when available. For more information, search for CSUN Front Row on the App Store or Google Play or visit GoMatadors.com/frontrow.
A Closer Look at Bethune-Cookman
The Bethune-Cookman Wildcats have been a power in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, winning 15 conference championships since 1996. Last season, the Wildcats went 34-25 overall with a mark of 17-7 in MEAC play but missed out on the conference title due to a 1-0 loss in 10 innings to Savannah State. A wealth of talent returns from last year's squad looking to reclaim the top spot in the MEAC.
Senior outfielders Josh Johnson and Eros Modena are the top offensive weapons for the Wildcats and each started 54 games in 2013. Johnson led the team with a .322 batting average and hit a team-high 14 doubles. Modena had two home runs, three triples and 10 doubles while tying for the team lead with 34 runs batted in. Infielder Eric Sams is another senior back for one last season and he led the team with 39 runs scored a year ago.
Right-handed pitcher Montana Durapau paced the pitching staff last season, going 9-3 in 16 starts for the Wildcats. He pitched four complete games, including two shutouts, and compiled a 2.89 ERA. His 109.0 innings pitched were 33 more than the next man, Scott Garner. Garner is also back for his senior season and is looking to build on a 6-5 record and a 4.62 ERA. In all, Bethune-Cookman has nine seniors and nine juniors on an experienced and accomplished roster.
The Matadors and Wildcats will meet for just the second time on the diamond when they open the season at Jackie Robinson Ballpark on Valentine's Day. Prior to 2014 the only other meeting was the season opener in 2010, a game that the Matadors won 18-4 at the MLB Urban Invitational played at the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif.
Redefining the "Matador Defense"
The Matadors continue to pride themselves on playing smart and sound baseball defensively. In addition to improving its winning percentage each of the past three seasons, Cal State Northridge has also set program records for fielding percentage twice in that span. There were 16 Matadors last season that were perfect in their chances in the field and five others that had two errors or fewer all season. Last year Northridge recorded a .976 fielding percentage, which was good for third in the Big West Conference and also set a mark for the best ever in CSUN history. The Matadors also picked up 16 outfield assists in 2013 and look to build on that quality moving forward.
Matadors in the Big West Top Ten
After finishing fourth in the Big West Conference, the Cal State Northridge Matadors ranked among the statistical leaders in the Big West Conference's final standings release of the year. Northridge ended the season eighth in team batting average (.262) and eighth in slugging percentage (.349). The Matadors were seventh in the conference with 285 runs scored and 498 hits recorded. Northridge also had the sixth-best on base percentage (.345) and was sixth with 253 runs batted in. The Matadors were eighth in the league with 86 doubles and were fourth with 22 home runs. CSUN was first in the league with 64 sacrifice bunts and ranked third with 63 stolen bases.
Defensively, Cal State Northridge's pitching staff took up post in the middle of multiple categories. Northridge had the fifth-best earned run average (3.96) and was fifth in strikeouts with 333. The pitching staff was second in the league with 117 strikeouts looking and was fifth with 31 wins. CSUN ended 2013 sixth in the Big West with six runners picked off on the year. The Matadors ranked sixth for hits allowed at 529 and 259 runs allowed this season.
Individually, Alexis Mercado tied for fourth in the conference with 16 doubles on the season while Michael Livingston checked in at fourth as well with 31 walks. Chester Pak finished the year tied for eighth with 12 stolen bases for the Matadors.Pitcher Jerry Keel was fifth in the Big West with a 2.59 ERA and 24 strikeouts looking. He also tied for seventh with seven wins on the year.
Junior left-handed pitcher Jerry Keel enters the season as the anchor of the pitching staff in 2014. The former Big West Freshman Pitcher of the Year and Freshman All-American is set to leave hitters scratching their head when he takes the mound this year. On Opening Day last season, Keel pitched seven shutout innings over Saint Mary's and set a then-career high with seven strikeouts. Keel conceded just four hits all afternoon. In a start at Washington State, he went 7.2 innings with five strikeouts and allowed just two runs. He added six strikeouts in 6.2 innings at Sacramento State and got a win over Utah Valley after striking out six in 6.0 innings. In the Big West Conference opener at Long Beach State, he went 6.0 innings with five strikeouts to earn the win for the Matadors. Against UC Riverside, he struck out a career-high nine batters in 8.0 innings of work to pick up his fourth win. At Hawai'i, Keel struck out five and allowed just an unearned run on five hits in a complete game victory. He followed it up with another complete game over Pacific and allowed just four hits in 8.0 innings against UCSB. Keel finished the season with a 7-3 record with a 2.59 ERA in 93.2 innings.
Not a One-Man WolfPak
Junior Chester Pak enters his third full season with the Matadors in 2014.. In the Opening Day win over Saint Mary's last year, Pak went 2-for-5 at the plate with a double, run scored and two RBIs. He had a hit in all four games of the opening series, one of two players on the team to do so. Pak recorded at least one RBI in all but one game of the series and also scored three runs and had a stolen base. Pak went 2-for-4 with a walk and a run scored in the opener at then-No. 15 Oregon and had a career-high three hits in the opener against UC Riverside. In CSUN's win over Washington, Pak went 2-for-5 and drove in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. In the series sweep at Hawai'i, Pak went 5-for-12 with a double, RBI and three stolen bases. In the finale against UCSB, Pak hit the first two homers of his career in a 7-1 win. On the season, he hit .272 with 18 RBIs and 12 stolen bases.
The Bull Market
Junior Alexis Mercado enters his second season as the starting catcher for CSUN. Mercado caught three of the four games during the series against Saint Mary's to open last season and hit .300 at the plate. He hit a double and scored three runs to bring his career totals at the time to four and eight, respectively. In the Opening Day win, Mercado also cut down a runner trying to steal and has now caught a runner stealing 17 times in his career. At Washington State, he drove in his first run of the year by hitting his first career home run. In the series against Utah Valley, he recorded three hits, an RBI, a run scored and a stolen base. In the series sweep at Hawai'i, Mercado went 7-for-13 with two doubles and four RBIs as he had multiple hits in all three games. At No. 8 UCLA, his RBI double in the first gave CSUN a 3-0 lead as the Mataadors won 4-1. Mercado finished the year with 29 runs scored and a home run and led the team with 16 doubles.
Show Me the Ferra-Moolah
Last year, junior Kyle Ferramola took a liking to the lineup and was on fire for the Matadors against Utah Valley. After moving from being strictly a pitcher to filling the DH slot in the series opener last year, Ferramola recorded a triple, single and two RBIs. In the second game of a doubleheader, he went 2-for-4 with a pair of solo home runs, including the game-winner in the bottom of the eighth to give CSUN a 5-4 win. For his work, Ferramola was named the Big West Player of the Week. In the series opener at No. 23 UC Irvine, he went 2-for-3 and had five multi-hit games on the season.
Every Run Counts
An early indication of how the season will go for the Matadors may be found in run production. Last season, the Matadors won 29 of their 31 games when they put up at least three runs on their opponent. The greatest margin of victory came when the team posted between six and nine runs as Northridge went 14-4 in 18 such games. CSUN was also undefeated when they scored 10 or more runs in a game. On the other side of the coin will be whether or not the Matadors can keep opponents off of the scoreboard. in 2013, Northridge lost 15 of 17 games in which it conceded at least six runs. When the team held opponents to fewer than six, CSUN compiled a 29-11 record.
Northridge has brought in a number of new faces to the program this year as 13 players are looking to make their debut for the Matadors. Left-handed pitcher Gabriel Corniel returns after taking a redshirt season as a freshman and he will be joined by eight transfers hoping to make an immediate impact. Ranny Lowe is a fifth-year senior that should get the bulk of time in centerfield while Nick Murphy will push for a starting role behind the plate. Nick Blaser and Nico Garbella are both versatile utility players that can be used anywhere on the diamond. Northridge will also hope to feature talented freshmen in the lineup and out of the bullpen to add to their depth at all positions.
The Matadors will face another challenging schedule this season as the team prepares itself for the Big West Conference slate and the postseason beyond. The season starts with a three-game series at Bethune-Cookman, a program that has captured 15 MEAC championships since 1996. Following the road trip, CSUN will play a midweek game at defending national champion UCLA. Other top teams on the schedule include Washington State, Pepperdine, Fresno State, and TCU in non-conference games. The Matadors will also take on Stony Brook, a team that is just one season removed from the College World Series, for one game at Matador Field. The Big West schedule will feature home series against Long Beach State, Hawai'i, Cal Poly and UC Davis while CSUN will take on UC Riverside, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Fullerton on the road. In all, the Matadors will take on three teams, CSF (1), UCLA (10), TCU (23), in the USA Today Preseason Top 25 and two others (Cal Poly, UCSB) that received votes.
With a 5-0 victory over Saint Mary's on Feb. 15, 2013, the Matadors won on Opening Day for the fourth straight season. The Matadors posted a 2-0 victory over Seattle University in 2011 and went on to beat Sacramento State 6-4 on Opening Day last year in 2012. Northridge also defeated Bethune-Cookman in a neutral site game to open 2010. The last CSUN loss on Opening Day came to then-No. 8 Pepperdine in 2009, and the Matadors have not lost a home opener since the 2008 campaign. Through 55 seasons on the diamond, the Matadors own a 33-20-2 mark in season openers. Northridge is an impressive 37-18 in its first home game of the season is 27-25-3 in road openers.
Cal State Northridge enters the season needing 36 wins to reach the 1,600-mark in program history. The Matadors posted 31 wins a season ago, their highest win total in over a decade. In Northridge history, 17 teams have won at least 36 games. With their first victory in 2014, the Matadors will hand head coach Greg Moore the first win of his tenure at CSUN. Junior left-handed pitcher Jerry Keel is currently third in the school record book with a 2.34 career ERA and needs eight wins to enter the Top 10 while reliever Louis Cohen sits in a tie for ninth with six career saves. Ryan Raslowsky is three sacrifice bunts away from joining the Top 10 as he has 12 through his first two seasons.