Matadors Host Dirtbags in Big West Conference Opener

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The Cal State Northridge Matadors will open up another season of Big West Conference action when they take on the Long Beach State Dirtbags in a three-game series at Matador Field this weekend. The series will be the final three games before an extended road trip for the Matadors, who have played eight of their last nine games at home. The Matadors have won their last three games by a combined four runs and have played more games decided by two runs or fewer than any other team in the country.

This weekend, Long Beach State comes to the San Fernando Valley for a three-game series to start conference play. The Matadors and Dirtbags will get the weekend started on Friday, March 28, at 3 p.m. followed by 1 p.m. games on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, Cal State Northridge Athletics will host a free Fan Fair outside of Matador Field for all fans beginning at 11 a.m. Prior to Saturday's first pitch, legendary CSUN head coach Bob Hiegert will have his jersey retired by the CSUN Baseball program. Live stats and Internet radio coverage will be available for all three games against the Dirtbags on

GAMES #26-28: Matadors (11-14, 0-0) vs. Long Beach State Dirtbags (11-12, 0-0)

Friday, March 28 - 3 p.m.
Saturday, March 29 - 1 p.m.
Sunday, March 30 - 1 p.m.

Matador Field (1,000) - Northridge, Calif.

Live Stats: Link Available on Baseball Schedule Page
Link Available on Baseball Schedule Page
In-game Twitter Updates:

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A Closer Look at Long Beach State
The Long Beach State Dirtbags enter the week with a record of 11-12 and will meet the Matadors to open Big West play for the second consecutive season. The Dirtbags dropped a 2-1 game at UCLA on Tuesday and are coming off of a weekend in which they went 1-2 against Cal State Fullerton in a non-conference series. Long Beach State is 4-7 in road games this season and are in the midst of a nine-game road trip that began on March 18th. Last season, the Dirtbags won two out of three games against the Matadors at Blair Field in Long Beach.

Garrett Hampson leads the Dirtbags with a .355 batting average and has started in all 23 games. He has a team-high 33 hits with seven doubles, a triple, six RBIs and 18 runs scored. Ino Patron leads the team with two home runs and also has five doubles, 11 runs, and a team-best 18 RBIs. Michael Hill is batting .262 but has already hit six doubles and five triples on the season. As a team, Long Beach State has a .256 batting average with 11 triples and four home runs and is outscoring opponents 98-84.

Left-handed pitcher Nick Sabo is scheduled to start on the mound for Long Beach State on Friday. Sabo is 2-2 on the year with a 3.03 ERA in six starts. In 38.2 innings of work, Sabo has 28 strikeouts and has allowed 15 runs on 37 hits. Right-handed pitcher Andrew Rohrbach is slated to start Saturday on the mound and brings in a 3-1 record with a 2.33 ERA. Rohrbach has thrown a complete-game shutout this year and is second on the team with 24 strikeouts in 38.2 innings. No pitcher has been announced as Sunday's starter as of yet. As a team, the Dirtbags have a 3.56 ERA and are holding opposing hitters to a .246 batting average.

Following the series with the Matadors, Long Beach State will play a midweek game at USC before competing in a three-game series against UCLA next weekend.

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. The team currently has a .980 fielding percentage with 19 errors in 25 games, which is among the leaders in the nation.

Matadors in the Big West Rankings
With the start of league play on the docket this week, the Big West Conference has released its sixth statistics standings of the year. The Matadors are currently eighth in batting average (.245), slugging percentage (.287), and on-base percentage (.330).The Matadors are seventh with 73 walks and check in at fifth in the league after being hit by a pitch 28 times. The team is third in the Big West Conference with 22 sacrifice bunts and is fourth with 22 stolen bases. Defensively, the Matadors are sixth in the Big West with a 3.35 ERA and are averaging over seven strikeouts recorded per game. The pitching staff is fourth with 165 strikeouts recorded after 23 games. CSUN has committed just 19 errors so far this year and has the third-best fielding percentage in the league at .978.

Individually, Nick Blaser is seventh in the Big West with a .381 batting average this year. Ryan Raslowsky has 29 hits and 10 stolen bases, ranking ninth and second, respectively. William Colantono (8th, 13) is among the leaders in walks drawn. Ranny Lowe has been hit by six pitches and ranks in a tie for seventh in the league with Brett Balkan while Balkan's six sac bunts lead all others. Jerry Keel is currently tied for eighth in the Big West with nine strikeouts looking on the year while Brycen Rutherford is eighth with a 1.75 ERA. Statistics are current as of March 24, 2014 and do not include CSUN's wins over Washington State and Pepperdine.

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 the Friday starter once more for Northridge and picked up right where he left off in the opening series at Bethune-Cookman. Although he took the loss, he pitched 7.0 strong innings with five strikeouts in a 2-1 decision. He walked three batters and allowed five hits, including just one double. He also pitched 6.2 innings against Seattle University and recorded six strikeouts. Against Washington State, Keel went 7.0 innings without allowing a run and struck out six. In a controlled start against Stony Brook, keel retired all 13 batters he faced. On the year, he has a 3.76 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 38.1 innings.

No Trouble in the Balkans
Senior Brett Balkan has taken the reigns as the starting shortstop and was one of two Matadors with three hits over the opening weekend. He drove in a run in CSUN's 2-1 win in the second game at Bethune-Cookman and added an insurance RBI in the 2-0 win in the finale. Balkan collected seven defensive assists on the weekend, including on a relayed throw to the plate to catch a runner trying to score. He went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and three runs scored in the first game of a doubleheader against Seattle. In the marathon at LMU, Balkan had a hit, two walks, two runs scored and an RBI. At Pepperdine, he went 2-for-3 with a two-run double to help the Matadors come from behind. On the season, Balkan is hitting .253 with two doubles in 24 starts.

Not a One-Man WolfPak
Junior Chester Pak picked up a couple of hits in the opening series at Bethune-Cookman and drove in the winning run in the top of the 11th inning in the second game. Pak is currently among the team leaders with 26 hits and also drew a couple of walks to help CSUN take two games against the Wildcats. He belted out six hits, including two triples, in the series against Seattle and had five runs batted in. He also had a couple of hits and an RBI against Washington State and drove in two runs in the 13-inning game at Loyola Marymount. Pak turned in a career performance in the finale against West Virginia, going 4-for-6 with a home run and three RBIs. Pak is currently batting .274 with a team-high 15 RBIs in 25 games.

The Bull Market
Junior Alexis Mercado came up with big hits when the Matadors needed them in the opening series at Bethune-Cookman. His lone hit in the second game of the series was a double in the top of the 11th that eventually resulted in the game-winning run. He had a single, RBI and stolen base in the finale for CSUN, driving in the eventual winning run in the top of the sixth in a 2-0 victory. In the series against Seattle, he had a hit in three of the four games and had a career day in the first game of the doubleheader, going 4-for-5 with three runs scored and three RBIs. Mercado connected on the first CSUN home run of the season and had a total of seven hits, including a pair of doubles, against the Redhawks. He also had a double and a run batted in against Washington State in the series-opening win. He is batting .227 with eight RBIs in 2014.

The Lowe-Down
Senior center fielder Ranny Lowe is providing a spark at at all spots in the order for the Matadors this season. After batting in the three-hole for the early part of the year, Lowe became the leadoff hitter for the series against Seattle and immediately made an impact on the lineup. Against the Redhawks Lowe recorded six hits, scored two runs and drove in his first run of the campaign. He also picked up his first stolen base of the season and went 5-for-9 across CSUN's doubleheader with Seattle on February 22. In the opener against Washington State, Lowe stole second base in the 10th and came around to score on a walkoff single. On the season, Lowe is batting .217 with 11 runs scored in 24 games.

The Bryce is Right
Senior right-handed pitcher Brycen Rutherford has been a welcome addition to the CSUN rotation this season after earning spot starts at the end of last year. In 2014, Rutherford has emerged as the Saturday starter and has five starts under his belt going into the weekend. As a junior Rutherford was masterful in a midweek start at San Diego, holding the Toreros hitless into the bottom of the seventh. This season, Rutherford has a 2-2 record with a 1.75 ERA in 36.0 innings. He is also one of 16 pitchers in the country to have recorded a quality start (6.0 innings with three earned runs or fewer) each time out this year.

Every Run Counts
After erupting for 22 runs in the series against Seattle, the Matadors posted just four runs in a series win over Washington State. Against the Cougars, a doubleheader featured 1-0 wins for each team and each game was decided by just one run. In the three games at Bethune-Cookman the two teams combined for eight runs, with the winner of each game needing just two to get the job done. In the series against Seattle the first team to score four runs won each game and with three runs in the first inning of game one of Saturday's doubleheader, CSUN scored more than two in a game for the first time this year. At this early point of the season, CSUN is 6-7 in games decided by one run and 3-3 when the margin is two runs. As of March 27th the Matadors have played in 19 games decided by two runs or fewer, the most in the nation.

Scheduling Story
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 started with a three-game series at Bethune-Cookman, a program that has captured 15 MEAC championships since 1996. CSUN also played a midweek game at defending national champion UCLA. Other top teams on the schedule include Washington State, Pepperdine, Fresno State, Sam Houston 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.

Chasing History
Cal State Northridge is now 25 wins from reaching the 1,600-mark in program history. The Matadors posted 31 wins a season ago, their highest win total in over a decade. With their first victory in 2014, the Matadors handed 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 now tied for 10th in the CSUN History Book as he has 15 sacrifice bunts through his first two-plus seasons at Cal State Northridge.

Rookie Report
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.

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