Matadors Battle Inland Empire Foe UC Riverside This Week
NORTHRIDGE, Calif. -
The Cal State Northridge Matadors open a seven-game road trip this week when the team heads to the Inland Empire to take on the UC Riverside Highlanders. Both teams are 1-2 in the Big West Conference after winning games on Sunday and look to move up the standings in the early season showdown this weekend. Last year, the Matadors swept all three games from the Highlanders at Matador Field. The two sides will open up the series this Friday, April 4, at 6 p.m. at the Riverside Sports Complex.
The middle game of the series is scheduled for Saturday at 6 p.m. and the finale will be played on Sunday at 1 p.m. All three games this weekend at The Plex will feature live stats coverage provided by UC Riverside Athletics and a free Internet radio broadcast on Matador Sports Properties presented by Learfield Sports. Links for both live stats and audio coverage for each game can be found by visiting the baseball schedule page of GoMatadors.com. Twitter updates will also be posted during the games on @CSUN_InGame.
GAMES #29-31: Matadors (12-16, 1-2) at UC Riverside Highlanders (12-12, 1-2)
Friday, April 4 - 6 p.m.
Saturday, April 5 - 6 p.m.
Sunday, April 6 - 1 p.m.
Riverside Sports Complex (2,500) - Riverside, Calif.
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 UC Riverside
The UC Riverside Highlanders enter the week with a 12-12 overall record and are 1-2 in Big West Conference play. Last weekend, the Highlanders dropped the first two games of a series at UC Irvine before rebounding to win Sunday's finale 3-1. In 2013, the Matadors defeated the Highlanders in all three games played between the two teams. So far this season the Highlanders are 8-6 at home and have series victories over San Francisco and Stony Brook. In the all-time series between the two schools, the Matadors hold a 105-81-1 advantage and are 47-43 in games played in Riverside.
Francisco Tellez leads the way offensively for UC Riverside and is one of five players that have started every game. Tellez has a .414 batting average with 41 hits, 10 doubles, one home run and 26 runs batted in this season. Nick Vilter is third on the team with a .349 batting average and is far and away the leader with eight home runs already on the year. Devyn Bolasky is the owner of a .353 batting average and has four doubles and 14 RBIs.
Right-handed pitcher Jake Smigelski is scheduled to get the start for the Highlanders in Friday night's opening game. Smigelski is currently 3-3 on the year with a 2.59 ERA, which is the lowest among starting pitchers. He has already thrown a complete game this season and has 29 strikeouts in 41.2 innings of work. Another righty, Zach Varela, will start Saturday's game. Varela is 3-1 with a 2.98 ERA in six starts and has 18 strikeouts in 42.1 innings. He too has thrown a complete game. Left-handed pitcher Ben Doucette will likely start on Sunday for the Highlanders. Doucette is 2-2 in six starts this year with a 3.45 ERA in 28.2 innings. He is second on the staff with 21 strikeouts recorded. As a team, the Highlanders have a 3.71 ERA and are holding opposing hitters to a .285 batting average.
Following the series with the Matadors, UC Riverside will play a midweek game at San Diego State before heading to Oregon for a non-conference series against the Ducks 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 .978 fielding percentage with 23 errors in 28 games, which is among the leaders in the nation.
Matadors in the Big West Rankings
With the second week of league play getting underway, the Big West Conference has released its seventh statistics standings of the year. The Matadors are currently seventh in batting average (.247), ninth in slugging percentage (.287), and eighth in on-base percentage (.331).The Matadors are fourth with 90 walks and check in at fourth in the league after being hit by a pitch 31 times. The team is third in the Big West Conference with 28 sacrifice bunts and is third with 29 stolen bases. Defensively, the Matadors are seventh in the Big West with a 3.47 ERA and are averaging nearly seven strikeouts recorded per game. The pitching staff is fourth with 191 strikeouts recorded after 28 games. CSUN has committed just 23 errors so far this year and has the second-best fielding percentage in the league at .978.
Individually, Nick Blaser is fifth in the Big West with a .380 batting average this year. Ryan Raslowsky has 13 stolen bases to rank first in the league. William Colantono (7th, 14) is among the leaders in walks drawn and Chester Pak is second with five sacrifice flies. Brett Balkan is third in the conference after being hit by a pitch eight times and his seven sac bunts lead all others. Jerry Keel is currently tied for ninth in the Big West with 12 strikeouts looking on the year while Brycen Rutherford is seventh with a 1.75 ERA. Statistics are current as of March 31, 2014.
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 4.10 ERA with 30 strikeouts in 41.2 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 .250 with two doubles in 27 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 30 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. He also had four hits in the come-from-behind win over Long Beach State. Pak is currently batting .283 with a team-high 17 RBIs in 28 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.
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 .243 with 16 runs scored in 27 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 six 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 1.67 ERA in 43.0 innings. He is also one of 13 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 point of the season, CSUN is 7-8 in games decided by one run and 3-3 when the margin is two runs. As of April 1st the Matadors have played in 21 games decided by two runs or fewer, the most in the nation.
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.
Cal State Northridge is now 24 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 sixth in the CSUN History Book as he has 17 sacrifice bunts through his first two-plus seasons at Cal State Northridge.
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.