RIVERSIDE, Calif. –
Behind a career day for senior Brett Balkan, the Cal State Northridge Matadors (13-8, 2-4 Big West) led start-to-finish in a 7-1 win over the UC Riverside Highlanders (14-13, 3-3 Big West) on Sunday afternoon at the Riverside Sports Complex. Balkan set a career high with three hits and drove in two runs in a convincing victory for the Matadors.
"It felt good today," Balkan said after the game. "I've been trying really hard just to stick with my approach and just hit the ball up the middle. The big thing I've been working on is getting my hands inside the ball and it worked out for me today."
Cal State Northridge wasted no time taking the early lead, scoring three runs in the top of the first. Ranny Lowe reached on an error to start things off before Ryan Raslowsky singled and Chester Pak loaded the bases with a hit by pitch. Nick Blaser's walk forced in a run with no outs before successive groundouts by Nicolas Osuna and Nick Murphy gave the Matadors a 3-0 lead.
"I think we got in a rhythm at the plate and that helped the dugout be a little looser," said CSUN head coach Greg Moore. "It helps every time you're able to get a lead, you're able to free it up. Offensively and tactically you're able to take some chances you wouldn't normally take."
The Matadors added a run in the top of the second after Balkan singled to open the inning. Balkan then stole second, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by William Colantono and scored on an RBI single from Lowe.
Two more runs in the third inning put CSUN ahead 6-0 over the Highlanders. Murphy drew a one-out walk, Michael Livingston singled to right center and Balkan brought in the run with a safety squeeze bunt to the pitcher. Livingston later scored on a single by Raslowsky with the bases loaded.
The Matadors scored for the final time in the game in the top of the fourth inning. Blaser hit a leadoff single on the first pitch he saw and Osuna was hit by a pitch to give CSUN two runners on with no outs. With two outs in the inning, Balkan hit a blooper behind the bag at third that fell for a single and allowed Osuna to score from third.
UC Riverside was able to break through for a run against CSUN starting pitcher John Salas in the bottom of the seventh but it would not be enough to spark a rally. Shuyo Chang hit a leadoff double and came around to score on a triple by Joe Chavez with two outs.
Salas (4-1) allowed just the one run on six hits with four strikeouts in 7.1 innings of work to get the win. Anthony Cortez pitched the final 1.2 innings without allowing a runner and recorded three strikeouts. UCR starting pitcher Ben Doucette (2-3) took the loss after conceding six runs, four earned, on five hits in 2.1 innings.
Five Matadors had multiple hits on the day, led by Raslowsky and Balkan with three apiece. Lowe, Blaser, and Murphy each had a pair of hits as the Matadors collected 14 singles in the game. Each of the team's seven runs was scored by a different player.
"John moved his fastball away very well today and his slider was very good," added Moore. "What's impressive about Brett is that he is playing tired, yet shows up every day and gives everything he has."
The Matadors will stay on the road for their next contest and travel to Fresno State for a non-conference game on Tuesday, April 8th. First pitch between CSUN and the Bulldogs is scheduled for 6:35 p.m.