CSUN Travels to Face Gauchos in Critical Big West Series

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The Cal State Northridge Matadors hit the road this week for a three-game series at UC Santa Barbara beginning Friday, May 9 at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium in Isla Vista, Calif. The Matadors enter the week after losing two in a row to UC Davis at home last weekend, while the Gauchos bring in a win over Bakersfield in a midweek game. Prior to the Tuesday win against the Roadrunners, the Gauchos were swept in three games by UC Irvine.

The Matadors are still in competition for the Big West Conference championship, but need to win each of the final nine games of the season and receive help from other teams in the conference to make it happen. Last season, UCSB won the first two games of the series at Matador Field before CSUN stormed to a 7-1 Mother's Day victory over the Gauchos. All three games this week will include live stats coverage provided by UC Santa Barbara, as well as an Internet radio broadcast available for free on GoMatadors.com.

GAMES #48-50: Matadors (17-30, 5-10) at UCSB Gauchos (27-14-1, 7-11)

Friday, May 9 - 3 p.m.
Saturday, May 10 - 2 p.m.
Sunday, May 11 - 1 p.m.
Caesar Uyesaka Stadium (1,000) - Isla Vista, Calif.

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

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 Santa Barbara
The UC Santa Barbara Gauchos enter the week with an overall record of 27-14-1 and are currently sixth in the Big West Conference with a 7-11 mark through 18 games. The Gauchos were ranked as high as 10th in the country this year (March 24th) before dropping successive series to Hawai'i at home and Cal Poly on the road. UCSB bounced back with a series win over Cal State Fullerton and also two two out of three from UC Riverside but is fighting to stay in the postseason hunt after being swept in a three-game series at UC Irvine last weekend. Most recently, the Gauchos traveled to Bakersfield and defeated the Roadrunners 7-3 on Tuesday night to end a string of five straight games without a victory (four losses, one tie).

The Gauchos are led at the plate by Joey Epperson, who is in the hunt for Big West Player of the Year honors. Epperson is currently second in the Big West with a .384 batting average and has started all 42 games this year for UCSB. In addition, he leads the team with 61 hits and 35 runs scored. Tyler Kuresa provides the power for the Gauchos and leads the team with 12 doubles, nine home runs and 40 runs batted in. Robby Nesovic has appeared in all but one game this season for UCSB and has a .307 average with 11 doubles and 24 RBIs. As a team, the Gauchos are hitting .288 and have outscored the opposition 237-181 on the year.

Left-handed pitcher Justin Jacome will start Friday afternoon's game against the Matadors. He brings in a 5-2 record in nine starts this year and has compiled a 3.05 ERA with 20 earned runs in 59.0 innings. Right-handed pitcher Austin Pettibone has made seven starts this year and is set to get the start on Saturday at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. Pettibone is 2-1 in 2014 with a 4.28 ERA in 33.2 innings. No starter has been announced for Sunday's finale as of yet. As a staff, the Gauchos have a 3.55 ERA and have collected 297 strikeouts. There are only two pitchers on staff, who have a combined 8.0 innings pitched, that do not have double-digit strikeout numbers.

After hosting CSUN on Senior Weekend in Santa Barbara, the Gauchos will close out the year with seven straight road games, playing at Pepperdine, San Francisco and UC Davis as the team sits just around bubble territory for a shot at appearing in the NCAA Tournament.

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. At this point in the season CSUN has 13 outfield assists, led by Nick Blaser's seven. The team currently has a .973 fielding percentage with 48 errors in 47 games, which is among the leaders in the nation.

Matadors in the Big West Rankings
With just three weeks left in the season, the Big West Conference has released its 12th statistics standings of the year. The Matadors are currently sixth in batting average (.257), ninth in slugging percentage (.306), and seventh in on-base percentage (.330). The Matadors are fourth in the conference with 403 hits on the year, sixth with 132 walks and check in at sixth in the league after being hit by a pitch 46 times. The team is fifth in the Big West Conference with 43 sacrifice bunts and 41 stolen bases. Defensively, the Matadors are seventh in the Big West with a 3.89 ERA and are averaging over six strikeouts recorded per game. The pitching staff is fourth with 301 strikeouts recorded after 47 games and is second in the Big West with 105 strikeouts looking. CSUN has committed just 48 errors so far this year and has the fourth-best fielding percentage in the league at .973.

Individually, Nick Blaser is sixth in the Big West with a .342 batting average this year. Ryan Raslowsky has 15 stolen bases to rank second in the league and one behind the leader. William Colantono (22, 10th) is among the leaders in walks drawn and Chester Pak is third with six sacrifice flies. Brett Balkan is ninth in the conference after being hit by a pitch nine times and his 10 sac bunts put him in second place. Jerry Keel is currently fifth in the Big West with 24 strikeouts looking on the year while Brycen Rutherford is sixth with an opposing batting average of .217. Statistics are current as of May 5, 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 a 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. In a start against Hawai'i, Keel struck out 10 in 8.2 innings to become the first CSUN pitcher with double-digit strikeouts in a game since 2008. He also had a no decision at TCU after pitching 8.0 shutout innings and leaving the game in a 0-0 tie. On the year, Keel has a 3.43 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 76.0 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. In the finale at UC Riverside, Balkan had a career-high three hits and two RBIs to lead the Matadors to a win. In the series opener against UC Davis, he went 3-for-5 with two doubles, two RBIs and two runs scored. This year, Balkan is hitting .291 with four doubles and 20 RBIs in 45 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 48 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 .262 and leads the team with 24 runs batted in.

Leaving His Merc
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. Mercado had a double, RBI and two walks in CSUN's win over UC Davis as well. He is batting .250 with seven doubles and 10 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. He had six hits in the series at UC Riverside, including three in the opener. In the win over UC Davis, Lowe went 2-for-4 with an RBI, two runs scored and a double. On the season, Lowe is batting .256 with 24 runs scored in 46 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 a weekend starter and has 10 starts under his belt going into the week. 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 4-4 record with a 2.84 ERA in 73.0 innings. He was also one of 10 pitchers in the country to throw a quality start in each of his first seven outings in 2014.

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 9-11 in games decided by one run and 3-6 when the margin is two runs. As of May 5th the Matadors have played in 29 games decided by two runs or fewer, which is among the most in the nation.

Chasing History
Cal State Northridge is now 19 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 relievers Louis Cohen and Shay Maltese sit in a tie for ninth with six career saves. Ryan Raslowsky is now tied for fifth in the CSUN History Book as he has 19 sacrifice bunts through his first two-plus seasons at Cal State Northridge. Brett Balkan's 10 sac bunts this year rank sixth all-time in a single season at CSUN.

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