By Kevin Strauss, Assistant Sports Information Director
NORTHRIDGE, Calif. -
Walking across the stage at graduation is the goal of every student that sets foot on a college campus. The long hours of studying, writing papers and navigating the world of registration give way to precious few final moments spent shaking hands and posing for pictures with family and friends as the newest graduate of California State University, Northridge.
For Brycen Rutherford and Shay Maltese, their graduation ceremony at the end of May was just a small piece in a day that also celebrated the end to another grueling career at CSUN: competing for the Matadors on the baseball diamond. The seniors were challenged to walk in their commencement ceremony before joining the team for the final series of the season at Cal State Fullerton.
This posed a potential problem for Rutherford, who was scheduled to graduate in with his fellow classmates in the College of Humanities and take the mound as the starting pitcher for the Matadors against the Titans. Both events were expected to begin at 6 p.m.
"I had a conversation with Coach Moore a few weeks ago and let him know I wouldn't miss either," said Rutherford. "Luckily, we were able to work things out where I was able to walk across the stage with Shay in the morning so I could pitch that night."
The day began for Rutherford and Maltese before the sunrise. Arriving on campus two hours before the 8 a.m. ceremony afforded the pair insurance that they'd have the maximum amount of time for the events of the day.
"Shay and I got there at about 6 a.m. to be the first in line," said Rutherford. "I am the first to graduate in my family so it was very important that we get there first thing."
"We made sure to take care of the logistics ahead of time," said Maltese. "That way it was just a matter of getting to graduation early so we could get in and out."
Following graduation, Rutherford and Maltese immediately switched focus to baseball. With family traveling to Northridge from out of town, the day provided the two with a special opportunity to include loved ones in both events.
"Once we got to graduation, I didn't think too much about the game. It was more just getting in and ready and making sure my family had seats," said Maltese. "Once we crossed the line and shook President Harrison's hand it was Baseball Mode."
Once at Goodwin Field in Fullerton, the baseball side of the mind took over. Rutherford, who pitched in his final game for the Matadors, struck out six hitters in 5.2 innings.
"Graduating was a feeling of accomplishment that I've never had in my life," said Rutherford. "It definitely takes some mental toughness and clarity in order to separate the moments, for sure."
As the night progressed, closer Shay Maltese knew he would likely be called upon to pitch in a close ballgame. With runners at first and second and two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Maltese entered the game and retired the only batter he faced on one pitch.
"It a day that I am always going to remember," added Maltese. "I'm thankful that my family was able to see me graduate. Once we walked and left on the bus with the team, they got their stuff together and drove down to Fullerton as well. Having them at both was exciting."
It would not be the final outing for Maltese, as he returned on Saturday afternoon to pitch a scoreless inning in relief and struck out the final batter he faced while wearing a CSUN uniform.
"That was a unique day," said CSUN baseball head coach Greg Moore. "Shay and Bryce applied skills they practice often, and often unknowingly. By engaging in celebration and high-level competition just a few hours apart, they separated with grace. Both put family and team before self."
Rutherford, a native of Arcadia, Calif., plans to get his real estate broker's license in the coming months and work with his sister in Glendora once his playing days at the next level are complete. Maltese, who hails from Superior, Colo., has a degree in Information Systems and has begun applying for work while his baseball future is sorted out.
Although they have closed the book on their academic careers and numerous baseball games, for now, Rutherford and Maltese have taken the skills they've learned as Matadors and prepared themselves for much greater days ahead.