April 22, 2009

Matador Baseball Mid-Season Report

April 22, 2009

By Nicholas Bocanegra

NORTHRIDGE, Calif. - The Cal State Northridge Matadors started their 2009 campaign in hopes of improving upon a 24 win season from a year ago, and have thus far tallied up 17 victories due to strong play at Matador Field, their lights out bullpen, as well as the continued development of their young hitters.

Matador Field has already been the scene of four walk-off victories for the Matadors as baseball fans have witnessed Ryan Pineda hit a game-winning single that capped off a two-run rally to defeat the Texas Tech Red Raiders 3-2, John Parham ending a game against the San Jose State Spartans with a clutch single in the eleventh to give CSUN a 4-3 victory, Justin DeMarco adding his name to the walk-off hit list two weeks later by bunting a single that induced a throwing error leading to a 3-2 win, and Parham play the role of spoiler once again by hitting his second walk-off hit in the fifteenth inning ending a marathon affair with the Cal State Fullerton Titans for a 5-4 triumph earlier this month.

The Matador season began with a three game series with the Pepperdine Waves, in which Northridge dropped the first and third games in Malibu by one run each but were able to win their home opener by a 6-2 margin as starter Ryan Juarez pitched six quality innings for his first win.

Next up for the Matadors would be their first home-stand of the season, a six-game affair that would take place against Loyola Marymount (one game), Texas Tech (three games) and Evansville (two games).

After dropping the first game to Loyola Marymount by a run, CSUN would respond by winning four of their next five games.

The Matadors shut down the Texas Tech Red Raiders with an impressive three-game sweep thanks to effective pitching and timely hitting as Paul Tremlin picked up the win in game one of the series and emerged from the bullpen to help the Matadors secure an 8-4 win.

Juarez would earn his second win of the year in the middle game of the series with his five-inning performance that would help the Matadors win their first series of the season in a 7-3 victory. In the game, the Matadors performed a rare triple play in the first inning that ended the Red Raider's most serious scoring rally.

Reliever Jimmy Jolicoeur would earn the win in the finale, pitching 2.2 scoreless innings for a CSUN 3-2 win before his team split the final two games at home against the Evansville Purple Aces, winning a high scoring affair 9-8 in their last game at home before heading to Nebraska.

With the Matadors at a winning 5-4 record, they took to the road for a four-game set with the Nebraska Cornhuskers, however CSUN could not continue their winning ways as Nebraska would win all four contests.

Northridge then returned to the friendly confines of Matador Field for an eight-game home-stand, a series of games that began on a positive note with an extra-inning win against the #25-ranked San Jose State Spartans.

Northridge would win the game 4-3 due to strong relief pitching. Tremlin and Jolicoeur combined for 5.2 shutout innings, with the latter earning the victory. San Jose State would claim the final two games of the series; they preserved a tight 6-5 victory in the middle game of the series despite two towering solo home runs by Pineda.

After dropping a mid-week game against BYU 6-5, the Matadors rebounded in a huge way by taking three of four from the Columbia Lions.

CSUN throttled the Lions in game one with an 8-2 victory due to a barrage of hits and dominant pitching. Northridge piled up 13 hits and received eight strong innings from Billy Ott. Columbia would even the series the following day, but Northridge would take the final two games in come-from-behind fashion to sweep a doubleheader by the scores of 5-4 and 10-7. Juarez would earn his third win of the season with his 7.2 innings of work in the first game, and the CSUN hitters would pile up a season high 16 hits in the second game; two of the Matadors hits were back-to-back home runs from the bats of DeMarco and Todd Eskelin.

Next, the Matadors hit the road for a rematch with Loyola Marymount, but they would suffer another setback against the Lions, losing a high scoring battle 12-9 in their final tune-up before opening Big West Conference play.

Matador Field would serve as the host site for CSUN's inaugural conference game of the season when Northridge hosted the #19-ranked UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.

Even though UCSB took game one by a 21-12 margin, CSUN would respond the following day with a 9-4 come-from-behind win.

The Matadors would erase an early three-run deficit and scored six runs in the eighth to even the series at one apiece.

In the finale, reliever Brian Slover pitched two shutout innings for his first win of the year in the Matador's series-clinching 3-2 victory.

Northridge looked to continue their momentum as they opened up a two-game set with the UNLV Rebels. The Matadors raced past the Rebels for a 5-1 win, leading from start-to-finish. In game two, CSUN tacked on nine runs on the board with Dominic D'Anna driving in nearly half of his team's total runs scored in the Matador's 9-4 victory.

After dropping their first game of the home-stand, the Matadors reeled off four consecutive victories for their longest winning streak of the season.

The Matadors next traveled to #16-ranked Cal Poly for another Big West match-up, and four-game road trip that would begin in San Luis Obispo and end on the campus of Southern California.

CSUN would drop the first two games in heartbreaking fashion at Cal Poly as the Mustangs would win both contests in their final at-bat in extra innings before suffering another one-run loss at USC to end the trip.

Looking to rebound from their share of narrow defeats suffered during the previous week, the #6- ranked Cal State Fullerton Titans were next in line to face Northridge in another three-game, weekend series at Matador Field.

The Matadors would snap their losing streak by defeating the Titans in fifteen innings after being suspended in the thirteenth inning due to darkness. Having started on a Thursday afternoon, the game was resumed the following afternoon before the regularly scheduled game that was originally planned to take place that day.

After Northridge finished-off the two-day marathon against the Titans by a 5-4 score, Fullerton responded in-kind by defeating the Matadors in the final two games 7-5 and 8-0, before the Matadors snapped their two-game losing streak against the visiting Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners the very next game by a score of 3-1 thanks to the combined pitching effort of Tremlin who earned his fourth win of the season, and Slover who recorded his fourth save in the process.

Northridge would then take to the road to face Long Beach State and would come through once again with three quality efforts by each of their starting pitchers.

The Matadors dropped the opener by a 1-0 score despite Juarez pitching eight dominating innings, only allowing a single run. The following day three Matador pitchers, Justen Gorski, Tremlin, and Slover, combined to limit the 49ers to a single run again for a CSUN 3-1 win before dropping the series finale 5-2.

In their series at Long Beach, Matador pitchers only allowed three earned runs combined throughout the entire weekend.

With over a half of the season behind them, a number of Matadors have turned in solid performances on the season.

Senior Richard Cates has continued his outstanding hitting from a year ago to post a team-high .383 batting average, and 59 hits, figures that place him fifth and first respectively in the Big West Conference. Cates also has 20 RBIs along with a home run. Matador clean-up hitter Pineda has made it a habit of clearing the base pads this season. Pineda leads the team with 32 RBIs and with eight home runs. He also hit safely in the first 18 games of the season.

Primarily a home run threat in his rookie year, Chris Hannick is hitting far more consistently in his second season at the plate as he is batting .272 and has three home runs with 15 RBIs.

As a senior, Parham has provided the Matadors with a steady bat and as a catcher he has handled a very talented Matadors pitching staff effectively behind the plate. Parham has totaled three home runs, 19 RBIs, a .259 average and two walk-off hits.

Adding to the team's offensive attack, Jeff Pruitt has been a terror for opposing pitchers on the base pads as he leads all of the Big West with 23 stolen bases. Mostly a reserve last year, Pruitt has started all of but three of the Matadors 38 games this season due to his quickness on bases and his patience at the plate; he currently leads the team with 21 walks while hitting .250 with five RBIs. Eskelin has earned himself more consistent playing time as of late due to his improved hitting. He already has more home runs and RBIs than all of last year with his two long balls and nine runs batted in, while hitting .362.

C.J. Belanger has improved his average from a year ago, posting a .250 batting average, while totaling up five RBIs. DeMarco and Jason Dabbs each have been run producers for the Matadors this season with RBI totals of 13 and 11 respectively. TS Reed has been productive at the plate with a .258 average and seven runs batted in. Reed also been active on the base pads with seven stolen bases, which is second on the team.

Once the Matadors have taken a lead, they have nearly been immaculate in preserving the advantage. Northridge is 11-1 when leading after seven and 12-0 when ahead after eight. Opponents are having a difficult time mounting comebacks because of stingy relief pitching. Slover, Jimmy Jolicoeur and Ott have combined for nine saves on the year.

Slover has posted a near microscopic 1.15 ERA all year long as the primary closer along with his team-leading five saves. He is currently tied with Ryan "China" McCarney for most strikeouts with 36, which is a feat that is most impressive considering he has been used as a reliever the entire year. Jolicoeur has struck out 27 in only 24.1 innings pitched and has two victories out of the bullpen. Ott has pitched the second most innings on the team with 48, while striking out 32 batters.

P.J. Rousey has also been lights out in his 16 appearances, as he has an impressive 1.35 ERA while holding the opposition to only ten hits in his 13.1 innings. Tremlin has been effective as both a starter and a reliever this season as he has accumulated a team-high five wins and has struck out 31 batters. Second in the team in wins, Ryan Juarez has four, while providing the team with the most innings pitched; he has thrown 55.2 innings and has one complete game.

The Matador pitchers have neutralized rallies by tallying up a team total of 23 pickoffs, which easily leads all Big West teams. McCarney leads the team and conference with nine pickoffs and Parham is second on the team with four from behind the plate.

Although Northridge has posted an overall 17-22 record and a 4-8 in conference record, they have shown the ability to compete day in and day out. They have won three combined games against Cal State Fullerton and UC Santa Barbara, two of the best teams in the Big West and in the country. 13 of their 22 defeats have been by three runs or less, but the Matadors have had their share of nail biting wins.

They have won nine games by three runs or less, six of which by a single run which is a tribute to their stingy pitching staff and their timely hitting. They are also currently in the hunt in the Big West with their four victories. Although they have dropped eight against Big West opponents, the Matadors were competitive and had their opportunities to win several of the games, with five of the eight defeats decided by two runs or less.

Cal State Northridge will be tested the rest of the way with 12 of their final 18 against the tough Big West Conference, but if the first half of the season is any indication, expect the pesky Matadors to pile up more impressive wins and reel off several memorable highlights.

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