NORTHRIDGE, Calif. -
Big plans are in the works for 2012 with the 54th season of Matador baseball rapidly approaching. Northridge comes into the year with top returning talent and the infusion of skilled newcomers to give the program a number of reasons to look forward to a Big West championship run this year. The Matadors return a total of 16 letterwinners and two redshirts from a year ago and add four junior transfers to the program, giving more depth and experience to a team that is looking to be a force in the Big West Conference this season.
The 2012 Matadors will try to improve on their 23-33 (.411) record from last year and capture the program's first conference title since the 2002 Big West Championship team that went 41-17.
The Matadors return several key offensive and defensive threats, including outfielder Adam Barry, who was named to the Perfect Game Summer Collegiate All-America team, Joshua Goossen-Brown, who led the team with five saves, and Vincent Roberts, whose late-season pitching has set him up to be a mainstay in the starting rotation. Also coming back for CSUN are infielders Tommy Simis and Kyle Attl, along with Steven Keller and Marty Bowen, who were among the team's offensive leaders in 2011.
Joining the 18 returners will be 16 newcomers to Cal State Northridge, including four transfers and 12 freshmen, who look to help the Matadors improve in late-game situations on both the offensive and defensive side of the game.
"I think we had a good fall. We brought in 16 first-year players, so we know that we will have players getting acclimated to a new system," said second-year head coach Matt Curtis. "We are happy with the progress we are making and we hope we can take a step forward this year."
The team has a shot at the conference title under Coach Curtis and assistant coaches Shaun Larkin, Dennis Machado and Matt Wilson. Machado and Wilson are in their first season with the club after successful stints with CSU Bakersfield and Delta College, respectively.
"I feel like we have a very good staff that is doing all of the day-to-day things to really invest in our players and to make them as good as they can be," Curtis said. "Dennis [Machado] has done a great job with bringing a level of intensity, preparation and detail to our pitching staff. Coach Wilson has been valuable with our outfielders and with the hitting and base running aspects of the game."
Northridge looks to build on its defensive consistency after posting a .968 fielding percentage last season, a program record.
"Coach Larkin continues to do a great job with our defense and that is something that we want to hang our hat on on a day-to-day basis," Curtis said.
The Matadors chalked up a record of 18-2 last season when leading after six innings, a 19-2 mark when ahead after seven and were a perfect 19-0 taking the lead into the final inning. They will also hope to take advantage of the opposition early in the game, as the team compiled a 13-3 record when scoring at least six runs in a game.
"I think defense is an area of emphasis in our program and it will continue to be," said Curtis. "What's exciting is the overall athleticism and offensive capability of the 2012 team."
Cal State Northridge had a number of notable victories in 2011, including Coach Curtis' first career victory, a 2-0 win over Seattle University on Opening Day. Then, on March 19, the Matadors defeated Sacramento State 10-5 to record the 1,500th victory in program history. Northridge also defeated Lamar, UNLV, San Diego State and a number of conference foes before the season was over. A thrilling 9-8 win in extra innings against UC Riverside saw the Matadors score six runs in the bottom of the ninth before winning in 10 innings. Vincent Roberts followed with a complete game shutout at Long Beach State in Northridge's next contest, the first such pitching display for CSUN in over five seasons. Roberts was also the winner over then-No. 9 Cal State Fullerton on the final Friday of action.
Coach Curtis expects to give many players a chance to prove themselves early, and Matador fans can expect to see a blend of experience and up-and-coming talent on offense and defense in 2012.
"We will take a look at each game and each weekend and we will try to put ourselves in the best position to win baseball games," Curtis added.
The Matadors' pitching staff features several key returners and newcomers that will battle for time on the hill this season. Vincent Roberts, a senior right-hander, returns to the diamond as a likely starter after finishing with a team-best 3.44 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 81.0 innings a year ago. For his efforts, Roberts was named an All-Big West Conference Honorable Mention. In all, Northridge brings back more than half of their staff from 2011 and adds six new faces to the 'pen.
Junior Alex Muren returns after posting a 2-1 record last year and has increased both control and velocity in the offseason. Joshua Goossen-Brown, another junior, comes in as the team's closer and has already earned a spot on CSUN's all-time list with five saves in one season of work thus far. Goossen-Brown will also see time in the lineup as a first baseman.
Senior Justen Gorski has experience as both a starter and reliever for Coach Curtis, appearing in 16 games and starting nine times last season. Gorski struck out 34 batters and walked 19 while recording a 3-5 mark with one save.
Junior left-hander Jacob Petersen is one of two lefties on staff this season and comes back as the pitcher who made the most appearances (20) last year. Petersen had a record of 3-0 and made two starts in 2011. He had just over a 2:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (31:15) and logged 37.2 innings.
The final returner with experience from last season is sophomore Harley Holt. Holt made 11 relief appearances as a freshman, throwing a total of 13.0 innings. He notched nine strikeouts on the season and could work his way into some starts on the mound this year after a strong fall performance.
Freshman Louis Cohen returns after redshirting during the 2011 season and had a productive summer in the Chicago Suburban Baseball league. Cohen recorded an impressive 1.13 ERA in 10 appearances and earned a mark of 3-1.
A total of six newcomers will join the pitching staff under the direction of Coach Machado. Five freshmen will get their first tastes of collegiate action for Northridge in addition to junior transfer Harper White (Visalia, Calif./Oxnard College). Jordan Johnson (Elk Grove, Calif./Franklin HS) comes to CSUN after being drafted in the 42nd round of the 2011 MLB Draft by the Colorado Rockies. Jacob Leyba (Simi Valley, Calif./Royal HS), Brandon Warner (Laguna Hills, Calif./Laguna Hills HS), Cole Hallum (Bakersfield, Calif./Centennial HS) and Jerry Keel (Palmdale, Calif./Palmdale HS) close out the recruiting class of pitchers this season.
The Matadors have plenty of options at catcher as there are five listed on the roster. Junior Marty Bowen emerged as the everyday starter last year and led the team with a .320 batting average in 52 games. Bowen was named to the All-Big West Second Team last season. Also returning is senior Steven Keller, who saw time as the catcher and designated hitter last year. Keller finished the season with a .259 batting average, two triples and three home runs and tied for second on the team with 29 RBI.
Three newcomers round out the catching corps for Northridge: Dylan Young (Las Vegas, Nev./Allan Hancock College), Alexis Mercado (Chula Vista, Calif./Otay Ranch HS), who was drafted in 2011 in the 40th round by the New York Mets, and Julian Ramon (Oxnard, Calif./Oxnard HS). Young, a junior transfer, hit .308 with seven doubles, one home run and 18 RBI for the Bulldogs last season. Ramon and Mercado are two talented freshmen that join the squad after successful prep careers.
The Matadors will have a solid group of infielders set when the season begins with a handful of returners looking to solidify a spot in the lineup.
Bowen will likely see time at first base and could factor in as the starting first baseman this season. Also returning with first base experience is Goossen-Brown, who hit .275 with six doubles, a home run and nine RBI in 31 games in the field.
Junior Tommy Simis will shift from third base, where he played in 2011, over to second. Last season, Simis hit for a .258 batting average and finished second on the team in doubles (11) and RBI (29) and tied for the team lead with four home runs.
Also returning is junior shortstop Kyle Attl, who recorded 15 RBI with four doubles, a triple and a home run while compiling a .241 average. A third returner to the infield is Matthew Moreno, who was inserted into the starting lineup as the team's third baseman during the final stretch of the season. Moreno hit .263 with four RBI and three runs scored in 21 appearances (10 starts) last season.
Among the new faces to the infield this year are six players, led by junior transfer Brett Balkan (Carlsbad, Calif./San Diego Mesa College), who will see time at third base, shortstop and second base. The recruiting class also includes five freshmen that look to make their collegiate debuts for the Matadors this year: Ryan Raslowsky (Mission Viejo, Calif./Mission Viejo HS), Aaron Ashton (Whittier, Calif./La Serna HS), Michael Livingston (Palmdale, Calif./Palmdale HS) and Ryan Webberley (Palmdale, Calif./Highland HS), who can also be used in the outfield if needed.
In the outfield, the Matadors will have a new look as a group of seven players can all make a case for their share of playing time. Redshirt junior Adam Barry returns for his second season at Northridge and is coming off of an outstanding summer season in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, leading his side to the league title while setting individual batting records in the process. Barry was named to the Summer Collegiate All-American Team by Perfect Game for his performance. He brings back the second highest batting average among returners (.288) and had 10 doubles and 14 RBI a year ago.
Also coming back is Todd Eskelin, who had a very productive fall season and is working to get back into a starting role with the team. Eskelin finished second on the team in several categories including batting average (.333), slugging percentage (.579), on base percentage (.433) and triples (2) in 2009. He redshirted the 2010 season with an injury and appeared in eight games last year.
Junior Nate Ring, regarded as the team's best base runner, also brings back a strong outfield arm. Ring stole six bases last season and also recorded three outfield assists in a mostly situational role (42 appearances, 10 starts).
Sophomore Miles Williams hit .262 last season with three doubles, a home run and five RBI as a true freshman. He made 14 starts in 2011 and could spend time in both right field and center field. Joining Williams is redshirt freshman Chester Pak, who comes back after sitting out his first campaign, and freshman Travis Beck (Visalia, Calif./Redwood HS). Beck also caught and pitched for the Matadors in the fall.
The Matadors will also add a junior transfer to the group of outfielders. Cal Vogelsang (Valencia, Calif./UC Irvine) is a center fielder that can also play in the infield. He will add speed to the lineup and a defensive threat as well.
Northridge will open up their 2012 schedule on February 17 by traveling to the state capital to take on the Sacramento State Hornets. The Matadors make the return trip north after rain forced the 2011 series to move to Matador Field.
The 2012 home opener for Cal State Northridge is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 21 against cross-town rival UCLA and is the start of a six-game home stand. After taking on the Bruins, the Matadors will host the Northwestern Wildcats for a four-game weekend series. The two sides will play a doubleheader on Saturday, Feb. 25 beginning at 11 a.m. Northridge closes out the first home stand with one game against the Washington Huskies.
Northridge will compete in its only tournament of the regular season during the first weekend of March in San Diego, Calif. The Matadors will face the University of San Diego twice, San Francisco and host San Diego State during the four-day event. The game against the USF Dons marks a rematch of Northridge's thrilling 3-2 10-inning victory at the YMBL Cardinal Classic in Beaumont, Texas last season.
The Matadors will return home to face a pair of programs for the first time at Matador Field, beginning with the Indiana Hoosiers on Friday, March 9. After a three-game weekend series, Northridge will host Rhode Island for two midweek games.
The longest road trip of the season follows, as the Matadors travel to the Pacific Northwest for a series against the University of Portland Pilots from March 16-18. Upon returning to California, Northridge will play one game at Loyola Marymount before heading north for four games at St. Mary's.
The road trip concludes with the first Big West series of the year, a three-game set at the Cal State Fullerton Titans starting on March 30. Following the series, the Matadors will host the Loyola Marymount Lions for one game before another road conference series at UC Santa Barbara. The series against the Gauchos will be played from April 5-7.
Northridge then heads back to Matador Field for a non-conference game against CSU Bakersfield and a Big West series against Cal Poly. After facing the Mustangs, the Matadors make a return trip to UCLA for one game against the Bruins on Tuesday, April 17.
Another non-conference contest against the CSUB Roadrunners comes before a home series against the Long Beach State 49ers, a matchup that featured dominant pitching and thrilling endings for both sides a year ago.
The Matadors then head to UC Riverside for three games before the final home stand of the season takes place with two series, one each with UC Irvine and UC Davis. The last home game of the 2012 regular season will take place with Senior Day on Sunday, May 20 against the Aggies.
One final non-conference tilt against CSU Bakersfield kicks off the final week of play on May 22 before Northridge closes the Big West season on the road at the Pacific Tigers from May 25-27.