NORTHRIDGE, Calif. -
Sophomore left-handed pitcher Jerry Keel struck out a career-high nine batters in 8.0 innings of work as the Cal State Northridge Matadors (14-15, 2-2 Big West) took the series opener from the UC Riverside Highlanders (14-11, 3-1 Big West) 5-3 on Friday afternoon at Matador Field. The Matadors, depleted by injuries to a host of regular starters, had a trio of players with three hits in the game as Northridge won its Big West home opener for the third consecutive season.
"I felt really good. The umpire had a good zone and I was able to pound the zone," said Keel, whose previous career mark for strikeouts in a game was seven against Saint Mary's on February 15. "Today I was able to get the slider down and under their bats, got a lot of swings and misses."
"[UCR] Coach [Doug] Smith and I were just kind of chuckling because we're allowed 27 men for a conference series, 27 active players, and I don't think either of us have more than 24 healthy bodies right now," said Curtis when asked about the injuries to both his team and UC Riverside. "We talk to the team about it and it's an opportunity. We're disappointed we've had key guys have season-ending injuries and that can make it difficult or it can be an opportunity."
Keel began his masterful performance on the mound immediately by striking out the first batter of the game and two in the first inning. He fanned another in the second and set down the first six batters he faced in order.
"Jerry is just a guy who rises up to the challenge and he's done that pretty consistently," said CSUN head coach Matt Curtis. "I was critical of him this week after his outing at Long Beach, I didn't think he was crisp and I didn't think he was his normal self."
"He answers that and he can take that and he can come back with one of his better outings to date," added Curtis.
Northridge got on the scoreboard first, scoring twice in the bottom of the second inning. Alexis Mercado and Chester Pak opened the frame with a pair of singles before advancing to scoring position on a ground out by Nicolas Osuna.
Facing a 2-2 count, left-fielder Anthony Lombardo lifted a single to left field to score both runs and put CSUN ahead 2-0. On one swing of the bat, Lombardo turned in the first multi-RBI game of his collegiate career.
The Highlanders had the opportunity to level the game and potentially take the lead in the third, were it not for Keel working himself out of danger. Following a leadoff single, UCR loaded the bases on a pair of walks. With one out in the inning, Keel induced a 6-4-3 double play on a grounder by Devyn Bolasky to strand a pair of runners in scoring position.
The sophomore struck out another in the fourth inning before Northridge extended its lead to 5-0. In the home half of the inning, the Matadors were able to turn in three runs with two outs. Nathan Ring smacked a triple to the gap in right center field to score a pair of runners before Joshua Goossen-Brown's double to left center brought him in to score as well.
Goossen-Brown now has at least one extra-base hit and one RBI in each of the last four games.
The Matadors nearly extended their lead in the bottom of the fifth after Pak hit a ground-rule double down the left field line and Osuna walked, but relief pitcher Donovan Gonzales buckled down and got the last two outs to get out of danger.
"In the beginning of the season I think I was just doing too much. Too much confidence coming in from the fall," said Pak. "Lately, Coach Curtis and I have been working on my mechanics and the basics and so far it looks like it's coming along."
UC Riverside scored its first run in the top of the seventh against Keel after Cody Hough was hit by a pitch and Kyle Boudreau singled. Alex Rubanowitz put down a sac bunt and Nick Vilter hit a sac fly to center field to score Hough from third.
After getting his eighth and ninth strikeouts of the game in the top of the eighth, Keel attempted to finish off a complete game. He allowed back-to-back singles to open the inning, however, and was relieved to an ovation from the crowd in attendance. Oscar Sandoval got Boudreau to fly out and gave way to Goossen-Brown to close out the game.
Two more UCR runs scored, however, with an out in the inning on a pinch-hit single by Francisco Tellez before Goossen-Brown got a pop up and a strikeout to end the game.
Keel (4-1) allowed three earned runs on six hits in 8.0 innings and walked just two. Goossen-Brown picked up his sixth save of the season for the Matadors after getting the final two outs of the afternoon. UC Riverside starter Dylan Stuart (3-3) lasted 4.0 innings and allowed five runs, two earned, in the loss.
Kyle Attl, Goossen-Brown and Pak all had three hits in the game while Ring and Lombardo led the way with a pair of RBIs. All seven hits for UC Riverside were turned in by different players.
The Matadors and Highlanders will continue their Big West Conference series on Saturday, April 6 with a 1 p.m. start at Matador Field. Calvin Copping (CSUN) will square off against Ben Doucette (UCR) on the mound.
"We put ourselves in position to win a series but we haven't done anything yet today. Hopefully tomorrow we can come out and secure a series," concluded Curtis.