NORTHRIDGE, Calif. -
Freshman Michael Najera picked up his first hit of the season, an RBI single, and the Cal State Northridge Matadors (15-15, 3-2 Big West) used a pair of late runs to outlast the UC Riverside Highlanders (14-12, 3-2 Big West) on Saturday afternoon at Matador Field. Joshua Goossen-Brown had his third consecutive multi-hit game as the Matadors won their first Big West Conference series of the year.
Northridge starting pitcher Calvin Copping was able to work out of danger throughout the day, scattering eight hits and stranding six UC Riverside runners in 6.2 innings. He also added four strikeouts but left in a tie ball game and did not get a decision.
The Highlanders threatened to score first against Copping in the top of the first, but the freshman got the help of his defense to keep the game scoreless. After a one-out walk and single to right field, David Andriese lined into an inning-ending double play to Goossen-Brown at first base.
In the top of the second, UC Riverside advanced a runner to third after a single, stolen base and wild pitch, but Copping recorded a swinging strikeout to retire the side. The next inning, he allowed a two-out triple but followed it up by getting a ground out to keep the runner at third.
The Matadors took the first lead of the game by scoring in the bottom of the third inning. Both Chester Pak and Nicolas Osuna were hit by pitches to start things off before Najera lined his first career hit to left center field, which also plated his first RBI.
"Throughout that at-bat I knew that I had to get an execution down," said Najera. "But I missed a bunt sign and coach brushed it off, let me hit away and I drove it to the left center gap."
UC Riverside answered back, however, and tied the game at 1-1 in the top of the fourth. The Highlanders got two runners in scoring position after a leadoff single, hit by pitch and sacrifice bunt. With the bases loaded and one out, Nick Vilter tried to put down a squeeze bunt but Copping fielded his position and got the out at home.
The next batter, Joe Chavez, legged out an RBI infield single to score a run from third, but the Matadors were able to get Alex Rubanowitz caught in a rundown as he tried his luck from second and could not score.
Things got murky for the Matadors in the top of the seventh after a pair of infield singles started off the inning for the Highlanders. Following two line drive outs, Copping was relieved by his bullpen. The next batter was hit by a pitch to load the bases by Oscar Sandoval came in and struck out Andriese, UCR's top hitter, looking to escape the danger.
Northridge rode the momentum into the bottom of the seventh and scored the eventual winning run. Goossen-Brown singled up the middle and moved up to second on a sac bunt by Kyle Ferramola.
Alexis Mercado followed with a single back up the box that scored Goossen-Brown from second and put the Matadors ahead 2-1. Northridge added an insurance run in the home half of the eighth thanks to three errors in the UCR infield.
Najera reached after he bunted and the throw to first pulled the fielder off the base. Livingston then put down a sacrifice bunt to the pitcher, who delivered a perfect throw to first that was dropped by the first baseman. With one out, Nathan Ring hit a ground ball that kicked off the shortstop and into shallow center field, allowing Najera to score from second.
Harley Holt pitched a scoreless ninth to close the game for the Matadors and got help from the fielders behind him in the process. After a leadoff double for Vilter and a walk by Chavez, the Highlanders had the tying run on first with no outs.
"Harley stays out in that situation because he is really good at defending the bunting game," said CSUN head coach Matt Curtis. "We were trying to get the lead out in that bunt situation and he's one of our best guys at fielding his position."
As Devyn Bolasky tried to put down a bunt, he failed to make contact and Mercado threw down to second to pick off Vilter. Bolasky eventually struck out swinging and, on the dropped third strike, Chavez was mixed up at first and eventually was tagged out by Livingston on a rundown to end the game.
Sandoval (1-0) earned the first win of his career after 0.2 relief innings and Holt notched his second save of the season while striking out two in 1.2 innings. Ben Doucette (1-2) went 7.1 innings in a start for UCR and allowed all three runs in the loss.
Goossen-Brown went 2-for-4 at the plate with a run scored for CSUN as Mercado and Najera teamed up for both of Northridge's RBIs.
With the win, the Matadors took the first two of the series against UC Riverside. The two sides will conclude their three-game set on Sunday, April 7 at 1 p.m.