NORTHRIDGE, Calif. –
With the start of the 56th season of Cal State Northridge baseball just a week away, the Matadors find themselves in an exciting position. Coming off of just the second winning season for the program since 2002 and the team's first Top 4 finish in the Big West since the same year, the Matadors return to the diamond with the experience and leadership needed to make another run toward the conference championship.
Northridge will see the return of all three of its weekend starting pitchers: Jerry Keel, Calvin Copping and John Salas. In addition, CSUN brings back four position players that appeared in over 50 games and two others that factored into at least half of the games played last year. Add to that the returns of infielders Ryan Raslowsky and Brett Balkan from injury and the Matadors have experience at every position on the field.
Head coach Greg Moore will also have a talented recruiting class joining the program as 13 newcomers look to make their debuts for the Matadors in 2014. To get his thoughts on the strengths of the team and what CSUN fans can look forward to this season, GoMatadors.com recently sat down with Coach Moore for an interview.
On Team Progress Made in the Offseason:
"I appreciate the way the team has worked at details and preparation. There's a good awareness of what each player needs to work on and there's good energy to work on those specific things."
On the Depth of the Team in 2014:
"One of our strengths is our depth. Our depth on the mound is impressive because it is experienced. Our depth on the position player side is impressive because there are good athletes that are going to fight to get onto the field. That's something that we are going to be able to use throughout the year with the ways we shuffle lineups and setup matchups.
We're excited about the way that some of the young players are pushing from the bottom and some of the older guys are fighting for spots and pushing to get in there. It will be a fun team to watch in the sense that it truly will be a 'team.'"
On the Pitching Staff:
"Keel is back and he's got so much experience, so much steadiness in how he prepares and performs, and he will be the anchor of the pitching staff. He's still going to fight for that Friday spot because there are guys pushing from behind him.
"Copping will be back as a sophomore. He did a nice job last year and he keeps getting better. Someone like Brycen Rutherford may end up being as good as any, and he does it a little bit differently. Jordan Johnson is also in that mix to start.
"Salas did that plenty last year and he's gotten better as well. I think our depth and our ability to match up on the pitching side is going to create some excitement in who falls into what role and how they work within it.
"It's always a benefit when you have someone who's experienced that is coming out of the bullpen. Their heart just beats a little bit slower. We have that ability and it's going to shake out that way because there's only three weekend starting spots and one or two during the week. That means we will have two or three guys in the bullpen who have started before and can come in and steady a game immediately.
On the Hitters and Fielders:
"We are going to allow our catchers' competition to dictate itself. We need to get Alexis Mercado's bat in the lineup. Nick Murphy has been a pleasant surprise. He came in late in the summer and has really pushed everybody offensively and defensively. He's shown us more than we've anticipated. Those are two older guys that can handle a pitching staff and will help our freshman catcher, Dylan Alexander, steadily learn. We'll use a rotation of some kind, but as the starting catcher starts to truly separate himself he will catch the bulk.
"The infield competition has been great. Nicolas Osuna and William Colantono at shortstop have battled it out, pushed each other and worked together. The same can be said at second base with Balkan and Raslowsky. They've made each other better. We have some versatility where we can put Will at first if we need too and can push Osuna to third. Michael Livingston has anchored third base through the fall. We are going to have the ability to match up, rotate and platoon better than most teams.
"The key to the outfield mix is a fifth-year senior in Ranny Lowe. He played a full year last year at Pepperdine and is deep into his college career. He is a player we can look to and know that he understands not only what's happening in a game but also what's going to happen. Chester Pak in right field is the lone guy that has separated himself at his position. In left field there is good competition between Anthony Lombardo and Devin Harrison, a freshman that is very talented. We can push one of our infielders out there as well. I think the outfield will be a quiet strength for us.
"Throughout the fall Balkan has been the catalyst of the offense. Now whether that means he falls in the One Hole, the Three Hole or the Seven Hole is yet to be seen. I think that he has managed at bats as well as anyone and he'll be the spark for us. We have very accomplished and intelligent hitters on this team. Raslowsky keeps it simple and knows how to handle both sides of the plate. Guys like Lowe and Pak have a chance to not only get on base but they can also get it in the gap. We also have some power. Lombardo will do a good job of giving others a scare in the lineup and Mercado is a big physical presence."
On How He'd Describe the 2014 Matadors:
"A tenacious team. It's not going to come from defense, offense or pitching alone. It's going to be the three of those working together. The bench play will be huge. There will be guys that win us games by not stepping between the lines on a given day. The tenacity that this team will show will be what defines us."
On the Competition CSUN Will Face:
"Conference or non-conference, I'm excited to play someone other than ourselves. Partly for the challenge of having teams come in and preparing for them and respecting them, but in a way making them nameless and faceless and playing baseball the best way that we can. Who we play and when and where we play them won't change the fact that we need to prepare and execute the way that we play baseball.
"When you separate the games there are 56 to play. We look at that as a 56-mile 'ultra marathon.' We try to take things mile-by-mile and master things within that marker. If we do that we can look up at that at the very end when we've crossed the finish line that we're given and get the opportunity to keep playing. I think if we take it mile-by-mile then we deserve to, but we need to make sure to do the things on a daily basis so we deserve to."
Cal State Northridge opens the 2014 season with a three-game series at Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach, Fla., from February 14-16. The Matadors will then take on defending national champion UCLA on Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Los Angeles before playing their home opener against Seattle University on Friday, Feb. 21 at 2 p.m. at Matador Field.