NORTHRIDGE, Calif. -
The Cal State Northridge Matadors will play out the regular season once more on the road at Cal State Fullerton. The Matadors and Titans are familiar foes when it comes to baseball at the end of May, with three of the last four seasons concluding with a series between the two schools. The stage will be bigger this time around, as all three games from Goodwin Field in Fullerton, Calif. will be broadcast worldwide on ESPN3 and through the WatchESPN app on mobile devices. It will be the second time this season that CSUN Baseball is featured on ESPN, following the series opener on UC Irvine on April 11th.
The Matadors will have a chance to play the role of spoiler this weekend against the Titans, who likely need to win all three games in order to have a shot at the postseason. The series will get started on Thursday night in Orange County before continuing Friday night. The final game of the 2014 season will be played on Saturday, May 24, at 1 p.m. In addition to being broadcast on ESPN's platform, all three games will include live stats coverage and a free Internet radio broadcast available through GoMatadors.com.
Matadors (18-35, 6-15) at Cal State Fullerton Titans (29-22, 11-10)
Thursday, May 22 - 6 p.m. - RHP Brycen Rutherford vs. RHP Thomas Eshelman
Friday, May 23 - 7 p.m. - LHP Jerry Keel vs. RHP Justin Garza
Saturday, May 24 - 1 p.m. - RHP Jordan Johnson vs. RHP Grahamm Wiest
Goodwin Field (3,500) - Fullerton, Calif.
Follow Your Matadors While On-the-Go
Fans can now follow all of the action for Cal State Northridge's 19 varsity sports right from their phone or tablet! CSUN Front Row, the official mobile app of Cal State Northridge Athletics, is available for free for your iOS and Android devices. Rather than having to navigate to GoMatadors.com from your phone, you can now catch up on the latest scores, schedules and news right from a single app. You can also access live stats coverage of a majority of CSUN home events, as well as audio and video links when available. For more information, search for CSUN Front Row on the App Store or Google Play or visit GoMatadors.com/frontrow.
A Closer Look at Cal State Fullerton
The Cal State Fullerton Titans are 29-22 overall and 11-10 in Big West Conference play. Named as the preseason No. 1 team in the natiion by various media outlets, the Titans have struggled in 2014 and are in danger of missing the postseason completely unless they get a very strong result against the Matadors. Cal State Fullerton has won its last four games in a row but is just 3-3 in its last six games played at home. Most recently, the Titans dismantled USC 17-3 on Tuesday night and swept UC Irvine on the road in a Big West series last weekend.
The Titans are lead at the plate by J.D. Davis, who is hitting .333 and has started every game for CSF this season. Davis leads the team with 15 doubles and four triples and also has three home runs to go along with 34 runs batted in. In 47 games this year, Matt Chapman has a .322 batting average and leads the Titans with 31 runs scored, six home runs and 46 RBIs. No other Titan has more than 20 RBIs, but Greg Velasquez has contributed three home runs and nine doubles for the club this year. As a team, the Titans are hitting .260 and have outscored the opposition 241-152.
A trio of right-handed pitchers will comprise the starting rotation for the Titans against the Matadors this weekend. Thomas Eshelman is set to start on Thursday night and brings in a 7-3 record with a 1.88 ERA in 14 starts. Eshelman has pitched five complete games this season, including a pair of shutouts, and has 90 strikeouts in 110.1 innings pitched. Justin Garza will pitch on Friday night against CSUN and has a 4-3 record with a 2.90 ERA in 10 outings (nine starts). He has recorded 44 strikeouts and walked just 10 batters in 59.0 innings this season. Grahamm Wiest will start the season finale on Saturday and is currently 3-4 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts. Wiest has pitched three complete games and has 75 strikeouts in 95.2 innings. Davis, in addition to being a prolific hitter for CSF, is also the team's closer and has six saves in 12 appearances this year. He is 2-3 with a 2.95 era as well.
This weekend marks the final series of the year for Cal State Fullerton as well. The Titans are in bubble range at the moment for NCAA consideration, but any loss to the Matadors will likely spell the end of the year.
Redefining the "Matador Defense"
The Matadors continue to pride themselves on playing smart and sound baseball defensively. In addition to improving its winning percentage each of the past three seasons, Cal State Northridge has also set program records for fielding percentage twice in that span. There were 16 Matadors last season that were perfect in their chances in the field and five others that had two errors or fewer all season. Last year Northridge recorded a .976 fielding percentage, which was good for third in the Big West Conference and also set a mark for the best ever in CSUN history. The Matadors also picked up 16 outfield assists in 2013 and look to build on that quality moving forward. At this point in the season CSUN has 13 outfield assists, led by Nick Blaser's seven. The team currently has a .972 fielding percentage with 57 errors in 53 games, which is among the leaders in the Big West Conference.
Matadors in the Big West Rankings
With the final week of the series upon us, the Big West Conference has released its 14th and final statistics standings of the year. The Matadors are currently seventh in batting average (.258), eighth in slugging percentage (.307), and eighth in on-base percentage (.326). The Matadors are sixth in the conference with 458 hits on the year, sixth with eight triples, and check in at sixth in the league after being hit by a pitch 49 times. The team is seventh in the Big West Conference with 47 sacrifice bunts and fifth with 44 stolen bases. Defensively, the Matadors are eighth in the Big West with a 3.99 ERA and are averaging over six strikeouts recorded per game. The pitching staff is fifth with 332 strikeouts recorded after 53 games and is third in the Big West with 113 strikeouts looking. CSUN has committed just 57 errors so far this year and has the fourth-best fielding percentage in the league at .972.
Individually, Nick Blaser is just outside the Top 10 with a .318 batting average this year. Ryan Raslowsky has 15 stolen bases to rank fourth in the league and is five behind the leader. William Colantono (23) is among the leaders in walks drawn and Chester Pak is third in the Big West with seven sacrifice flies. Brett Balkan and Ranny Lowe are tied for ninth in the conference after being hit by a pitch 10 times and Balkan's 12 sac bunts put him in third in the league. Jerry Keel is currently fourth in the Big West with 27 strikeouts looking on the year is 10th with an opposing batting average of .230. Statistics are current as of May19, 2014 and include CSUN games through the Cal Poly series.
Junior left-handed pitcher Jerry Keel enters the season as the anchor of the pitching staff in 2014. The former Big West Freshman Pitcher of the Year and Freshman All-American is a starter once more for Northridge and picked up right where he left off in the opening series at Bethune-Cookman. Although he took the loss, he pitched 7.0 strong innings with five strikeouts in a 2-1 decision. He walked three batters and allowed five hits, including just one double. He also pitched 6.2 innings against Seattle University and recorded six strikeouts. Against Washington State, Keel went 7.0 innings without allowing a run and struck out six. In a controlled start against Stony Brook, Keel retired all 13 batters he faced. In a start against Hawai'i, Keel struck out 10 in 8.2 innings to become the first CSUN pitcher with double-digit strikeouts in a game since 2008. He also had a no decision at TCU after pitching 8.0 shutout innings and leaving the game in a 0-0 tie. On the year, Keel has a 3.58 ERA with 66 strikeouts in 88.0 innings.
No Trouble in the Balkans
Senior Brett Balkan has taken the reigns as the starting shortstop and was one of two Matadors with three hits over the opening weekend. He drove in a run in CSUN's 2-1 win in the second game at Bethune-Cookman and added an insurance RBI in the 2-0 win in the finale. Balkan collected seven defensive assists on the weekend, including on a relayed throw to the plate to catch a runner trying to score. He went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and three runs scored in the first game of a doubleheader against Seattle. In the marathon at LMU, Balkan had a hit, two walks, two runs scored and an RBI. At Pepperdine, he went 2-for-3 with a two-run double to help the Matadors come from behind. In the finale at UC Riverside, Balkan had a career-high three hits and two RBIs to lead the Matadors to a win. In the series opener against UC Davis, he went 3-for-5 with two doubles, two RBIs and two runs scored. This year, Balkan is hitting .302 with five doubles and 22 RBIs in 51 starts.
Not a One-Man WolfPak
Junior Chester Pak picked up a couple of hits in the opening series at Bethune-Cookman and drove in the winning run in the top of the 11th inning in the second game. Pak is currently the team leader with 59 hits and also drew a couple of walks to help CSUN take two games against the Wildcats. He belted out six hits, including two triples, in the series against Seattle and had five runs batted in. He also had a couple of hits and an RBI against Washington State and drove in two runs in the 13-inning game at Loyola Marymount. Pak turned in a career performance in the finale against West Virginia, going 4-for-6 with a home run and three RBIs. He also had four hits in the come-from-behind win over Long Beach State and three hits, including a pair of doubles, in the Mother's Day win at UCSB. In the series against Cal Poly, he went 8-for-12 with two doubles, a triple, four runs scored and three RBIs while slugging 1.083. Pak is currently batting .296 and leads the team with 27 runs batted in.
Leaving His Merc
Junior Alexis Mercado came up with big hits when the Matadors needed them in the opening series at Bethune-Cookman. His lone hit in the second game of the series was a double in the top of the 11th that eventually resulted in the game-winning run. He had a single, RBI and stolen base in the finale for CSUN, driving in the eventual winning run in the top of the sixth in a 2-0 victory. In the series against Seattle, he had a hit in three of the four games and had a career day in the first game of the doubleheader, going 4-for-5 with three runs scored and three RBIs. Mercado connected on the first CSUN home run of the season and had a total of seven hits, including a pair of doubles, against the Redhawks. He also had a double and a run batted in against Washington State in the series-opening win. Mercado had a double, RBI and two walks in CSUN's win over UC Davis as well. He is batting .233 with eight doubles and 14 RBIs in 2014.
Senior center fielder Ranny Lowe is providing a spark at at all spots in the order for the Matadors this season. After batting in the three-hole for the early part of the year, Lowe became the leadoff hitter for the series against Seattle and immediately made an impact on the lineup. Against the Redhawks Lowe recorded six hits, scored two runs and drove in his first run of the campaign. He also picked up his first stolen base of the season and went 5-for-9 across CSUN's doubleheader with Seattle on February 22. In the opener against Washington State, Lowe stole second base in the 10th and came around to score on a walkoff single. He had six hits in the series at UC Riverside, including three in the opener. In the win over UC Davis, Lowe went 2-for-4 with an RBI, two runs scored and a double. In the opener at UCSB, Lowe went 4-for-5 to turn in his first four-hit performance as a Matador. On the season, Lowe is batting .244 with 25 runs scored in 52 games.
The Bryce is Right
Senior right-handed pitcher Brycen Rutherford has been a welcome addition to the CSUN rotation this season after earning spot starts at the end of last year. In 2014, Rutherford has emerged as a weekend starter and has 13 starts under his belt heading into the final weekend. As a junior Rutherford was masterful in a midweek start at San Diego, holding the Toreros hitless into the bottom of the seventh. This season, Rutherford has a 4-6 record with a 3.74 ERA in 84.1 innings. He was also one of 10 pitchers in the country to throw a quality start in each of his first seven outings in 2014.
Every Run Counts
After erupting for 22 runs in the series against Seattle, the Matadors posted just four runs in a series win over Washington State. Against the Cougars, a doubleheader featured 1-0 wins for each team and each game was decided by just one run. In the three games at Bethune-Cookman the two teams combined for eight runs, with the winner of each game needing just two to get the job done. In the series against Seattle the first team to score four runs won each game and with three runs in the first inning of game one of Saturday's doubleheader, CSUN scored more than two in a game for the first time this year. At this point of the season, CSUN is 9-13 in games decided by one run and 3-6 when the margin is two runs. As of May 21st the Matadors have played in 31 games decided by two runs or fewer, which is among the most in the nation.
Cal State Northridge is now 18 wins from reaching the 1,600-mark in program history. The Matadors posted 31 wins a season ago, their highest win total in over a decade. With their first victory in 2014, the Matadors handed head coach Greg Moore the first win of his tenure at CSUN. Junior left-handed pitcher Jerry Keel is currently third in the school record book with a 2.34 career ERA and needs eight wins to enter the Top 10 while reliever Shay Maltese sits in a tie for seventh with seven career saves. Ryan Raslowsky is now fifth in the CSUN History Book as he has 20 sacrifice bunts through his first two-plus seasons at Cal State Northridge. Brett Balkan's 12 sac bunts this year rank second all-time in a single season at Cal State Northridge.