June 8, 2009

Matador Baseball 2009 Year-in-Review

June 8, 2009

Matador Baseball 2009 Season Recap Get Acrobat Reader

NORTHRIDGE, Calif. - By Nicholas Bocanegra

Fielding one of the youngest rosters in the country with 26 freshmen and sophomores combined, the Cal State Northridge Matadors entered the season fully prepared for the inevitable peaks and valleys attached to a 56-game season.

Possessing a never-say-die attitude that was on display from the start to the end of the season, regardless of who the Matadors were facing, `Ridge Baseball fans were able to watch the team mature as a collective unit as the season progressed. Having suffered twelve one-run losses, with an additional number of games coming down to the last out, the hardships faced and experience gained will now serve as an asset for Head Coach Steve Rousey as preparations now begin for the 2010 campaign.

With a number of student-athletes expected to fully recover from injuries sustained during the last two seasons, and another recruiting class expected to receive a top-40 ranking, conference-winning aspirations now run rampant throughout the Matador clubhouse.

In addition to fielding two, seven-game winners in Paul Tremlin and Ryan Juarez, CSUN's bullpen was also the home of two of the Big West Conference's lowest ERA's thrown from the arms of P.J. Rousey and Brian Slover. For their efforts throughout the season - Rousey only allowed one extra-base hit while his teammate Slover only allowed seven extra-base hits to his opponents in 2009 - both were recognized by receiving All-Big West honors at the end of the season.

Were it not for the wind-aided results from the bats of the Nebraska Cornhuskers and UC Santa Barbara Gauchos, middle-reliever Jimmy Jolicoeur would have sported a solid 2.39 ERA of his own, adding his name to the long list of potent arms found within the Big West Conference.

With only four student-athletes comprising the Senior Class of 2009 leaving the team, Coach Rousey expects a fierce battle for all nine starting positions next year. The bats of Richard Cates and John Parham will be missed as each begin their post-collegiate endeavors; Cates led not only the Matadors in a number of offensive categories including at-bats, batting average, runs, hits, finishing within the top-three on the in doubles, RBI's, total bases, and stolen bases as well.

The 2009 season was also the final one for senior John Parham. A stalwart behind the plate for CSUN during the last three years, the 2008 All-Big West catcher exhibited his toughness and maturity for the Matadors throughout the season. In addition to swinging a solid bat, Parham's leadership skills were crucial in the development of his younger teammates as he would often share his experiences and wisdom obtained during his four years as a catcher with others in an effort to help them reach their fullest potential.

Make no mistake about it, the combined production from both Cates and Parham will be missed in 2010; numbers that players such as Dominic D'Anna, Todd Eskelin, Chris Hannick, Ryan Pineda, and TS Reed look to add to their respective numbers as each enter their junior season.

Even though the Matadors finished 24-32 in 2008, the record does not truly explain the level of play exhibited by CSUN during the season, especially in front of their home crowd where some of the brightest highlights of the season took place.

In total, the Matadors pulled off nine come-from-behind wins when trailing after seven innings, and eleven victories when behind after six, including totaling seven walk-off victories.

Matador baseball fans witnessed Ryan Pineda hit a game-winning single to defeat the Texas Tech Red Raiders 3-2, John Parham defeating the San Jose State Spartans with a single in the eleventh for a 4-3 victory, Justin DeMarco bunting a single that induced a throwing error for the decisive run in a 3-2 win over UC Santa Barbara, Parham playing the role of spoiler once again by hitting a walk-off hit in the fifteenth inning ending a marathon affair with the Cal State Fullerton Titans for a 5-4 triumph, Tommy Simis coming through with a two-run single to defeat Pepperdine 9-8, Jason Dabbs hitting a winning single over USC for a 5-4 win, and Pineda hitting a sacrifice fly against Pacific that brought in Parham for a 10-9 victory in the final home game of the season.

The Matador season began with a three game series with the Pepperdine Waves, in which Northridge dropped the first and third games in Malibu by one run each but were able to win their home opener by a 6-2 margin as starter Ryan Juarez pitched six quality innings for his first win.

Next up for the Matadors would be their first home-stand of the season, a six-game affair that would take place against Loyola Marymount (one game), Texas Tech (three games) and Evansville (two games).

After dropping the first game to Loyola Marymount by a run, CSUN would respond by winning four of their next five games.

The Matadors shut down Texas Tech with an impressive three-game sweep thanks to effective pitching and timely hitting as Paul Tremlin picked up the win in game one of the series and emerged from the bullpen to help the Matadors secure an 8-4 win.

Juarez earned his second win of the year in the middle game of the series with his five-inning performance that would help the Matadors win their first series of the season in a 7-3 victory. In the game, the Matadors performed a rare triple play in the first inning that ended the Red Raider's most serious scoring rally.

Reliever Jimmy Jolicoeur earned the win in the finale, pitching 2.2 scoreless innings for a CSUN 3-2 win before his team split the final two games at home against the Evansville Purple Aces, winning a high scoring affair 9-8 in their last game at home before heading to Nebraska.

With the Matadors at a winning 4-3 record, they took to the road for a four-game set with the Nebraska Cornhuskers, however CSUN could not continue their winning ways, as Nebraska would win all four contests.

Northridge then returned to the friendly confines of Matador Field for their longest home-stand of the season, eight games. The series of games would begin on a positive note with an extra-inning win against the #25-ranked San Jose State Spartans.

Northridge was victorious 4-3 due to strong relief pitching. Tremlin and Jolicoeur combined for 5.2 shutout innings, with the latter earning the victory. San Jose State claimed the final two games of the series; they preserved a tight 6-5 victory in the middle game of the series despite two towering solo home runs by Pineda.

After dropping a mid-week game against BYU 6-5, the Matadors rebounded in a huge way by taking three of four from the Columbia Lions.

CSUN throttled the Lions in game one with an 8-2 victory, as Billy Ott pitched eight dominating innings in the win. Columbia evened the series the following day, but Northridge would take the final two games in come-from-behind fashion to sweep a doubleheader by the scores of 5-4 and 10-7. Juarez earned his third win of the season with his 7.2 innings of work in the first game, and the CSUN hitters piled up a season high 16 hits in the second game; two of the Matadors hits were back-to-back home runs from the bats of DeMarco and Todd Eskelin.

Next, the Matadors hit the road for a rematch with Loyola Marymount, but they would suffer another setback against the Lions, losing a high scoring battle 12-9 in their final tune-up before opening Big West Conference play.

Matador Field served as the host site for CSUN's inaugural conference series of the season when Northridge hosted the #19-ranked UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.

Even though UCSB took game one by a 21-12 margin, CSUN responded the following day with a 9-4 comeback win.

The Matadors erased an early three-run deficit and scored six runs in the eighth to even the series at one apiece.

In the finale, reliever Brian Slover pitched two shutout innings for his first win of the year in the Matador's series-clinching 3-2 victory.

Northridge looked to continue their momentum as they opened up a two-game set with the UNLV Rebels. The Matadors raced past the Rebels for a 5-1 win in the opener, leading from start-to-finish. In game two, CSUN tacked on nine runs on the board with Dominic D'Anna driving in nearly half of his team's total runs scored in the Matador's 9-4 victory.

After dropping their first game of the home-stand, the Matadors reeled off four consecutive victories for their longest winning streak of the season.

The Matadors next traveled to #16-ranked Cal Poly for another Big West match-up and four-game road trip that would begin in San Luis Obispo and end on the campus of Southern California.

The road trip would be a frustrating one, with the Matadors dropping all four contests, three of which by a single run and two in the final at-bat. The Mustangs won twice in their final at-bat en route to a three-game sweep of the Matadors, and USC would hold on for an 8-7 win to conclude the trip.

Looking to rebound from their share of narrow defeats suffered during the previous week, the #6- ranked Cal State Fullerton Titans were next in line to face Northridge in another three-game, weekend series at Matador Field.

The Matadors snapped their losing streak by defeating the Titans in fifteen innings after the game was suspended in the thirteenth inning due to darkness. Having started on a Thursday afternoon, the game was resumed the following afternoon before the regularly scheduled game that was originally planned to take place that day.

After Northridge finished-off the two-day marathon against the Titans by a 5-4 score, Fullerton responded in-kind by defeating the Matadors in the final two games 7-5 and 8-0, before the Matadors snapped their two-game losing streak against the visiting Cal State Bakersfield the very next game thanks to the combined pitching effort of Paul Tremlin and Brian Slover who held the Roadrunners to a single run for a 3-1 win.

Northridge then took to the road to face Long Beach State and would come through once again with three quality efforts by each of their starting pitchers.

The Matadors dropped the opener by a 1-0 score despite Juarez pitching eight dominating innings, only allowing a run. The following day three Matador pitchers, Justen Gorski, Tremlin, and Slover, combined to limit the 49ers to one run again for a CSUN 3-1 win before dropping the series finale 5-2.

In their series at Long Beach, Matador pitchers only allowed three earned runs combined throughout the entire weekend.

The Matadors next made their way home for four games, one of which against the Pepperdine Waves, and three against in-conference foe, the UC Riverside Highlanders.

Down by a run heading to bottom of the eleventh, CSUN rallied against the Waves, scoring two runs off the bat of Simis to win the game 9-8. With the come-from-behind victory, the Matadors evened the season series with Pepperdine at two wins apiece.

Northridge next set their sights to UC Riverside but the host Matadors would not have much success all weekend. The Highlanders took all three meetings including shutting out CSUN twice. The lone bright spot came in the finale, as Ott turned in a two-run, nine-inning complete game performance, joining Juarez as the only Matador pitchers to pitch a complete game on the season.

Up next for the Matadors was a two-game set at the UNLV Rebels and a three-game series with the #1-ranked UC Irvine Anteaters.

The road trip started off on a bad note as the Matadors fell to the Rebels 13-8 but CSUN would even the series with a dominating 8-2 win the following day, giving Tremlin his sixth win of the season, and also securing a season series victory over UNLV.

The Matadors luck would change however, as they took on the best team in the nation. UC Irvine slowed down the Matadors offensive attack and provided a multitude of timely hits en route to a three-game series sweep.

With the Matadors chances of securing a spot in the Regionals all but gone, CSUN focused their attention on closing their 2009 schedule on a high-note. Their final five home games of the season awaited with two games against USC and three versus Big West foe, Pacific.

Juarez was tagged for four runs early in game one against the Trojans, but settled down as the game progressed, throwing five consecutive scoreless innings. The Matadors bats then came alive with seven unanswered runs securing the 7-4 win, the fifth victory for Juarez on the season.

In the finale, the fans at Matador Field were treated to another come-from-behind win for the home team. The Matadors erased two separate two-run deficits, including a 4-2 disadvantage in the bottom of the ninth. Northridge scored two runs in the ninth to tie the game at 4-4, and put away the Trojans for good with a Dabbs game-winning single for the 5-4 win.

Juarez was again called upon to start the opener against the Tigers; the Northridge right hander started the series on the right-foot by shutting down the Pacific offensive en route to a 5-4 win and his sixth victory. Pacific though resoundingly evened the series with an 11-0 win the following day, setting the stage for the rubber match for the final home game of the season.

Pacific pounded the Matadors for most of the game, taking a 7-2 lead into the seventh. Down by five runs, the Matadors showed their grit by erasing the lead in a single frame, tying the score at 7-7. The Tigers bounced back though in their half of the ninth by going ahead with a two-run inning. Not to be outdone, the Matadors staged another furious rally with a barrage of hits, eventually winning the game on a sacrifice fly by Pineda scoring senior Parham in his final home game of his collegiate career.

The final four games of the season took the Matadors upstate for a non-conference game with Cal State Bakersfield and a three game in-conference series with UC Davis.

The road trip started off well with two victories. Tremlin earned his team-leading seventh win with a 3-0 win over the Roadrunners, but he would quickly be joined by Juarez who also earned his seventh win with a 4-3 triumph at UC Davis.

The Aggies though responded with two walk-off victories 6-5 and 4-3 in the Matadors final two games, spoiling Northridge's attempt at a winning road trip. With a 2-2 trip, the Matadors finished 2009 with a 24-32 overall record, the same record they finished in 2008 and a 7-17 Big West Conference record.

Despite the losing record, many Matadors turned in outstanding 2009 campaigns.

In his final collegiate season, senior Richard Cates produced one of his best statistical years as a Matador. Cates led the team in many offensive categories including batting average (.374), hits (83), runs scored (44), walks (28), and on-base percentage (.456). He finished fourth in hits in the Big West Conference, two hits shy of the top mark, and sixth in batting average. Cates also drove in 28 RBIs, blasted two home runs and was one of two players named to the Big West Conference Honorable Mention team.

Fellow senior, John Parham provided the Matadors with a steady bat and grit behind the plate. As a catcher, Parham handled a very young Matador pitching staff effectively and supplied clutch hitting all season long, including two walk-off hits. In his final season, Parham finished with the third-highest amounts of runs scored (30), fourth-highest in home runs (3) and runs batted in (25). He also picked-off five base runners, threw out fourteen runners attempting to steal bases.

Sophomore Ryan Pineda made it a habit of clearing the base pads this season. Pineda finished with team-highs in home runs (10), runs batted in (44) and doubles (14). The Matador outfielder had the second-most hits (63) and runs scored (38) on the team, while hitting .294. Pineda also hit safely in the first 18 games of the season.

Dominic D'Anna had an impressive sophomore campaign hitting for the third-highest average at .326. D'Anna had the second-most home runs (7), RBI's (32) and doubles (13). The second-year first baseman proved to be an asset not only with his bat, but also with his glove with a near perfect fielding percentage of .989, before an injury ended his season prematurely.

Primarily a home run threat in his rookie year, sophomore Chris Hannick hit more consistently in his second season at the plate as he batted .259 and had four home runs along with 19 RBIs. As a catcher he caught eight runners attempting to steal.

Adding to the team's offensive attack, sophomore Jeff Pruitt was a terror for opposing pitchers on the base pads, stealing 24 bases, which was second most in the Big West. The speedy Pruitt also legged-out a team-high four triples. Mostly a reserve last year, Pruitt started all but three games due to his quickness on the bases and his patience at the plate; he was second in the team in walks with 26.

Infielders, sophomore Justin DeMarco, junior Jason Dabbs, freshman Tommy Simis and sophomore TS Reed all made significant contributions in 2009. DeMarco hit two home runs, drove in 18 runs and batted .246. Dabbs finished with a .256 average, a home run and 19 runs batted in. Simis filled in nicely after an injury sidelined Reed, hitting .258 with 11 RBIs. Despite a broken left wrist, Reed made a return to the lineup in the final games of the season to finish with a .234 average, nine runs batted in and seven stolen bases.

Junior C.J. Belanger played in all but three games this season, including leading off for the Matadors in 11 games. He posted a .233 batting average, while totaling up twelve RBIs, and for the second consecutive season, he led the team with seven sacrifice bunts.

Primarily a reserve player in 2009, sophomore Todd Eskelin still managed to make an impact in limited at-bats, as he hit .333, along with driving in two home runs and nine runs batted in.

Once the Matadors took the lead, they were nearly immaculate in preserving the advantage. Northridge was 16-1 when leading after seven and 18-1 when ahead after eight. Opponents had a difficult time mounting comebacks because of stingy relief pitching. Sophomore Brian Slover and juniors, Jimmy Jolicoeur and Billy Ott, combined for 13 saves on the year.

Slover posted a near microscopic 1.39 ERA as the primary closer, including totaling up a team-leading nine saves and winning four games. His save mark was fourth best in the Big West Conference and placed him in a tie with Mike Frick (2001) for the most saves by a Matador in a single season. A reliever for the entire year, Slover still managed to have the second-most strikeouts on the team with 48 in 45.1 innings of work. Slover's amazing ERA, strikeouts, and save total did not go unrecognized, as he was named to the Big West All-Conference second team. In addition to his value as a pitcher, he would find success in the batter's box as well. Slover made fifteen starts and finished hitting .241, along with a home run and 10 runs batted in.

Jolicoeur struck out 39 in 36.2 innings pitched and had two victories out of the bullpen. Ott, who relieved then started by the end of 2009, pitched the second most innings on the team with 75.2, and with the most strikeouts, punching out 51 batters. Also, he threw the only nine-inning complete game for the Matadors this season against the USC Trojans.

Senior P.J. Rousey was lights out in his 25 appearances, as he posted an impressive 1.93 ERA while holding opponents to only 15 hits in his 18.2 innings. Used as a situational pitcher in 2009, Rousey often cooled down opposing team's rallies by recording big outs with runners on base in the latter innings. The right-hander succeeded in holding the opposition to only a single extra base hit all season. Rousey joined Cates in being named to the Big West Conference Honorable Mention team this season because of his outstanding work for the Matadors.

Valuable as both a starter and reliever, sophomore Paul Tremlin finished the year with a 7-1 record, putting him in a tie with sophomore Ryan Juarez for the most wins. He also struck out 43 batters, which was third on team behind Slover and Ott.

Juarez concluded the season with 7-5 record, starting the most games of any Matadors with 14. He had one complete game in 2009 albeit in a losing effort, only giving up a single run in eight innings at Long Beach State. Juarez provided the team with the most innings pitched; he threw 84.2 innings and struck out 37 batters.

The Matador pitchers neutralized rallies by tallying up a team total of 32 pickoffs, which was easily best among Big West teams. Junior Ryan "China" McCarney finished with a team-high nine pickoffs and Parham was second on the team with five from behind the plate.

Although Northridge posted an overall 24-32 record and a 7-17 in-conference record, they displayed the ability to compete every day and consequently found themselves in many tight games. In games decided by a run, Northridge finished with an 11-12 record. The Matadors had their opportunities to win several Big West games. Nine of their seventeen defeats were decided by two runs or less, but the Matadors did have their share of nail-biting wins. Six of their seven wins were by a single run. Overall, they won 16 games by three runs or less and 18 of their 32 defeats were by three runs or less.

Moving forward, inconsistent play is what the Matadors look to improve upon going into 2010. Although the Matadors reeled off impressive come-from-behind wins, they could not sustain the momentum. The Matadors best stretch of the season included winning seven of ten games in the middle portion of the season, but they would follow that stretch by losing fifteen of the next twenty, then rebounding by winning six of their final nine games.

With another year under their collective belts, the returning crop of Matadors will only be better for their experiences in 2009, and will look to build upon their late season success, as they try to make a surge next season in the Big West standings.