Freshmen Power Matadors to 2-1 Upset at No. 23 UC Irvine

IRVINE, Calif. -

Behind 7.2 strong innings on the mound by freshman Calvin Copping, the Cal State Northridge Matadors (19-16, 5-3 Big West) earned a 2-1 upset over the No. 23 UC Irvine Anteaters (22-9, 4-4 Big West) on Saturday afternoon at Anteater Ballpark. Freshman Michael Najera went 2-for-2 with a double and a triple as the Matadors ended UCI's six-game win streak and picked up their first victory in Irvine since 2005.

"That's the outing we've been looking for for Calvin for most of the year, and he's done a good job," said CSUN head coach Matt Curtis. "We knew that's what he is capable of. He did it all fall, he did it all January and he's made some adjustments as we've gotten into this level of competition."

After the teams played a 4-3, 11-inning game the night before, both sides came out with dominant pitching on Saturday. Despite combining for 18 hits, just three runs were scored in the game as both pitching staffs continually worked out of danger.

"Last night was a very emotional loss. It's very difficult to come back after something like that," said Curtis.

UC Irvine scored their lone run in the bottom of the first inning against Copping on a wild pitch after Connor Spencer and Taylor Sparks singled with two outs. With runners on the corners, a pitch bounced in the dirt and went back to the screen as Spencer scored from third.

Copping ran into a jam in the bottom of the second but recovered to escape without allowing a run. After Jerry McClanahan was hit by a pitch and Scott Gottschling singled to left field, the pair moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt. Copping then got a line drive to left that forced McClanahan to remain at third before a Chris Rabago ground out ended the threat.

The Matadors built on the shift in momentum and tied the game at 1-1 in the top of the third inning. Freshman Nicolas Osuna singled to the shortstop to lead things off and moved up to second following a sacrifice bunt by Najera. With two outs in the inning, Kyle Attl singled to left center and Osuna easily scored.

Northridge had prime opportunities to take the lead in the fourth and fifth innings as they got leadoff doubles by Alexis Mercado and Najera, respectively. However, UC Irvine starter Matt Whitehouse worked around the trouble to keep the game even.

The Anteaters left a pair of runners on base in the fifth against Copping, failing to score after back-to-back singles gave them two men on with one out. Copping induced a ground ball for a fielder's choice before another grounder to Attl ended the frame.

The Matadors took the lead for good with a run in the top of the seventh inning, again benefitting from a leadoff hit. Najera, whose double earlier in the game was his first career extra-base hit, tripled down the right field line to start the inning. Freshman William Colantono came in to pinch run and scored as Michael Livingston singled past the shortstop with no outs.

Copping emerged from the dugout to pitch the bottom of the eighth and got Spencer to fly out to center field. After Sparks singled up the middle and Ronnie Shaeffer grounded out, Copping was relieved by fellow freshman DJ Milam.

With the tying run on third base after a wild pitch, Milam got McClanahan to fly out to right field to end the inning. Northridge could not cash in in the ninth inning after getting two runners on with one out and sent Milam back out to finish the game in the bottom of the ninth.

Milam needed just six pitches in the ninth to set down the Anteaters in order and break a streak of 10 straight games for CSUN at UC Irvine without a win.

Copping (3-3) recorded one strikeout but worked around seven hits in 7.2 innings to notch his third victory of the year while Milam earned his first career save. Whitehouse (3-3) struck out eight Northridge batters but took the loss after allowing two runs in 6.0 innings of work.

"I was looking to pound the zone, keep the ball down and get grounders," said Copping, who turned in his most effective performance of the season.

Eight of the nine Northridge batters in the starting lineup had a hit in the game, led by Osuna, Najera and Chester Pak. Livingston and Attl recorded the two CSUN RBIs in the upset win. In six of the nine innings, CSUN's leadoff man reached with a hit.

"The guys were prepared," concluded Curtis. "They were physically prepared and they were mentally prepared and once you're in that state then it's just about competing and they really did. Not a lot of teams I have seen can come back after a difficult loss in those circumstances against a really, really good team."

The final game of the series between CSUN and UCI is set for Sunday, April 14, at Anteater Ballpark. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.

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