By Kevin Strauss, Assistant Sports Information Director
NORTHRIDGE, Calif. –
As the saying goes, "Defense wins championships." While that hasn't always proven to be the case, you can tell a lot about a team and its potential by measuring its defense. By doing so you will gain a glimpse into the heart and soul of a team, its work ethic and the ability of its players to remain disciplined and focused.
Nothing is truer when discussing the Cal State Northridge baseball team, which enters the week first in all of NCAA Division I with a .987 fielding percentage as of March 9th. With just eight errors in the first 16 games, the Matadors have limited the amount of free bases given to opponents. As a result, CSUN has found itself playing 13 games that have been decided by two runs or fewer and nine that were decided by only one.
"My approach at the field everyday is to get better. There is always something I can improve on or fine tune," said senior shortstop Brett Balkan. "As a team, we are focused on the process of getting better. We are going to hit peaks and valleys but being able to move beyond the past to execute the next pitch will define us."
In addition to boasting the top fielding percentage in the nation, which would also set the program record if the season ended today, the Matadors rank among the Top 50 programs in earned run average through 17 games. With a team ERA of 2.72 entering the week, the Matadors check in at 49th and have allowed 47 earned runs in 154.1 innings on the mound.
"The way I attack the grind is by seeing it as a challenge and also a way to improve my physical and mental barriers. Our team approach is to be better than yesterday and attack the game of baseball in every possible way," said junior catcher Alexis Mercado. "It doesn't matter who is in the other dugout. What matters is that we continue to play against the game of baseball."
Preparation off the field has led the Matadors pitching staff to success on the mound as the team has held opponents to three runs or fewer in all but three games this year. Senior right-handed pitcher Brycen Rutherford is one of 22 pitchers in Division I to have earned a quality start - 6.0 or more innings with three earned runs or fewer - in all four appearances in 2014.
"My daily approach is to improve both on and off the field. I believe that this can be achieved by a relentless mind and an amount of focus that takes a high level of sustainability. We as a team are committed to staying in the moment and attacking each moment with the highest level of both physical and mental effort," said Rutherford. "We focus on the process rather than the result. That is what is believed as a part of the baseball team here at CSUN as what it takes to achieve excellence."
With the calendar quickly approaching the start of Big West Conference play, the Matadors know they are prepared for one of the toughest league schedules in the country. To get to the top, they'll continue to change what it means to play "Matador Defense."
"The goal is to build each day," said CSUN head coach Greg Moore. "Build the skills, habits and values that make teams and people successful."