May 28, 2008

2008 Matador Season in Review

May 28, 2008

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NORTHRIDGE, Calif. - The 2008 Cal State Northridge Matadors embarked on their 2008 campaign with high aspirations. One of the youngest teams in the entire country, the Matadors were championship-minded at the season's outset.

Despite falling short of that lofty goal, the year's triumphs can easily be looked to as a launch point for future successes.

The Matadors had the luxury of starting the 2008 season with what would become a record 13-game homestand to open the season. The Matadors welcomed Northwestern for Opening Weekend and after a rough start to the series, Northridge answered two losses with one huge victory. The Matadors rung up a 12-run sixth that propelled them to a 17-9 win, their first of the year. The following Tuesday the Matadors welcomed preseason No. 1 UCLA to Matador Field for a midweek engagement. A steady UCLA attack left the Matadors short, but darkness delayed the finality of the contest.

The weekend brought LaSalle to town, and the A-10 opponent was the shot in the arm that the Matadors needed. After a hard-fought 7-5 victory in which they trailed midway through the game on Thursday, the Matadors ripped the Explorers through the weekend. Northridge outscored LaSalle 41-11 combined over the final three games, sweeping them to move to 4-2 for the season.

A Tuesday loss to UCSB put the Matadors at 4-3 before hosting St. John's for a four-game set. The Johnnies gave the Matadors a stiff test and the sides had to settle for a split, alternating wins through a chippy weekend. The Matadors finished their homestand at 7-5 and quickly boarded a plane bound for Hattiesburg, Miss. where Southern Miss and Liberty were awaiting. The Matadors handled Liberty in both of its contests with the Flames, but had more trouble with Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles held Northridge to just two runs in both contests and dispatched the Matadors by a combined score of 15-4.

The weekend was host to a great addition for the Matadors. Freshman first baseman Dominic D'Anna, who started the season on the shelf while recovering from an off-season illness, made his first start of the season and went 3-for-3 with an RBI and a pair of runs scored vs. Liberty. D'Anna would go on to have a very productive freshman campaign.

Meanwhile, Richard Cates was having an outstanding junior campaign. Just 14 games into the season, Cates was hitting .469 with 23 RBI. Cates would go on to become the fastest Matador in at least five seasons to 30 RBI, and would be given second team All-Big West accolades.

Northridge next traveled to Loyola Marymount for a non-conference set. The Matadors dropped their first three before claiming a 10-3 win over the Lions in the series finale.

Northridge led off Big West Conference play against UCSB with a record of 10-10, but had to face a veteran Gaucho squad that had already beaten the Matadors once in non-conference play. The Matadors trailed from the outset Friday and fell 9-5, but were in good position against eventual Big West Freshman Pitcher of the Year Mario Hollands on Saturday. The Matadors trailed heading into the late innings, but a two-run eighth leveled the game heading into the ninth. The Gauchos got the clutch hitting, however, and stole an 8-7 win.

The Matadors circled the wagons for their series with Cal Poly. Cal Poly had won a tight series in 2007 and the vengeance-minded Matadors answered big time, sweeping the Mustangs by scores of 9-7, 3-2, and 8-3 to even their Big West record at 3-3.

Northridge took their 3-3 mark to Cal State Fullerton, where they had dropped 14 in a row to the Titans. Fullerton made it 15 on Friday evening, with the offense providing a steady diet of scores and ace Jeff Kaplan holding the Matadors scoreless in a conference Pitcher of the Week performance. Saturday brought a different result, as Phil Hann gave up just two runs and the Matadors pieced together four runs, and closer Edwin Quirarte nailed down the first Matador win over Fullerton since 2003. Sunday's rubber match was easily one of the most exciting of the season.

Fullerton jumped out to a 14-2 lead after just four innings, putting the game out of reach- or so it seemed. The Matadors put five on the board in the fifth, centered around Chris Hannick's three-run home run. They added tow more in the sixth, and after a three-run Fullerton sixth, managed two more in the seventh on Hannick's second homer of the day, a two-run job. Hannick blasted number three in the seventh, a three-run shot that put Northridge within three. In the ninth, two quick outs made the job a difficult one, but hope remained as John Parham and Richard Cates notched singles and Ryan Pineda smacked a double. Drew Muren grounded out to end the game with two men on. Hannick, who finished the day at 4-for-5 with three home runs and nine RBI, was left in the on-deck circle.

Northridge picked up their contest with UCLA the following Tuesday and were unable to come back, but did post a 4-2 win in the nightcap. The Matadors then welcomed Long Beach State, which left with a decisive sweep. A trip to UC Riverside brought mixed results; the Matadors were shut out on Friday but posted a huge 14-5 win on Saturday. The rubber match went to UC Riverside in dramatic fashion, as the Highlanders collected the tying and winning runs in the bottom of the ninth in a 4-3 victory.

Northridge swept a midweek set with UNLV before welcoming UC Irvine for the weekend. Northridge managed one victory for the series, but the weekend was highlighted by Phil Hann's outstanding performance on Saturday. The senior dueled with Bryce Stowell through the entire contest, going 8.2 innings and facing just 28 batters in a 1-0 loss. Hann retired 18 of the first 19 batters he faced and surrendered just the one run on four hits.

The Matadors took a break from Big West play for the following weekend, going to Las Vegas to face the Rebels and to Los Angeles to face USC. Northridge split the series with UNLV and on Saturday defeated USC in a 5-4 decision. Sunday brought an 8-2 loss to the Trojans. Northridge dropped two to Portland at home to finish off their Big West off week.

The Matadors traveled to Pacific with just two series left in the season and were victimized in the series-opener by a 17-5 count. They answered on Saturday with a decisive 10-3 win, but dropped the rubber match 8-4. On the final weekend, NCAA regional hopeful UC Davis came to town with one of the conference's top offenses. The Aggies showed their mettle with a 4-3 victory on Friday and a 7-2 win on Saturday, and seemed poised to finish off the sweep when they collected two runs in the ninth to tie on Sunday. Ryan Pineda had other plans, however, and turned around an Andy Suiter fastball for a walk off solo shot to left field.

The homer would prove to be the finishing touches on a Big West Freshman Player of the Year campaign for Pineda. The infielder hit five homers and had 17 RBI during conference play and led Big West freshman with 17 doubles, six home runs, and 32 RBI overall.

John Parham finished as the second half of a dynamic duo with Cates. Parham finished a tick below Cates at a .348 batting average and co-led the team with six home runs. TS Reed joined Cates, Parham, and Pineda in the .300 club, checking in with a .310 average.

Two other freshman full-time starters, Chris Hannick, and Justin DeMarco, finished with 25+ RBI, joining the four aforementioned players.

D'Anna fared well at the plate but was outstanding with the glove, finishing as the only Matador infielder without an error. Outfielder Jeff Pruitt was the only other position player with more than 50 chances without a miscue.

Northridge finished the season at 24-32 and in seventh place in the Big West Conference. Despite failing to reach its lofty goals, the Matadors have the youngest team in the conference and will continue to make strides towards a Big West Championship in the coming years.

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