Cougs win first two games against CSUN

Junior outfielder J.J. Hancock slides into home plate in the Cougars’ 11-7 win over the Matadors in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader.

WSU Head coach Marty Lees said in a press conference on Wednesday he was going to shuffle his lineup in hopes of cracking an experienced Cal-State Northridge pitching staff.

True to their coach’s words, the Cougars (13-8, 1-2) used a blend of timely hitting and quality starts on the mound to win both games in Saturday’s rescheduled doubleheader. However, WSU dropped game three of the series to the Matadors (12-12) on Sunday after leaving eight runners on base.

Game 1

Ten unanswered runs from the Cougars’ bats and a quality start from redshirt junior left-hander Damon Jones placed WSU in an 11-7 series-opening win over the Matadors.

The Matadors jumped on Jones early in the first leg of Saturday’s doubleheader. A pair of walks, followed by a double in the top of the first allowed CSUN to push across the first run of the game and take an early lead. The Matadors tacked on another run after a soft ground ball single leaked through the gap between second and first base to bring in the lead runner from third, Jones, then stranded the bases loaded to end the inning and escape further damage.

However, Jones (2-1, 3.94 ERA) settled down after surrendering a 2-0 lead and allowed just one baserunner on three strikeouts through the next five innings.

“He changed his mindset. He changed his attitude,” Lees said. “He went from being a little passive and nibbling to ‘I’m tired and I’m going to go get them.’ ”

As Jones found his groove, the WSU offense hit its stride in the second and third innings. Sophomore catcher Cory Meyer drew a leadoff walk to start the frame and subsequently advanced to second base on a wild pitch. Junior outfielder J.J. Hancock plated him and advanced to third base when a Matadors outfielder dropped a high fly ball in right field after losing a battle with the whipping wind and rain. Hancock then scored on another wild pitch, evening the score at two.

In the bottom of the third, singles by freshman infielder Dillon Plew and junior third baseman Shane Matheny put runners at the corners. Plew then bolted for home plate in the next at-bat, and junior third baseman James Rudkin executed a squeeze bunt to put the Cougars ahead 3-2.

WSU then began to pour it on at the plate, adding three more runs in the fourth inning and four in the sixth inning to extend its lead to 10-2.

Three walks and four wild pitches from McFadden and a Matadors’ single made it a 10-4 game. Then Lees brought in junior right-hander Colby Nealy to stem the tide with runners on first and second with one out.

Nealy surrendered a three-run dinger to right field with the first batter he faced, making it a 10-7 game. However, he Bothell native retired the next two hitters, ending the frame.

The Cougars added an insurance run in the bottom of the seventh to extend their lead to four and Nealy pitched into the ninth inning before giving way to left-hander Scotty Sunitsch. Inheriting a pair of runners on first and second with one down, the closer rolled a double play to end the game and pick up his sixth save of the season.

Game 2

Behind six shutout innings from junior right-hander Ryan Walker, WSU emerged from the second half of Saturday’s doubleheader with a tight 3-0 win.

Walker (2-2, 6.21 ERA) allowed just five hits and one walk on six strikeouts to pick up his second win of the season. He said he benefitted from talking with Jones in-between games to get a feel for the CSUN hitters.

Walker said he focused on hitting his spots and being consistent. Lees said he succeeded in pounding the zone and keeping the ball down in what he considered Walker’s best start against left-handed batters this season.

With the game scoreless in the top of the third, a pair of singles and a sacrifice bunt gave the Matadors runners on first and third with one out. CSUN senior shortstop Fred Smith laced a hard ground ball between second and first base that looked to be through, but Plew made a diving stop ranging to his right and flipped the ball to sophomore shortstop Andres Alvarez at second to start a six-four-three double play, escaping the inning

“I haven’t been that excited in a while,” Walker said. “I feel like that was huge and it’s nice to know that we have a trustful defense and whenever I have a ground ball I don’t worry about it at all.”

Defense was on display all afternoon for the Cougars. Outfielders Dugan Shirer and Johnny Sage snared long fly balls at the fence to prevent extra bases for the Matadors in the top of the fourth.

One inning later, Alvarez charged a two-hop ground ball to make a bare hand grab on the ball and nab a runner at first.

Later in the sixth inning, Hancock cut off a line drive in the right field gap to keep a CSUN single from turning into a double. This defensive play was a key point in the game, Lees said.

“They were great,” Walker said of his defense. “There was a lot of big outs, big double plays. I mean we wouldn’t have a zero up there if it wasn’t for them so they really got my back today.”

Redshirt junior right-hander Tei Vanderford took the ball in game two for CSUN. Vanderford came into the game with a 1.64 ERA and threw a complete game shutout against No. 14 Vanderbilt earlier in the season.

Rudkin said the team was not concerned about Vanderford’s success.

“I think for us it’s just about how we play,” Rudkin said. “I think we’re good enough that if we just play our game and play good baseball we can beat anybody.”

The Cougars took the lead for good off Vanderford in the second inning.

Hancock provided the Cougars with an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth inning, doubling off the right centerfield wall to plate Plew and Rudkin and up their lead to 3-0.

With Sunitsch having thrown in the first game of the doubleheader, junior right-hander Joe Rosenstein fired a scoreless ninth to finish off the Matadors and pick up his first career save.

Game 3

A late rally by the Cougs was not enough to overcome a two-run deficit, as WSU fell 3-1 in Sunday afternoon’s contest.

After the Matadors got on base for the first time in the game off two hit batters to start the third inning, a bases-clearing double brought in baserunners from second and third with one out. A walk and another hit by pitch from Anderson again put two runners in scoring position for CSUN, but the 6-foot-6-inch left-hander induced a ground ball to strand the pair and end the inning.

The Cougars threatened in the bottom of the fourth when Meyer and Hancock reached base to begin the inning and junior infielder Ryan Ramsower bunted them into scoring position. However, back-to-back strikeouts by Alvarez and Justin Harrer ended the scoring threat.

Anderson again worked his way out of trouble in the top of the fifth, maneuvering around a leadoff double and single with a double play to escape the inning and leave runners at the corners.

Freshman left-hander Isaac Mullins took over for Anderson in the top of the sixth, recording a strikeout with a runner on third to work around a leadoff walk and keep the Matadors’ lead at 2-0.

WSU got on the board in the bottom of the seventh to reduce CSUN’s lead to 2-1. Alvarez led off the inning with a double and later scored when Shirer hit a double of his own. Shirer then advanced to third on a failed pickoff attempt that went into centerfield.

With one out and the Matadors’ infield playing in, Plew hit a hard groundball to the CSUN second baseman, who threw out Shirer at the plate when he tried to score on the play, ending the Cougars’ scoring threat.

CSUN extended its lead to 3-1 in the top of the eighth with a long two-out home run to right field off senior left-hander Trenton Dupre.

WSU made one last offensive push in the bottom of the eighth after Rudkin led off the inning with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. With two outs, Rudkin ran into a tag at third base after attempting to advance, ending the frame.

The Cougars went down in order in the ninth to give CSUN its first win of the series. The four-game set wraps up at noon today. Freshman left-hander A.J. Block will make his second start of the season for WSU.