Northridge Grinds Out Win

West Virginia put its ace on the mound. But it was Cal State Northridge starter Brycen Rutherford who was the king of the diamond in the Matadors 4-2 win on Friday.

Rutherford, who entered with an excellent stat line at a 1.61 ERA in four starts with 17 strikeouts, pitched 6 1/3 innings, limiting the Mountaineers to four hits and two earned runs with two walks and four strikeouts to move to 2-2 on the season. The right-hander was dominant through six, holding West Virginia to just two base hits – and none in the first three innings – as the Mountaineers squandered scoring chances. WVU, despite multiple base runners in a pair of innings, scored just one run over its first 18 outs, and four different times was set down in order by Rutherford.

And then, when the Mountaineers finally strung hits together in the 7th, they also found a way to let Northridge out of trouble. Trailing 3-1, West Virginia had its best series of at-bats, getting three hits and cutting the lead to 3-2 with two runners on and pinch hitter Cam O'Brien at bat as Rutherford exited. But, as they had all game, WVU failed to capitalize as O'Brien popped into a double play to end the threat. And, when CSUN chased Harrison Musgrave after scoring another run in the bottom half, the 4-2 lead seemed insurmountable with the quality of at-bats WVU got during the game.

WVU's offense, or lack thereof, was led by shortstop Michael Constantini's 2-for-3 effort with an RBI. Only three other Mountaineers had hits as WVU tallied just five in the loss. WVU's top four hitters went a combined 0-for-13 with five strikeouts.

Musgrave, who allowed four runs, three earned, in 6 2/3 innings was put behind the 8-ball by his defense immediately. Northridge scored a run in the first when leadoff hitter Ranny Lowe reached on a fielding error by Constantini and scored via consecutive bunts and a groundout. The Matadors (8-12) never hit the ball out of the infield in the inning, yet tallied the run and a hit with one error and one left on base. One figured that to be about the best chance the struggling line-up had against Musgrave (3-1), but Northridge came through again in the third when Lowe led off with a double and advanced to third on Ryan Raslowsky's bunt single to third. Musgrave tried to bear down with runners at the corners and no outs, but allowed a sac fly to center to score Lowe before the big blow, a double to left by cleanup hitter Nick Blaser that plated Raslowsky for a 3-0 lead.

West Virginia's line-up, meanwhile, struggled as badly early on as it has all season. WVU went down in order its first time through, with four of the nine Mountaineers striking out while just two of the other five hit the ball out of the infield. And even when Rutherford tried to help by allowing two stolen bases and issuing a pair of walks in the 4th inning, West Virginia failed to score because of two foul outs and a flyout to center.

The Mountaineers actually had leadoff Bobby Boyd on second after his walk and stolen base, only to watch Rutherford get Billy Fleming and Ryan McBroom, the heart of WVU's order, to foul out and flyout, respectively. Rutherford then walked Jacob Rice on a full count as Boyd stole third. Given a second chance with rightfielder Sean Wood set-up with runners at first and second, WVU again failed to capitalize; Wood quickly fouled out to third base on an 0-2 pitch to end the threat and, somehow, keep the Mountaineers scoreless despite two walks and two stolen bases right in the midst of the most difficult part of the order.

The missed opportunities kept coming in the 5th inning. With Musgrave settled and cruising, and still 15 outs with which to work, WVU chose to steal with Justin Fox after a leadoff single to center. He was nailed by catcher Dylan Alexander and, just one pitch later, would have been in scoring position as Max Nogay was hit by Rutherford. Constantini then promptly singled up the middle in the next at bat, advancing Nogay to third, before Ray Guerrini's fielder's choice to put WVU on the board at 3-1.

The Mountaineers would likely have had two runs, and the leadoff steal might not be the most traditional approach, but it's difficult to fault head coach Randy Mazey when West Virginia (9-6) had been running almost at will against Alexander during the series. WVU stole five bases in the opener, and was already 2-for-2 in attempts in this game when Fox went. The caught stealing was the first successful throwout of a runner by Alexander in eight Mountaineer steal attempts. Guerrini, in fact, stole second later in the inning before Boyd popped to third to end the top off the 5th inning. WVU again went in order in the 6th, then began to rally in the 7th inning before O'Brien's pop out that was essentially the end of the game.

Cal State Northridge's Shay Maltese pitched the final 2 2/3 innings for his second save off the season. After escaping in the 7th, Maltese retired the final six Mountaineers in just seven at-bats, including a 1-2-3 9th inning. Raslowsky paced the offense with a 3-for-4 effort with one run scored. Chester Pak and Blaser each had a hit and two RBI as CSUN won for just the second time in nine games.

Saturday's WVU starter for the rubber match is to be determined. Cal State Northridge will start Jordan Johnson. The righty (2-1) has a 1.98 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 27.1 innings over four starts.

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