TEMPE, Ariz. — It's been four years since Dan Penner was a freshman All-American pitcher for the University of Hawaii, but even though he now pitches for Division II Cal State Northridge, he proved Monday afternoon he still possesses major college talent.
Penner took a shutout into the ninth inning, then held off an Arizona State rally to pitch the Matadors to a 3-2 decision over the Sun Devils at Packard Stadium.
Northridge (8-4) has won five in a row and has six wins over Division I opponents.
Arizona State (8-7), ranked No. 22 in the nation this week, managed only six hits against Penner, who improved his record to 3-1. Both of the Sun Devils' ninth-inning runs were unearned as the senior right-hander became the first Northridge pitcher to throw a complete game this season.
And he did it with the wind blowing out on a blustery day.
"Who would have guessed that it would be 3-2 with the wind like it was?" Arizona State Coach Jim Brock asked no one in particular after the game. "I would have lost a lot of money on that. My guess would have been something like 13-12."
The game appeared headed in that direction in the top of the first when Lenn Gilmore, Northridge's second hitter, launched a high drive over the fence in right for his first home run of the season.
The predicted slugfest never materialized, however, as Penner kept the Sun Devils off balance by effectively mixing speeds with his fastball and slider. Only four of Arizona State's outs were fly balls to the outfield.
Penner struck out 9, walked 5, and was working on a four-hitter after eight innings.
"I had my fastball running over the outside corner today and they were waving at it," Penner said. "I've been working extra hard on getting my motion down. I had been throwing across my body. Today, it finally came together."
Northridge made it 3-0 in the sixth when John Balfanz walked, Chris Pinsak doubled, and they both scored when Sun Devil right fielder Dan Rumsey dropped a fly ball hit by Rob Scott. The Matadors might have had more in the inning, but Jim Vatcher, who lined his second double of the game down the left field line to begin the inning, was doubled off second on a line drive to right hit by Gilmore.
Before scoring in the ninth, Arizona State threatened only in the fifth when it loaded the bases with two outs on a ground-rule double by Tim Esmay, a walk and a catcher's interference call.
Penner ended the inning by striking out Mike Benjamin on three pitches.
Arizona State stranded the tying run at third base in the ninth after its first three batters in the inning had reached base.
Rumsey led off the inning with a double to left. Pinch-hitter Dwight Thomas was safe on an error by CSUN shortstop Pinsak and Martin Peralta walked to load the bases. Rumsey scored when Esmay grounded into a double play, but the inning was kept alive by Mike Dombrowski who hit a dunker into short right that first baseman Balfanz caught up with but couldn't handle for an error.
John Finn then lined a one-hopper to the hole at short that Pinsak was able to knock down and smother in the infield, forcing Dombrowski to stop at third. Penner induced Benjamin to hit a ground ball back to the mound for the game's final out.
Penner appeared to tire at the end--and with good reason. Northridge left school for the Los Angeles International Airport at 6 a.m. Monday morning. After arriving in Phoenix and making the short drive to Tempe, the players had only a short time to eat before going to the ballpark.
"We were running around just to get here," said Coach Terry Craven. "I was hoping that it wouldn't effect our play."
CSUN's victory partially avenged a pair of lopsided losses it suffered at the hands of Arizona State last season.