Damon Buford expected to play only sporadically as a freshman at USC.
But that was before the former Birmingham High second baseman started swatting home runs and triples for the Trojans.
Now, USC Coach Mark Gillespie cannot afford to keep Buford's bat out of the lineup.
Buford showed his bat's value again Saturday when he knocked in three runs with a bases-loaded triple to lead USC to an 8-5 victory over host Cal State Northridge.
To keep his bat in the lineup, Buford has to play outfield this season because freshman Bret Boone is the Trojan second baseman. But Gillespie does not expect the freshman from Sherman Oaks to have any trouble making the adjustment.
"He's been a real tough out for us," Gillespie said. "Typically, he will play left or center field. His arm strength is just average, but he'll do just fine out there."
Buford, who started his third consecutive game Saturday, is just glad to be in the lineup.
"One of my goals coming in was just to make the traveling team," Buford said. "They didn't really have me in their plans at first, but, as of late, I've been swinging the bat really well."
Buford started in right field against CSUN and promptly committed a first-inning error on Mark Anderson's short fly ball. The error allowed Geoff Curtis, who had walked, and Anderson to move into scoring position before designated-hitter Mark Bowen drove a three-run homer over the right-field fence.
Bowen's home run gave CSUN the early lead and the Matadors their only extra-base hit until Rob Scott doubled in the ninth. USC erased CSUN's lead with five runs in the second on Gregg Hokuf's scoring single, Buford's three-run triple and a ground ball by John Jackson that scored Buford.
USC padded its lead on designated-hitter Corby Oakes' two-run homer to left field in the third inning.
Northridge added a run in the fifth on singles by John Bonilla and Curtis and Anderson's fly ball to right that dropped in for a run-scoring single. Bowen then walked to load the bases, but Lenn Gilmore struck out to end the threat.
The Matadors scored their last run in the eighth after an error and Ted Weisfuss' run-scoring single to right field. USC added its final run in the ninth when Bret Barberie, who already had hit two doubles, singled and scored on a sacrifice fly.
The loss marked the second time this season that CSUN (2-5) has been victimized by former Valley-area players on Division I teams. Mike Hankins of Simi Valley High and Charlie Fiacco of Camarillo hurt the Matadors in UCLA's 13-8 win Wednesday.
CSUN starter Leo Ramirez (0-2) gave up seven runs in only 2 innings to pick up the loss. Juniors Dave Feeley and Chris Zavatsky combined to allow only one run in 6 innings of relief.
Sophomore right-hander Randy Powers improved his record to 4-0.