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Northridge Continues Slide, 10-9


Weary and suffering from jet lag after a three-game series in Hawaii, Cal State Northridge played its seventh game in nine days Tuesday night and continued a slide that could cost it a postseason berth.

The Matadors' 10-9 loss to USC in a nonconference game at Dedeaux Field was their seventh loss in the last 10 games.

If Northridge (20-10) does not win the Western Athletic Conference Western Division, giving them an opportunity to play the WAC Eastern Division winner for an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament, the Matadors will have to rely on their overall record to gain an at-large berth. That overall record has taken a beating in recent weeks. The Matadors' weaknesses have been their second-line pitchers, the bottom of the batting order and a defense that has gone from exceptional to porous.

"It is one of two things," Northridge Coach Bill Kernen said. "We're in a slump, or the first part of the season was a mirage. It is possible that we're not that good. I'm not willing to admit that, yet, but we're running out of opportunities. We gotta do something this weekend."

Northridge plays host to San Diego State in a three-game WAC series this weekend.

The Matadors, who had been limited to one run in their previous 18 innings, scored nine runs against five Trojan pitchers, but managed only six hits.

"We haven't done anything in the last few weeks to indicate that we're a playoff team," Kernen said.

Against USC (21-16), the Matadors fell behind, 5-1, rallied for a 7-5 lead, again fell behind, 10-7, pulled within one run on designated hitter Tyler Nelson's two-run homer and finally expired as Trojan closer Dan Hubbs recorded the last four outs with strikeouts on a steady diet of sliders for his 13th save.

In his first start of the season, Nelson, a sophomore from Simi Valley High, drilled his first collegiate home run, a two-run shot with two out in the eighth.

But Hubbs entered the game and closed the door. After Jonathan Campbell, starting in center field for the third straight game in place of the slumping Joey Arnold, reached on an error, Hubbs struck out Greg Shepard to end the inning.

In the ninth, he struck out Andy Hodgins and Andy Small, and after walking Mike Sims, he struck out Keyaan Cook.

Northridge starter Evan Howland (1-3), a freshman from El Camino Real High, pitched better than his near double-digit earned-run average would indicate, but he paid dearly for a pair of home runs.

In each case, he had two strikes on the batters who took him out of the park: Geoff Jenkins hit a three-run shot in the third inning and Kurt Birek hit a two-run homer in the fifth.

Johnny Najar replaced Howland with two on and none out in the seventh with Northridge trailing, 9-7. After hitting the first batter he faced, Najar pitched well, retiring the next three batters.

With one out, however, J.P. Roberge hit a ground ball to first baseman Chris Olsen, who touched first for an out rather than throwing home, which allowed Birek to score and give USC a 10-7 lead.

"I thought it was time to roll the dice (and throw home)," Kernen said.

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