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Titans Get Off Ropes, Knock Out Northridge in Ninth

College baseball: Cal State Fullerton rallies from two-run deficit in seventh and scores winning run on Rifkin's homer in final inning of 4-3 victory.

April 22, 2001|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — One swing of the bat made the difference this time, with Aaron Rifkin's ninth-inning solo home run lifting Cal State Fullerton to a 4-3 Big West Conference victory over Cal State Northridge on Saturday at Northridge.

First-place Fullerton (29-11, 7-1 in the Big West), smarting from a 15-1 loss to Northridge on Friday, trailed on Saturday, 3-1, until Mike Rouse hit a two-run single in the seventh off reliever Merrill Dunn (3-3).

Rifkin sent Dunn to the showers in the ninth with a leadoff homer to right-center, his 10th of the season.

Fullerton's Chad Cordero (2-2) pitched a scoreless eighth and ninth to get the win in relief of another freshman right-hander, Darric Merrell, who struck out four and scattered six hits over seven innings.

"We got about as much out of our at-bats as we possibly could for the four runs," Fullerton Coach George Horton said. "We relied on pitching and defense."

Saturday's win was a measure of revenge for the Titans, ranked No. 6 by Collegiate Baseball, whose 14-game winning streak was snapped Friday by the Matadors. The loss was the Titans' most lopsided in 10 seasons.

"We haven't been beaten that thoroughly in a long time in our program," Horton said. "We just basically got our butts kicked."

Northridge (25-17, 3-5), its chances of winning a conference title fading, finds itself on the canvas.

The Matadors have dropped two of three games in conference series against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and UC Santa Barbara, and are expected to face Titan ace Kirk Saarloos (9-2) in the series finale today.

"You only get 18 league games," Northridge Coach Mike Batesole said. "You better get it done early."

J.T. Stotts of Northridge hit a three-run home run in the fifth off Merrell.

But Northridge, which had 13 hits--including seven home runs--against Fullerton on Friday, managed only seven on Saturday. Stotts' homer was Northridge's only extra-base hit.

"I knew my job was to keep the ball down so they didn't have a chance to get it up in the air," Merrell said. "They have some guys who can swing it, but, as a team, they don't hit the ball inside well. That one inning, I made a mistake."

"Darric's been very consistent, very difficult to beat," Horton said.

Said Stotts: "We really feel like we let one get away, [leading], 3-1, in the seventh. We feel we played well enough to beat them. I felt we stayed together and did some good things. Sometimes, it's not enough. We're just going to have to battle."

Sophomore right-hander Kameron Loe, improving as a starter, held Fullerton hitless until a two-out double by Chris Stringfellow in the fifth. Matt Belfanti followed with a single to drive in Stringfellow and give the Titans a 1-0 lead.

Loe retired 14 of the first 15 batters, allowing only one baserunner on an error by left fielder Adam Nikolic.

Loe struck out seven and gave up three hits but exited after allowing a leadoff walk to Jason Corapci in the seventh. The walk was Loe's first of the game.

"Loe was pitching great," Horton said. "Our only chance was when he got tired there at the end."

"I wasn't feeling tired," Loe said. "I was trying to go outside on them, pitch the ball away from them."

Said Batesole: "He threw a heck of a game. [But] we have a quality bullpen that we trust."

Dunn immediately walked Rifkin and both runners advanced on a sacrifice.

Rouse followed with his two-run single to tie it, 3-3.

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