Rusty McLain wore an ice bag on his wrist and a broad smile on his face Tuesday afternoon in the wake of Cal State Northridge’s 9-8 victory over Cal Poly Pomona in a California Collegiate Athletic Assn. baseball game at Pomona.
McLain, the Northridge catcher, had taken a foul tip off his wrist during a furious home half of the ninth inning that featured a three-run Pomona rally. It was McLain who took a relay throw from second baseman Randy Thompson and applied the game-ending tag on pinch-runner Brian Grier as the Matadors thwarted a last-ditch double steal by the Broncos.
“Looks good, feels good,” McLain said, looking out toward the scoreboard in right field. “Puts a smile on my face.”
McLain, a senior, wasn’t just talking about the immediate sense of euphoria that pervaded the Matador dugout after the victory.
Northridge, ranked eighth in the latest Division II poll, improved its record to 10-1 overall, 3-0 in conference play, and seems to be getting better every game.
Despite a lineup that features at least three freshman starters, only a 15-2 loss to Cal State Long Beach--ranked eighth in Division I--on Feb. 17 mars the Matadors’ record.
“The thing I’m encouraged about is they (Pomona) did a lot of the things Long Beach did to us,” Northridge Coach Bill Kernen said. “Against Long Beach, we couldn’t handle it. Now it’s a couple weeks later, we’ve been through some experiences together and we’ve grown up some.”
Meanwhile, Pomona, the defending conference champion, continues to struggle. The loss dropped the Broncos to 2-12 overall and 1-3 in the CCAA heading into this afternoon’s game against Northridge at 2:30 at Matador Field.
Despite having what he described as his worst game of the year, Northridge senior right-hander Robert Wheatcroft pitched eight innings and improved his record to 5-0. Senior left-hander Fili Martinez relieved Wheatcroft with no outs and the bases loaded in the ninth and went on to earn the save.
Northridge also enjoyed what Kernen called the team’s best offensive performance. The Matadors collected 13 hits, worked pitchers for key walks, executed hit-and-run plays and hit behind runners on several occasions.
“The confidence is rising,” said right fielder Greg Shockey, who had three hits and a key groundout that spurred a five-run sixth inning. “We play ‘em game by game and so far everyone has contributed.”
Shockey, McLain and Denny Vigo had run-scoring singles and Anton Siegl had a run-scoring double in the first inning that helped Northridge take a 4-0 lead.
Pomona answered with three runs in the home half of the inning on a three-run home run by catcher Chris Goldbach, who finished the day with three hits and five runs batted in. The Broncos tied the score in the second and Goldbach put them ahead, 5-4, in the fifth with an RBI single.
After the sixth-inning rally, the Matadors cruised into the ninth with a 9-5 lead. Wheatcroft, however, surrendered two consecutive singles before center fielder John Bonilla dropped a fly ball for a one-base error. Goldbach drove in a run with a bad-hop single and Kernen motioned for Martinez.
Martinez got two quick outs before allowing two runs on a wild pitch and a single by Michael Baker. With Grier on third, Baker broke for second with an 0-2 count on Jim Maguire. As Martinez threw to Thompson, Grier broke for home, triggering the game-ending relay.