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Struggling Matadors Find Hope in Split : College baseball: CSUN routs 16th-ranked Ohio State in first game before losing, 6-3.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Membership is a privilege, not an inalienable right. Access to the club isn’t easy.

So Cal State Northridge beat down the door. Or at least, put a crack in the woodwork.

After losing their first two games of the Florida Gator Slug-Fest, the Matadors on Sunday split a doubleheader with previously unbeaten Ohio State to salvage a win and a measure of credibility.

More importantly, Northridge’s struggling offense bombed the 16th-ranked Buckeyes in the first game, 12-4, before falling in the second, 6-3.

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The Matadors (5-9) likely won’t be cracking the national rankings and joining the ranks of the elite, but they perhaps proved something to the fans. If not themselves.

“We know we deserve to be here,” said first baseman Jason Shanahan, who was six for eight on the day. “We knew we could compete with these guys.”

Northridge first dropped a 5-4 decision to sixth-ranked Oklahoma State and then was blown out by 22nd-ranked Florida, 14-2, extending the Matador losing streak to five games--the longest in Coach Bill Kernen’s six-year tenure.

However, the offense came alive in the seven-inning opener against the Buckeyes, rolling up 13 hits. Though they lost the nine-inning afternoon game, the Matadors outhit Ohio State, 9-7. If the five previous games were stumbling blocks, the victory was a building block.

“You take the (glimmers) of hope where you can get them,” Kernen said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s still a big mountain to climb.”

After being routed by Florida on Saturday night, the Matadors put together their best performance in the opener against the Buckeyes, who won the round-robin tournament title with a mark of 3-1.

Northridge scored a season-high eight times in the fifth to take a 11-4 lead. The Matadors sent 13 batters to the plate and had six hits. The contrast was stark: Northridge had scored 12 runs in its previous five games and topped the six-hit plateau once in the same span.

Tyler Nelson, Kevin Howard and Eric Gillespie each had two-run singles in the inning, during which the Matadors greeted reliever Dennis Pachner with three straight hits to blow open the game.

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Right-hander John Najar (2-2) gave up four runs on as many hits over seven innings, walked two and struck out six. Najar became the first Matador to record a victory over a team with a winning record.

Barring a defensive letdown in the second game, right-hander Rick Orr (0-1) might have made a similar claim.

With Northridge holding a 2-0 lead in the third, Ohio State (3-1 overall) turned a throwing error by Orr into five runs, two of which were earned.

With a run across and runners at first and second and none out, Orr fielded a poor sacrifice attempt by Jonathan Sweet and tried to force the lead runner. The ball sailed past third baseman Tyler Nelson for a throwing error that started the downfall.

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Over seven innings, Orr gave up three earned runs and seven hits, struck out six and walked two.

Ah, what might have been. Throw out a few self-inflicted mistakes along the way and the Matadors might even have won the tournament title. But there’s little margin for error against national-caliber competition.

“We came this close,” Shanahan said, holding up a thumb and forefinger, “to going 3-1 and taking the thing.”

Matador Notes

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In the small-world department, Northridge pitcher Jason Vargas and Oklahoma State shortstop Damon Auchard grew up together in Tracy, Calif., and played together last year at Delta College in Stockton. . . . Northridge has five nonconference games remaining before its Western Athletic Conference opener with Hawaii on March 11. Hawaii is favored to win the WAC West Division title.

First baseman Jason Shanahan drove in three runs while batting cleanup Sunday. Strange as it seems, the Matadors had received three runs batted from the cleanup position over their first 13 games, all on a three-run homer by Kevin Howard.

Freshman designated hitter Eric Gillespie drove in three runs against the Buckeyes to give him a team-high 15 RBIs, a pace of better than one per game.

Outfielder Jonathan Campbell, who missed six starts because of a foot injury, hasn’t had a hit since the season opener. He is zero for his last 15.

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