Split Keeps Northridge in 1st Place : College baseball: Smaler's homer provides 3-2 win over Fresno State in first game.

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Cal State Northridge already had the home-field advantage against Fresno State on Saturday.

Northridge Coach Bill Kernen would have liked to add a rule change as well for the Western Athletic Conference doubleheader at Matador Field.

"The way we played, we might as well skip the first eight innings and just play the ninth," Kernen said.

A two-run home run by Josh Smaler in the bottom of the ninth inning gave Northridge a 3-2 victory in the first game. In the second game, the Matadors pushed across five runs in their last at-bat before losing, 9-6.

"I don't really think we like to have our backs to the wall, but that's the way we played, " first baseman Jason Shanahan said. "We were fortunate to hang in there as long as we did."

Perhaps more importantly, the Matadors (16-14, 5-3) managed to hang onto a half-game lead in the WAC Western Division over the second-place Bulldogs (15-14, 3-2). The teams conclude the three-game series at Matador Field at 1 p.m. today.

An errant throw by Smaler allowed Fresno to take a 2-0 lead in the third inning of the first game.

The junior catcher dropped a third strike and then overthrew Shanahan at first base, allowing Javier Renteria to reach base and James Borges to score from second.

"I knew I had to do something to make up for the two runs that I cost us and it just happened to be that it was a two-run home run," Smaler said.

Northridge's Kevin Howard drove in Eric Gillespie from third in the bottom of the third to cut the Fresno lead to 2-1.

Marco Contreras (4-4), who pitched his eighth complete game, held the Bulldogs at bay to set up Smaler's heroics.

Tyler Nelson opened the ninth with a single to bring up Smaler, who knocked a 2-2 hanging slider from reliever Scott Warembourg (1-1) over the left-field wall for his third home run.

In the second game, Fresno starter Jared Fernandez (5-3) surrendered a fourth-inning home run to Shanahan but not much else.

The senior right-hander limited the Matadors to three hits in eight innings, but surrendered four in the ninth--including a three-run home run by Joey Arnold--before being replaced by Chad Cattaneo.

Cattaneo retired two of three batters he faced to end the game.

Northridge starter Johnny Najar (5-3) allowed seven runs, six earned, in 7 1/3 innings.

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