Eric Gillespie was in the Cal State Northridge dugout when somebody mentioned that there was open acreage down the right-field line. Of course, when somebody is throwing 85 m.p.h., it’s difficult to hit the ball where you want it to go.
Nonetheless, Gillespie did just that, pulling a single into the right-field corner to drive in the winning run in the bottom of the 12th as Northridge edged San Diego State, 7-6, Friday in a Western Athletic Conference game at Matador Field.
“I was trying to hit it right there,” said Gillespie, pointing toward the foul pole in right.
“It isn’t easy to do that, but I’ve pulled the ball before.”
He pulled the Matadors (22-23, 11-8 in conference play) out of the muck, too. The victory kept any slim postseason hopes alive for Northridge, which needs to sweep the three-game series with the first-place Aztecs (29-18, 11-5) to have a realistic chance of winning the WAC West Division title.
Northridge led into the ninth, 6-5, but San Diego State wasn’t finished. Right-hander Brian Vasey, who hadn’t allowed a run since the Aztecs scored five times in the second, did his best to put the game on ice.
But his shoulder was under an ice bag before the game was in the books. Vasey, who threw 180 pitches, gave up a leadoff single to Travis Lee--and Gillespie threw him out on a steal attempt at second. Heath Hayes drew a walk--and Gillespie threw him out on a steal attempt at second.
Finally, San Diego State banged out three consecutive singles to send the game into extra innings.
Gillespie nearly won it in the 10th when he lined out to right-center with the bases loaded. Right-hander Jason Vargas, who started the inning, kept San Diego State in check the rest of the way.
Matador second baseman Steve Moreno, thrust into the starting lineup because of an injury to shortstop Chad Thornhill, drew a one-out walk in the 12th and moved to second on a two-out single by Jason Shanahan. Gillespie, a freshman who ranks second on the team with 41 runs batted in, drilled the ball into the corner to end it.
Moreno, a walk-on who had four at-bats last season at Long Beach City College, was mobbed at the plate.
“You’ve gotta thrive on it,” said Moreno, who entered the game batting .167 in 18 at-bats. “The team is depending on you. Besides I have something to prove--that I can contribute.”
He did just that. Moreno was one for three, reached base four times and played errorless ball in the field.
“Moreno had a pretty good day,” Coach Bill Kernen said. “I’m pumped; he had the game of his life. He and Vargas were major factors.”
So was San Diego State right-hander John Lynn, who relieved starter Joe Duggan with one out in the first inning. Lynn (3-1) allowed unearned runs in the third and fourth before Northridge touched him for the game-winner. In 11 1/3 innings, the side-arming junior gave up one earned run and eight hits.