Northridge's Dream Season Takes Nightmarish Turn in Santa Barbara

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After achieving its highest Division I ranking in school history, the Cal State Northridge baseball team hit the road--and the wall.

The fifth-ranked Matadors dropped their third consecutive game away from home Saturday afternoon, losing, 11-6, at UC Santa Barbara. Northridge committed five errors and watched its starting pitcher last just 1 1/3 innings and pump his earned-run average well into double digits.

A week ago, Northridge (20-5) set an NCAA record with 13 home runs and seemed to be an indestructible offensive force, but against the Gauchos (17-5) the Matadors looked pathetic.

"I don't know if today's game was a letdown or just a reality check," said Northridge's Eric Gillespie, who played catcher while Robert Fick moved to first base for a game. "[The Santa Barbara crowd] was chanting, 'Overrated.' Maybe they're right."

On this day, the Matadors combined lousy fielding with lousy pitching.

Northridge starting pitcher Jesse Yeomans (0-2) was tagged for home runs by Lou Tapia and Clark Parker while yielding seven hits and seven earned runs.

Yeomans, who had pitched 11 2/3 innings coming into the game, was ejected in the second after beaning Brett Hardy, who batted after Parker's home run.

Two Matador pitching changes later and after four innings, the Gauchos had a 10-1 lead.

Normally nine runs isn't insurmountable for the Matadors, but Santa Barbara starter Brian Noyes (3-0) pitched his way out of jams in the first three innings and left having surrendered three runs in six-plus innings.

"He just threw a good game," said Fick, who extended his hitting streak to 18 games. "He kept the ball down and he kept everybody off stride."

Said Noyes: "I went into the game thinking they're a different team away from their home. It's expected that they're going to hit home runs, but I just continued with my game plan and executed."

Noyes tired in the seventh and was taken out with runners on second and third. Gillespie hit a two-run single off Gaucho reliever Clint Pearson and Fick followed with his ninth home run, which cut Santa Barbara's lead to 10-5.

Northridge could get no closer and lost its fourth in five games, causing players to brace for a drop in the rankings.

"A top 30 team doesn't give up five errors and 11 runs," Gillespie said. "That just doesn't happen to a good team."

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