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CSUN baseball looks to utilize last season’s momentum to chase 2024 Big West crown

As the weather warms up and CSUN winter sports come to an end, America’s favorite pastime returns to the Valley. On Friday, Feb. 16, CSUN baseball takes on visiting Utah...

As the weather warms up and CSUN winter sports come to an end, America’s favorite pastime returns to the Valley. On Friday, Feb. 16, CSUN baseball takes on visiting Utah Valley University at Matador Field to commence the Matadors’ 2024 spring season.

This year, Eddie Cornejo will be going into his second season as head coach of CSUN baseball and is looking forward to taking the Big West crown this go-around. Last year, the Matadors finished second place in the conference, tied with CSU Fullerton and behind champions UC San Diego.

CSUN would finish the 2023 season with their most wins in 21 years, securing 34 victories while going 20-10 in Big West play in Cornejo’s first season. And although the Matadors finished tied for second place in the Big West, CSUN was unable to receive a bid to the NCAA College World Series in Omaha despite being just one game away from the Big West title.

Under Cornejo’s first season, seven players received All-Big West Honors in the 2023 season, while outfielder Jakob Simons became just the second Matador in 21 seasons to be named Big West Field Player of the Year.

Simons, who received a first team all-section in 2023, led the Big West in OPS (1.115), tied for third in home runs with 14, and fourth in batting average with .356. Going into this season, Simons received preseason Big West honors.

Alongside Simons, outfielder and redshirt junior Kevin Fitzer, who received second team conference honors in 2023, will be returning for 2024. Fitzer led the team in RBIs with 50 and batted .339 in 49 games.

On the mound, senior closer Joshua Romero will be returning after receiving second team all-conference honors. Romero, who broke the school’s single season save record last season with 13 saves and 31 strikeouts in 23 appearances, was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Preseason All-American Team.

Although CSUN will have players returning who received conference honors, the Matadors did lose right-handed pitcher Lucas Braun and catcher Graysen Tarlow to the MLB draft. Braun and Tarlow were drafted in the sixth and 19th rounds, respectively. Going forward, the Matadors will need to replace their lost talent. Braun was a weekend starter for CSUN, posting a 7-4 record with a 2.91 ERA and 77 strikeouts, and was drafted by the Atlanta Braves. Tarlow recorded 15 multi-hit games while hitting two grand slams throughout the year, and was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals.

Moving forward, Cornejo and his staff will need to find out who on the roster can bring the production that Tarlow and Braun provided. Helping out in the search is new staff member Youngjin Yoon, who was brought on as an assistant coach for the 2023-24 year. Known as “Master Yoon” in the baseball community, Yoon served as the pitching coach at Riverside City College prior to taking on the same role at Bushnell University in Eugene, Oregon, in 2022.

Yoon will be joining Cornejo’s staff to prepare the Matadors for a tough 2024 schedule, as CSUN will take on nine different opponents who had winning records, with eight teams posting 30 wins or more.

Going into the Big West, the Baseball Preseason Coaches’ Poll predicted CSUN to finish in 5th for the 2024 season, while UC Santa Barbara was picked by league head coaches to finish as the champions.

Eddie Cornejo spoke to the athletic department about the challenging season ahead and how his squad will prepare. “We will be challenged this season with frequent road trips and opponents that continue to elevate themselves year after year,” Cornejo said. “Looking forward to seeing what kind of team we will become.”

The Matadors are set to begin Big West play in San Luis Obispo, visiting Cal Poly on March 15. CSUN will face its toughest stretch in May as they are set to face off against defending Big West Champions UC San Diego from March 10-12, and UC Santa Barbara the following weekend. The Matadors will host both series, and will have the opportunity to move up in the standings if the season comes down to those games.

The Matadors conclude the season at UC Irvine, taking on the Anteaters from March 23-25.

Looking to what’s next, CSUN opens the season at home at Matador Field, taking on Utah Valley on Friday, Feb. 16, with the first pitch set at 2 p.m.