Being at a program like Cal State Northridge has its own special set of challenges. The Matadors might not have the most bells and whistles of any program in Southern California, and the chances of a several-million dollar ballpark being built in the near future are probably slim.

But despite all of the obstacles any program in the Los Angeles area faces when trying to turn itself into a regional power, second-year head coach Greg Moore is making do with what he has, and is quickly making tangible gains on and off the field.

The Matadors have improved the atmosphere around their ballpark and though the ballpark itself is small -- seating only 1,000 spectators -- amenities surrounding the action on the field are improved. CSUN has added signage in the seating area and around the stadium, honoring past championship teams.

The university has added a club area down the first-base line that includes tents for friends of the athletic department and program.

In essence, things are progressing quite nicely for CSUN. But as nice as those amenities are, there's absolutely no substitute for a little thing called winning -- something the Matadors are doing a lot of right now, sitting at 9-1 thus far with the lone loss coming to red-hot UCLA.

It's a stark contrast from Moore's first season with the program, when CSUN finished last in the Big West with a 6-18 conference record, along with an 18-38 overall record. Those kinds of struggles often accompany the first year of a new regime.

"The guys are playing hard and aggressive throughout games, and we really try to watch it and take things day by day," Moore said. "We have our brick-by-brick jersey that we wear on Sundays, and that kind of tells what we're doing as a program. We want to build things one at a time, and we're doing that right now. The guys are enjoying it.

The guys are playing hard and aggressive throughout games, and we really try to watch it and take things day by day.
-- Greg Moore, head coach

"We want our guys to keep in mind what they want to be as people moving forward. And of course, what we want to be as a program."

If you've ever built a new home, you know what's going through Moore's head as he puts all the pieces, or bricks as the Matadors call them, together. Your excitement level is at an all-time high, but you know it's going to take a while to put all those bricks together, forming a strong foundation and the home of your dreams.

It's like that for the Matadors. Now, after a trying 2014, this team appears to be laying the foundation for what could be a bright future.

How's it happening so fast, you ask?

"The guys are playing hard and aggressive throughout games, and we really try to watch it and take things day by day," Moore said. "We have our brick-by-brick jersey that we wear on Sundays, and that kind of tells what we're doing as a program. We want to build things one at a time, and we're doing that right now. The guys are enjoying it.

It's pretty simple. The Matadors finished the 2014 campaign near the bottom of several categories in the Big West.

For instance, CSUN finished 8th in both team batting average and ERA, obviously hindering its ability to win games. This season, though, the Matadors have shown some improvement offensively with a .266 average as opposed to a .250 clip last season, while the pitching staff, at least for now, looks drastically improved with a 1.64 ERA as opposed to an ERA over four last season.

"In general, I feel like our pitching staff has been pretty good, but not great," Moore said. "Certainly, our starting pitchers are meeting their potential, but the bullpen hasn't gained the type of consistency that I'm looking for."

The Matadors have a trio of starting pitchers performing well so far this spring, led by rising two-way player Rayne Raven. Previously known more for his inclusion on our All-Name Team, Raven has evolved into quite a solid pitcher for CSUN.

The gritty 6-foot-2, 207-pounder has an unblemished ERA in 14 innings and is a pitchability righthander, sitting 84-87 with his fastball with good sinking action, along with a slider that he can sometimes spin well. Imposing as he may be physically, Raven won't consistently blow the ball past hitters, making command an important aspect of his game.

Junior righthander Calvin Copping is making impressive strides through 10 games, while CSUN likes what it sees out of senior lefty Jerry Keel, a massive 6-foot-6, 240-pounder. Copping (1.42 ERA in 12.2 innings) will sit anywhere from 87-90 with his fastball, with the ability to touch 91, and also does a good job of sinking his pitches, while Keel is an experienced lefty who throws strikes.

"Raven is kind of aggressive out there on the mound, and we like that about him. He's been a good surprise and is just a workmanlike type of pitcher," Moore said. "The big key for Copping is just him going out there and finally relaxing in general. Last year, he just tried to do everything and forgot who he was. That's not an issue this season."

Chester Pak is hitting .325 for the Matadors.
CSUN Athletics
Chester Pak is hitting .325 for the Matadors.
As for that bullpen, which needs to be better if CSUN wants to meet its expectations, Moore really likes the potential attached to freshman righthander Andrew Weston, who will start and pitch out of the bullpen. And 5-foot-7, 160-pound lefthander Joey Deceglie is a freshman fan favorite with some talent.

Deceglie comes in out of the pen and attacks hitters with his 84-87 fastball, sometimes touching 88 mph, while he's also able to command and sink the pitch.

While the Matadors hope to get the bullpen stabilized, this team should continue to experience success as long as the starting pitching and offense are taking care of business. Ryan Raslowsky (.400/.463/.457), speedy Yusuke Akitoshi (.324/.350/.351) and perfectly named outfielder Chester Pak (.325/.386/.450) continue to make noise.

"What I don't think is shown in our offensive numbers is how aggressive these guys are," Moore said. "These guys are getting down the line fast and it's been nice to see just how much effort these guys are putting forth. We had a play the other day where Yusuke caused an error because he was running so hard down the line, and that wound up being a five-run inning for us. So, it's things like that."

The Matadors may or may not keep at the current pace as the season continues, but as is the case with the surroundings at their on-campus ballpark, there's plenty of progress being made in every facet of Moore's program.

One brick at a time.