SACRAMENTO — Teammates used to wonder what Cal State Northridge softball Coach Gary Torgeson saw that was so special about Debbie Dickman.
Why was it that the coach picked her to pitch the tough games? She was, after all, only a freshman.
"We used to think that maybe he was trying to make her the next Kat," said senior Barbara Jordan, referring to four-time CSUN All-American Kathy Slaten. "It was kind of weird. What had she done to earn that position?"
Dickman may not merit mention in that kind of company just yet, but there is no longer any doubt what Torgeson saw that his players didn't.
Dickman has pitched the Lady Matadors into the NCAA Division II championship tournament.
After losing its opening game in the West Regional at Cal State Sacramento on Friday, Northridge (54-7) turned to the freshman from Newbury Park High, who responded with three consecutive wins--the final two coming Saturday as she pitched 13 innings without giving up an earned run.
The Lady Matadors, champions of the California Collegiate Athletic Assn., defeated UC Davis, 3-2, and then Sacramento, 2-1, in the championship game.
Dickman (21-3) had not pitched in back-to-back games until the regional, but after beating Davis on a three-hitter, she was called into relieve starter Lisa Martin in the second inning against Sacramento.
Martin (10-1) had allowed only one hit--a line-drive single down the third base line by Lorie Avis--but Torgeson summoned Dickman from the dugout before the chalk had settled.
"I just didn't feel like she had it," Torgeson said of Martin, who had walked a batter and thrown three balls to the screen behind home plate in the first inning. "I had to make the change. It was a gut feeling I had."
Dickman, who was named Most Valuable Player in the regional, said she was surprised to get the call.
"I had gotten up to throw in the first inning, but I was sitting in the dugout. I thought she'd throw a good game and she was," Dickman said of Martin. "I was tired, but I said, 'Give me the ball.' I dug down deep today."
If the near-100 degree temperature bothered Dickman, it certainly didn't show. The only time Sacramento had two runners in an inning was the fourth, when it scored an unearned run to take a 1-0 lead.
With two out in the inning, Avis lined a single to left. An error by CSUN shortstop Lori Shelly--her seventh in four tournament games--allowed Margaret Schubert to reach base safely with Avis moving to third. Chris Bloom then bounced a single to right field to score the run.
Northridge, which managed only two hits against Sacramento left-hander Sheryl Adams over five innings, came back in the sixth and it was Shelly who started the rally.
After getting some advice from Jordan, Shelly reached base on a bunt single. Pinch-runner Lisa Erickson had only advanced to second two outs later, but she scored from there on a triple by Beth Onestinghel.
Onestinghel, who leads the Lady Matadors with a school-record 35 runs batted in, hit a sinking line drive to left beyond the diving reach of Sacramento outfielder Stephanie Ledine.
Next up was Kelly Winn, who drove a single into left-center, scoring Onestinghel with the run that propelled top-ranked CSUN to the nationals May 15-17 in Quincy, Ill. The hit was Winn's third of the day but her first against Adams.
"I think we just needed to see her for a while," Winn said of Adams. "We had been hitting the ball hard, but at people. There was pressure, but I wasn't thinking about it."
"I thought that if we didn't score in the sixth, that might be it," CSUN's three-time All-America center fielder said.
Northridge also defeated Davis in comeback fashion en route to its sixth consecutive regional championship. Trailing, 1-0, in the bottom of the third, Jordan and Priscilla Rouse reached base on consecutive errors and scored on base hits by Onestinghel and Winn.
Winn, who made several nice defensive plays at first base, scored the winning run in the sixth. She led off the inning with a single, took second on a sacrifice and third on a wild pitch, then scored on an error by Davis third baseman Linda Wilson.
Davis (34-14-1), which had only a pop fly double in the first six innings off Dickman, scored an unearned run in the seventh on two singles and an error by Shelly.
"I don't think they can come any tougher than those two," Torgeson said. "I can think of other regionals that were tough, but never when we had to come back twice like that."