Watching Vale Lopez on the pitching mound is like looking at a guy perched on a carnival dunk tank.
Disaster always appears to be one pitch away.
Lopez took the championship hopes of the Cal State Northridge baseball team out on a ledge with him Friday against Cal State Los Angeles. One false move and the title, and its attendant playoff berth, would have gone kerplunk.
Lopez bobbed, weaved, allowed 12 hits in the first six innings, yet somehow emerged victorious, 9-5, at Matador Field.
Northridge (33-20) is 4-0 against Los Angeles this season and another win tonight on the Golden Eagles' home field would give the Matadors a share of the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. championship and the conference's top seeding going into the playoffs.
Lopez's performance Friday was, in a word, typical.
So, too, was the way in which Northridge manufactured its runs.
In two words: Scott Sharts.
Sharts clouted home runs in his first two at-bats, giving him 24 for the season and matching the school's single-season record set by Rondal Rollin in 1980. The first, which sailed over a tree beyond the left-field fence, gave CSUN a 2-0 first-inning lead. The second, a solo shot, was a towering blast--Sharts rarely hits them any other way--to left-center in the third inning.
He added a line-drive double down the left-field line in the eighth inning to drive in another run. His four runs batted in gave him 61 for the season and moved him ahead of Denny Vigo for the team lead. Vigo, who had a double in five at-bats, has 57 RBIs.
"It's the time of year when guys who are championship caliber step forward," Northridge Coach Bill Kernen said. "Scott is that type of player."
Kyle Washington is proving to be from the same mold.
With productive Northridge center fielder Greg Shockey out the past two games because of a shoulder injury, Washington has filled the void.
In the series opener Thursday, Washington had three hits and threw out a runner. On Friday, he reached base three times in four appearances.
With Los Angeles leading, 5-4, in the sixth inning, Washington drilled a one-out, two-run home run to left field.
Washington's homer, only his second of the season, was the first hit off Los Angeles reliever Rick Burge.
Burge entered the game with none out in the fourth inning and allowed only two baserunners--both on errors--until Washington connected. After successfully pitching away from the first handful of Matador batters, Burge tried to come inside with a fastball to Washington and the freshman from Pasadena High pulled it down the line.
Lopez, meanwhile, allowed only one extra-base hit. Twice, his own defensive plays helped him out of jams.
After walking Marty Tourville and hitting Steve Soliz with a pitch to open the fourth inning, Lopez made a diving catch of a soft liner off the bat of Dave Johnston and started a triple play.
Lopez (9-4) threw to Sharts at first base to double off Soliz. Sharts threw to shortstop Mike Solar at second to nail Tourville.
"I've never seen a triple play before, at least not live," Lopez said. "And then to start it. . . ."
In the eighth, Lopez killed another rally with his glove, snagging a shot by Kwodwo Brannigan and turning it into a double play.
At the time CSUN was clinging to a 6-5 lead.
CS NORTHRIDGE HOME RUN LEADERS
Player Home Runs Year Scott Sharts 24 1990 Rondal Rollin 24 1980 Hank Clark 21 1981 Denny Vigo 19 1990 John Balfanz 19 1986 Mark Ban 19 1985