The Cal State Northridge baseball team might have had one of the longest postgame meetings in history Tuesday night at Blair Field in Long Beach.
The Matadors, fraught with internal problems, met with Coach Bill Kernen for nearly an hour after the team's 7-6 loss to seventh-ranked Long Beach State. Players, individually and collectively, voiced their concerns over Kernen's benching of several key starters.
Kernen, who refused to allow six players to dress for the Long Beach game, said he will decide today which players will compete in this weekend's crucial Western Athletic Conference series at San Diego State.
The Aztecs (21-14) are tied atop the WAC West Division standings with Northridge at 6-3. The coach acknowledged that this is likely a make-or-break weekend, since the Matadors (18-17) must win the WAC crown to advance to postseason play.
Even amid the strife, a conference title is within reach.
"They mentioned that," Kernen said after the meeting, which lasted until almost 11 p.m. and included the six benched players. "Everybody had something to say. The feeling was that they want to be back together as a group to see if they can become a team.
"They know they weren't (a team), but they think they can become one."
Kernen said he didn't have much to say at the meeting. But he listened.
"Everybody said all the right things," he said. "Whether they were just blowing smoke or if they'll actually do it on the field, I don't know."
CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE
Long Beach State scored five times in the bottom of the ninth to win Tuesday, which nullified a superior effort by utility whiz Brian Vasey.
Vasey, a 1991 graduate of Simi Valley High, has played both the infield and outfield this season, but hadn't pitched since high school.
Vasey gave up two runs on three hits to Long Beach (23-7) through eight innings before he ran out of gas. In the ninth, Vasey allowed a run on two hits and walked another with none out before giving way to relief help.
"He deserved a chance to finish," Kernen said of his decision to let Vasey open the inning. "It's really too bad it worked out this way. It would have been a great story. That was really something."
Kernen said the junior right-hander probably earned another shot on the mound.
Does Kernen have any second thoughts about the steps he has taken?
"No," Kernen said without blinking an eye. "You need to institute measures to match the problem."
Talk about attacked on all sides.
The beleaguered six who were benched also had to deal with distractions in the stands at Blair Field. The stadium manager kicked the players out of the box seats, located along the Northridge dugout railing, because they didn't purchase the proper tickets.
A group of Northridge parents pitched in so the players could again sit in the front row.
Cross the Country
It's been a circuitous route, but cross-country runner Jacques Salsberg has returned to Glendale after brief stints at Pasadena City and Butler County (Kan.) colleges last year.
Salsberg won the 1992 Western State Conference men's title for Glendale before transferring to Pasadena City last spring. He attended summer school at Butler County, but returned to Southern California in the fall after being declared academically ineligible.
He's redshirting this track season at Glendale, but is expected to be a force for the Vaqueros in cross-country: He has run personal bests of 9 minutes 19 seconds in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and 30:50 in the 10,000 this season.
"(He's) not really doing a lot of speed work right now, but he's running well," Glendale distance coach Eddie Lopez said. "We're still trying to improve his strength for the steeplechase so I'm really pleased with his times."
Isaac Turner, a state finalist in the 800 meters for Burbank High last year, slashed his personal best by nearly two seconds in the 800 meters Saturday when he ran 1:52.0 to finish sixth in his heat of the Riverside Track Classic at UC Riverside.
Turner, a versatile performer who recorded bests of 49.0 seconds in the 400, 1:53.86 in the 800 and 6 feet 4 inches in the high jump at Burbank, is capable of dipping under 1:50 this season, according to Lopez.
"Me and (Glendale Coach Tom McMurray) both think that that's a reasonable goal," Lopez said. "(Isaac) is just learning to run the 800 at this level and he's got good speed."
A broken arm suffered in a work-related accident prevented Glendale's Drue Powell from competing in the hurdles earlier this season, but he is starting to display the talent which helped him win the 110 high hurdles for Reseda High in last year's state championships.
Powell ran 14.91 to win the second heat of the 110 highs in the Riverside Track Classic on Saturday and McMurray figures he can run under 14 seconds by the end of the season.
"He looks to me like he's made the adjustment to the college highs," McMurray said.