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At the End, They Made a Name for Themselves : College softball: Strengthened by adversity, a brassy, senior-laden Northridge team fought its way to the championship game of the World Series.

June 03, 1994|PAIGE A. LEECH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — It ended the way it began--with a loss. And in between they endured classes in portable trailers, a mini-media circus, 52 victories and a steady climb in the national rankings.

The Cal State Northridge softball team carried on despite the 6.8 earthquake, which nearly claimed the lives of two of its starters. Most of the team members were forced to find other housing after the quake. And getting to class was no small task. Since the earthquake, the Northridge campus has resembled a work camp with more than 400 trailers squeezed between closed buildings, utilizing every spare space.

Tamara Ivie, one of the Matadors' three All-Americans this season, thought the Northridge softball field would be considered a spare space after the earthquake and that the softball season would be canceled.

Finding a place to park around campus was almost impossible, so most of the Matadors went to school on bicycles.

These day-to-day distractions soon found their way to the playing field and made for some tense moments at practice. There was name calling. Not only by opponents and their fans, but by teammates and Northridge Coach Gary Torgeson himself.

Some referred to the Matadors as the Bad Girls. Others simply called them a classless bunch. And in the end, Oklahoma reporters called them the no-namers of the Women's College World Series. As for what the teammates called each other, well, it simply isn't fit to print.

And through it all, Northridge never played better.

"We got farther that we ever had in Division I and we did it under probably the hardest circumstances you could ever imagine," Torgeson said.

"These guys--these student athletes--played through all of this and my hat's off to 'em. It takes a lot of courage to continue to play."

Pitcher Amy Windmiller and third baseman Shannon Jones escaped the collapse of the Northridge Meadows apartments with their lives. Sixteen of their neighbors weren't as lucky.

Windmiller and Jones, despite having lived through a nightmare they would just as soon forget, were constantly chased by photographers and reporters wanting to know everything about their earthquake experience. They did "CBS This Morning," CNN (twice) and the "Vicki!" show. They were featured in Sports Illustrated. And both had never been more focused on softball. They went on to have career seasons and were named All-Americans.

After claiming its second consecutive Western Athletic Conference title in the final week of the regular season, Northridge played host to one of eight four-team regionals in the playoffs. The Matadors defeated Cal State Fullerton, 4-0, in the regional championship to advance to their second World Series appearance in a row.

Torgeson's goal throughout the season was to get to the championship game of the World Series. He cared little about anything else. After victories over Missouri and Utah in the first two rounds, Northridge battled Oklahoma State for 22 innings in two games to reach that goal.

And had left fielder Beth Calcante not leaned over the fence and robbed Karie Langelier of a two-run home run in the sixth--which would have tied it, 4-4--Northridge might have been denied its shot at a national title.

But the Matadors played well against Oklahoma State, exerting every bit of energy to win and get into the championship game. When Oklahoma State's Brandi Stephenson flied out to center fielder Jen Fleming for the final out, the Matadors celebrated like there was no tomorrow.

And when tomorrow came, the Matadors, dressed in black and sweltering in the 90-degree heat and humidity, came out flat against top-ranked Arizona (64-3), which has won three national titles in the last four years.

"I'm really glad we got (to the World Series) and I'm really happy we got to the final game," Ivie said. "But, a lot of us felt we had disappointed people because we didn't win it.

"Our World Series championship game was the night before."

Calcante, who set school records for career home runs (33), doubles (31) and runs batted in (141), agreed with Ivie.

"I think our hearts were there, but I don't think our minds were," Calcante said. "Everyone was really drained (from the day before)."

For some, it wasn't the losing that upset them. It was the way they lost. Arizona ace Susie Parra threw a one-hitter, struck out 13 and faced just two batters over the minimum. Calcante's two-out double in the first was the Matadors' only hit.

Though Northridge failed offensively, many questioned Torgeson's decision to start Jennifer Richardson over Windmiller (26-2), a senior right-hander who entered the World Series with the nation's lowest earned-run average. Windmiller did not get the start against Arizona because she throws a riseball and the Northridge coaching staff felt that a down-ball, junk-type pitcher would give the Wildcats more trouble. With junior Kathy Blake suffering from a fever, Richardson was the logical choice.

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