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THE COLLEGES / STEVE HENSON

Conference Calls Still on the Line

May 02, 1996|STEVE HENSON

Baseball teams representing three four-year colleges in the region charged toward conference championships last weekend like runners barreling into a catcher.

One team definitely is safe, another seems to have slipped under the tag and the third could be out. How they stand:

SAFE

Cal Lutheran earned its fourth Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title in five seasons by winning two of three from Pomona-Pitzer last weekend.

The Kingsmen (27-10-1), ranked No. 2 in Division III, are idle until the regional tournament May 16, when they face a still-to-be-determined opponent in a best-of-five series. The opponent probably will be SCIAC rival Claremont, and the regional probably will be played at Moorpark College.

The berth is Cal Lutheran's fifth in a row. Winning the regional would put the Kingsmen in the World Series for the third time in five years. Cal Lutheran has a record of 225-72-2 in the 1990s.

LOOKING GOOD

Cal State Northridge won two of three at San Diego State to remain atop the Western Athletic Conference Western Division with three games to play.

Whether it is in the Matadors' best interest to win the division is debatable, however. The WAC is out of whack.

The Western Division winner must travel for a best-of-three series against the Eastern Division winner to determine the conference champion. The WAC champion then must travel for a best-of-three series against the West Coast Conference champion. The winner gains an automatic NCAA Division I regional berth.

The Matadors (42-14) lead the nation in victories and should be a lock for an at-large regional berth even if they finish second in the division. Rather than playing two best-of-three series, they could stay home, give pitchers a two-week rest and report to a regional.

Don't count on them throwing their games this weekend against last-place Cal State Sacramento.

"The rest could be beneficial, but it is also important for some of our pitchers to get work in the playoff-type atmosphere that those three-game series provide," Matador pitching coach Dan Cowgill said.

Coach Mike Batesole, a candidate for national coach of the year in his first season, is more succinct. "We want to win our division," he said.

To do so, Northridge (18-9 in WAC play) probably must win two of three games this weekend. Fresno State (17-10) plays host to Hawaii and San Diego State (16-11) visits Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (15-12).

The Matadors would be champions if they finish in a tie with Fresno. The tiebreaker is record against the third-place team, and Northridge has a better record than Fresno against both San Diego State and Cal Poly.

IN TROUBLE

Pepperdine (28-19) dropped three of four to Santa Clara last weekend and is in third place after leading the West Coast Conference all season.

The Waves finish conference play by visiting San Diego for four games this weekend. Because of an odd formula used to determine the conference champion, they must win all four to have a title shot.

"Our assignment is pretty straightforward," Coach Pat Harrison said.

The Waves (15-6 in the WCC) are one-half game behind San Diego (15-5) and Santa Clara (15-5), but those schools have eight conference games remaining. Pepperdine had three games rained out at last-place Portland two weeks ago, games that will not be made up.

The one that haunts the Waves is the one that was played, however. Portland recorded its only WCC victory by beating Pepperdine ace Randy Wolf.

The champion will not be determined by winning percentage. Instead, losses are subtracted from victories and that number is divided by two, a formula that hurts teams that have played fewer games. If Pepperdine sweeps San Diego, Santa Clara must win six of eight to take the WCC.

*

Schools in the West making bids to host Division I regionals are Fresno State, Long Beach State, Stanford and Cal State Fullerton.

Long Beach (30-20) boosted its chances by beating Fullerton (40-8) twice last weekend, but the Big West Conference champion is determined by a conference tournament played in two weeks. Fresno State (32-22) probably will finish behind Northridge in the WAC and Stanford (31-17) will finish behind USC in the Pacific 10 Conference. Both teams are hoping for at-large berths.

Fullerton does not expect to be awarded a regional until next season when improvements are made to its stadium. "We are making a bid this year only to show [the NCAA] some numbers and establish that we are interested in future years," Coach Augie Garrido said.

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