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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Northridge Makes Another Big Impression on Santa Barbara

April 22, 1998|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — Dog-tired and quiet as cat burglars, the Cal State Northridge baseball team nevertheless made another Big West Conference opponent roll over like a house pet.

Coming off a grueling four games in three days at Kansas State that left several Matadors injured and everyone exhausted, Northridge held off UC Santa Barbara, 6-3, Tuesday at Matador Field.

"It wasn't enthusiastic and it wasn't pretty," Coach Mike Batesole said. "Today everybody conserved energy and just found a way to win."

The victory was the Matadors' eighth in nine games against the Big West, a conference they dearly want to join. Northridge (31-19) defeated Santa Barbara and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo twice each, split with Cal State Fullerton, beat Cal State Long Beach and Nevada on the road and Cal State Sacramento at home.

"Playing well against the Big West was really important for us," Batesole said. "Those were the only games we hired three umpires instead of two and we did everything we could to make those games more important. We want to earn their respect."

There soon might be room for Northridge, which has played without conference affiliation since being dumped by the Western Athletic Conference after the 1996 season. Santa Barbara and Pacific have petitioned to join the West Coast Conference.

Most Northridge sports play in the Big Sky Conference, which does not offer baseball. The Matador softball team plays in the Big West as an associate member.

Northridge Athletic Director Paul Bubb recently reminded Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell of his desire to bring the Matador baseball team into the conference.

"We are still pursuing the Big West," Bubb said. "If the Big West wants to see itself as one of the premier conferences in the nation, having Northridge would be an asset."

The new baseball stadium Northridge plans to build over the next three years is a selling point. But fielding a strong team--even during the year administrators temporarily cut the program--makes the strongest case.

Left-hander Jose Vasquez (8-5) took a no-hitter into the fifth inning against Santa Barbara, and he combined with Tim Bell to allow only four hits. Bell came on with one out in the seventh to quell a rally and keep Northridge ahead, 3-2.

A two-run home run by freshman Eric Horvat, his seventh, keyed a three-run outburst in the bottom of the inning that put the game away.

A two-run single by center fielder Mike McNeely broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth, and McNeely ended the game by making a running catch of a line drive by Jim Aldrete and doubling up Brian Baderian at first with a long throw.

"We were tired and hurting but we knew that if we played hard today we could rest afterward," McNeely said.

The Matadors don't play again until May 2. That will give players with minor bumps and bruises time to heal, but it won't help catcher Jeremy Sickles or pitchers Eric Fuller and Jim DeBiase, all of whom suffered season-ending injuries in Kansas.

Sickles, who is batting .301, separated his left shoulder reaching for a pitch. Fuller (1-0, 4.37 earned-run average) and DeBiase (3-2, 4.14 ERA) have elbow injuries.

"We really are at the end of our rope, so the layoff turns out to be a good thing," Batesole said. "We played 50 games, as many as any team in the country, and we are beat."

But rarely beaten, at least not lately. Kansas State ended the Matadors' school-record 16-game winning streak, 14-13, in 14 innings, but Northridge has won 20 of 22.

Meanwhile, Santa Barbara (13-22-2) is struggling, although two players from the area are hitting well.

Brian LaCour, a junior third baseman-designated hitter from Chatsworth High, is batting .336, and Brad Wright, a junior outfielder from Crespi, is batting .359. Wright did not play because he had to take a test and did not arrive at the field until game time.

Gaucho Coach Bob Brontsema, a Chatsworth graduate, gave three other area players starts.

Right-hander Daniel Martinez, a junior from Rio Mesa High and Oxnard College who was set to attend Northridge until the program was temporarily cut in June, pitched the first three innings, allowing one run.

Left fielder Chris Crawley (Crespi), a redshirt freshman, and third baseman Jeff Bannon (Camarillo), a true freshman, each had a single.

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