Nobody has to tell the Cal State Northridge women's basketball team what's at stake when Weber State pulls into town for a Big Sky Conference game tonight at 7.
A victory pretty much wraps up the conference title for the Matadors and gives them the right to host the Big Sky tournament, which determines who goes to the NCAA tournament.
The Matadors (17-7, 11-3 in Big Sky play) are trying to fend off Weber State (11-13, 10-4), Portland State (16-8, 10-4) and Montana State (15-9, 10-4) and claim their first conference title.
If they beat Weber State, and if they knock off bottom-dweller Cal State Sacramento (3-21, 1-13) at home on Saturday, the Matadors are ready to host the Big Sky tournament March 4-6.
"We're going to go out and try to get sponsors and try to get the community to support it," said Sam Jankovich, Northridge's athletic director. "It would be an injustice to the program if we didn't do it."
In contrast to the men's tournament, in which the host school pays all expenses for the participating teams, the teams in the women's tournament cover their costs.
So, even cash-strapped Northridge can afford this deal if presented with the opportunity.
There also was talk that if Weber State won the women's regular-season title, the Matadors could possibly host the tournament because Weber State could win the men's title and host the tournament, creating a scheduling problem.
But Ron Loghry, Big Sky assistant commissioner, said both tournaments could be held in the same venue simply by starting the tournaments one day earlier.
"Weber State has made arrangements [to host both tournaments]," Loghry said. "They're very proactive. They sent out ticket-price fliers on Monday."
OK, so it is possible for Jason Hartman to be the men's basketball most valuable player in the Big Sky.
But Northridge Coach Bobby Braswell still believes coaches will vote the award to a player from the team that wins the championship.
Loghry said that contrary to what Braswell said last weekend and The Times reported Tuesday, there is no rule mandating that the MVP come from the championship team.
Hartman, a senior from third-place Portland State, is considered the best player by Braswell. But if form holds--every Big Sky MVP in the 1990s has come from the first-place team--the MVP will be from Northern Arizona or Weber State, who play Saturday for the championship.
"There are coaches in the league, past and now, that hold the belief system and policy that the [MVP] should come from the first-place team," Loghry said. "But it is by no means a rule, implied or written."
Braswell, who is in his third season, begs to differ, saying the implication came through loud and clear.
"On the conference call with Ron and the head coaches to pick the [all-conference] team, Ron and several coaches said that people had decided the MVP should come from the best team," Braswell said. "I remember the discussion vividly."
Should Mike Schultz bring his 6-foot-7 frame to the mound at Northridge on Friday, Matador Coach Mike Batesole again will be reminded of opportunity lost.
Schultz, a Cleveland High graduate whose father attended Northridge, wanted to be a Matador until Northridge dropped baseball in June 1997. By the time the sport was reinstated in August, Schultz already was bound for Loyola Marymount.
Schultz, a sophomore, was the most valuable pitcher of the West Coast Conference last season.
The right-hander posted a 9-2 record for the Lions, surprise champions of the WCC, and capped the season with an exceptional performance in a 6-2 victory over Stanford in the West Regional at Palo Alto. Schultz pitched a complete game and held the Cardinal hitless for 7 1/3 innings.
After a stellar summer in the Alaskan League, Schultz has picked up where he left off, starting this season 2-1 with a 4.44 earned-run average and 26 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings.
Northridge (10-9) hosts the Lions (6-7) on Friday and the teams face each other Saturday and Sunday at Loyola Marymount. Schultz said he hopes to start Friday.
"My friends will be there," he said. "I'd like to pitch at Northridge."
Ironically, Schultz's first college appearance was at Matador field. He threw two innings in an 11-10 Northridge victory over the Lions last February.
He has done nothing but improve since and Collegiate Baseball made him a preseason All-American this season. Schultz gained 15 pounds during the off-season, up to 200 pounds.
"I've gotten stronger and the confidence level is there, higher than last year," he said. "I'm really looking forward to a great season."
Schultz is among several Loyola Marymount players who attended high school in the Valley.
Matt Riordan, a junior outfielder from Westlake, is a team leader and professional prospect who is batting .327 and has an 11-game hitting streak. Riordan is seven for seven in stolen bases and stole home twice in a game against Texas Tech.
Robert Hirsh, a sophomore outfielder from Crespi, is three for 15 with two doubles.