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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Oklahoma Regional OK for Matadors

NCAA softball: Northridge, which opens against Arkansas today, is happy to have no California teams to beat to reach World Series.

May 18, 2000|PAIGE A. LEECH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORMAN, Okla. — Coach Janet Sherman and the Cal State Northridge softball team are right where they want to be:

Anywhere but California.

"Leaving home made any regional perfect for us," Sherman said. "It's great not having to go to a neighbor."

For the first time in nine consecutive NCAA Division I regional appearances, Northridge will not have to go through the likes of UCLA, Fresno State or Cal State Fullerton to arrive at its desired destination.

And nothing makes Sherman happier.

"The team is very excited about being here," Sherman said. "The morale is good."

In Oklahoma, playing for a Women's College World Series berth, the struggling Matadors are up against five non-California teams, none of which won a conference title.

"Looking at that, I think everyone is going to be hungry," Sherman said. "I believe that every team here believes they can win this thing."

Northridge (26-24-1), on the heels of its worst Division I season, couldn't have asked for an easier regional.

Host Oklahoma (58-8) is the top-seeded team. No. 2 is Oregon State (37-19-1), a team Northridge beat, 7-2, and tied, 4-4, in a season-opening doubleheader.

Northridge's first opponent today at 12:30 PDT in the double-elimination regional might be its toughest. No. 3 Arkansas (41-28) no-hit the Matadors for a 1-0 victory Feb. 19.

To be sure, the Matadors have their work cut out.

After losing seven of its final 10 Big West Conference games and clinging to a third-place finish by one game, no one is calling Northridge the team to beat.

With an above-average defense and adequate pitching, Northridge lacks only the ability to produce offensively.

Northridge has a team batting average of .210, worst in its nine-team conference. No player is batting .300.

Junior third baseman Veronica Lopez, batting .277, leads the team with 21 runs batted in, about half of what last year's leader produced.

The Matadors have struck out nearly twice as many times as they have walked.

Ok. So it isn't a pretty picture.

Sherman admits as much. But she also knows her team is as Jekyll and Hyde as the next and might play its best ball of the year this week.

"I'm not concerned about our hitting . . . now if I could just get the team to not be concerned about hitting," she said.

"I can tell it's a question in their mind the minute they come up to bat. I can tell when they're scared."

But that doesn't go for everyone.

Ui Bal and Lopez are "not afraid of anything," according to Sherman.

Bal's batting average has been on the rise after a long slump. The shortstop-designated player hit .426 in 19 conference games and improved her overall average to a team-high .294.

"She's continuing to produce, her focus is right there," Sherman said. "She doesn't carry any luggage."

While the offense has been embarrassing, Northridge's defense has given Sherman something to cheer about.

The Matadors led the Big West with a .966 fielding percentage and turned 24 double plays.

The pitching staff has a 1.97 earned-run average with ace Sarah Farnworth (18-15) shouldering the load.

Farnworth, a junior transfer from Utah, has appeared in 41 of 51 games.

"I feel good about our defense and I feel good about our pitching," Sherman said. "We'll find a way to get a run."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

NCAA REGIONAL III

Today's Games

Cal State Northridge (26-24-1) vs. Arkansas (41-28), 12:30 p.m.

Oregon State (37-19-1) vs. Northwestern (28-24), 3 p.m.

Oklahoma (56-8) vs. Harvard (19-19), 5:30 p.m.

All games at

Oklahoma University

Softball Complex

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