CSUN Baseball Preview : Craven Steps Out of the On-Deck Circle

Times Staff Writer

For 14 years Terry Craven has been the understudy who stood quietly backstage and watched other people receive all the attention and acclaim.

He's been the coach of several NCAA Division II All-Americans and has been on the staff of coach-of-the-year winners, yet few people outside the Cal State Northridge baseball program have known his name.

All that changed last June when Bob Hiegert stepped down after 18 years as CSUN's head baseball coach and Craven was hired to take his place.

Bad timing. Hiegert had just led Northridge to a 46-21-1 record and a Division II national championship.

People now know who Terry Craven is. He's the guy who coaches the team that is supposed to win it all--again.

Pressure? Hey, no pressure. Just another national championship, that's all people want.

Craven is the first to admit he has a tough act to follow, but he certainly isn't prone to making excuses.

"The baseball tradition here is such that we expect to win," Craven said. "Hopefully, that will never change. We approach each season with the goal of winning the conference championship and advancing to postseason play. Nobody wins the whole thing every year, but we're pointing in a direction that will get us to the playoffs. Our goal is to get the best possible players in here, then we set goals according to the players."

Craven says it is too early to tell just how strong the Northridge team will be this year.

"We have similar-type players," Craven said. "We lost a few key people, but we also have several key players returning. The question is, will the people we have back who had big years last year, do well again? And what about the players we lost? Can we replace them? We won't know for sure until the season is well under way."

There are other variables, of course, such as injuries.

With the season barely half a month old, Craven already has seen three starters miss games due to injury.

Bryant Long, an all-California Collegiate Athletic Assn. selection in center field last season, has been in and out of the Matadors' lineup because of an ankle injury. Also sidelined are pitcher Tim Cota and outfielder Joey Shoen.

Cota, who was 10-2 last season, experienced shoulder problems in the fall, hurt his elbow, came back and started playing. Then he hurt his shoulder again. He will probably be out at least two more weeks.

Shoen, who was voted the most valuable player in last season's Division II West Regional, hurt his shoulder in a preseason base-running drill.

Fortunately for Craven, depth is a Northridge asset. Several Matador players can play in the infield or outfield, and one, senior Pete Callas, can pitch, play first base, or be the designated hitter.

"We have a lot of good baseball players and right now we're defining their roles," Craven said. "How we're going to do will depend on how the players will adjust to the roles we select for them. We've played 11 games and we're starting to get a feel for who will be the front liners. Nothing is ever set in cement, though. That's why it's good to have depth. You never know when a guy is going to turn an ankle."

Craven will find out in a hurry just how strong his team will be. Of Northridge's first 14 games, 10 are against Division I opponents.

The Matadors, 8-3, have already defeated USC and Arizona State, but they have lost two games to Cal State Long Beach and one to UCLA.

"The schedule is tough and I'd have it no other way," Craven said. "For the last 10 or 15 years Northridge has scheduled the best teams we can because we want to test ourselves. That's the only way to learn how good we are. We wouldn't schedule Division I teams unless we believed we could play with them."

With that in mind, here is a look at Northridge by position:

Catcher--The front runner two weeks ago was Gerry Bernard, who hit home runs in Northridge's first two games. Since then, however, Bernard has been in a slump and George Erb, Mike Richards and Scott McIntryre have all been impressive in limited action. "I thought we were set with Bernard," Craven said. "Now I'm not sure. We'll be taking a long look at the other three before conference play starts."

First base--Jacquez or Kaplan? Does it make a difference? Certainly not at the plate. Jacquez, a left-hander, hit .326 with six home runs and 37 RBI last season. Kaplan, who is right-handed, hit .355 with five home runs and 22 RBI. "They've both been playing well," Craven said. "We'll probably switch off, with whoever isn't in the field being the DH."

Second Base--Craven says the only thing freshman Jim Mitchell lacks is experience. He will be backed up by Rod Shackelford and Darryl Gilliam.

Shortstop--A battle between University of Arizona transfer Matt MacArthur and Hancock College transfer Gary Williams. Craven says both have been playing well, but neither has outdistanced the other so far.

Third Base--Tom McKay, a former Matador batboy, is set at third. He hit .266 last year and Craven credits him with being a driving force behind Northridge's championship drive a year ago.

Outfield--Long, providing he returns from his injury, is an All-American candidate in center. Flanking him on one side will be Mark Ban, an all-CCAA choice last season after hitting .394 with eight home runs, 17 doubles and 52 RBI. Shoen and junior Todd Mustin will also see a lot of playing time.

Shoen hit .329 with four home runs and 20 RBI in 43 games as a freshman. Mustin hit .246 in 53 games and is strong defensively. Gilliam, the youngest son of former Dodger star Jim Gilliam, will also play in the outfield. He hit .343 in a leadoff role last season.

Pitching--The top two starters are junior Steve Sharts (10-5, 3.56 ERA last season) and UCLA transfer Tom Harmon. Cota will be a short reliever upon his return, before gradually working back into a starting role. Top short reliever at the start of the season will be Glen Braybrooks, a 6-3 right-hander who was 3-2 for Cal State Fullerton's Division I national champions last season.

In long relief will be Glendale College transfer Carl Butera and Pierce College transfer Dan Gonzalez. John LaRosa (Cleveland High), Jeremy Hernandez (Polytechnic High) and Callas will be spot starters.

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