Debbie Dickmann pitched what had to be the game of her life.
Her fastball was rising. Her drop was baffling. Her change was unhittable. As a result, she retired every batter she faced, struck out 17, and didn't walk a batter.
Lock Haven (Pa.) State College pushed over an 11th-inning tiebreaker run to defeat Dickmann and Cal State Northridge, 1-0, Friday night in the first game of the NCAA Division II final four at the Sacramento softball complex.
Now if it is to successfully defend its national title, Northridge, which has won four championships in the past six years, will have to battle back through the losers' bracket.
The Lady Matadors (52-12) play Northeast Missouri State at 3 p.m. today in an elimination game. The winner will face the loser of a 5:30 p.m. game between Cal State Bakersfield and Lock Haven. Bakersfield, which placed second behind Northridge in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn., defeated Northeast Missouri, 3-0, Friday.
Should CSUN get bounced from the tournament it could not be in a fashion any more frustrating than its loss to Lock Haven.
The Eagles had only two baserunners--one in the 10th and one in the 11th--when, in accordance with tiebreaker rules, a runner was placed on second to start each inning.
"Dickmann couldn't pitch any better," said Reggie Lyons, CSUN's catcher. "It definitely wasn't her fault."
The winning run was brought home by Vicki DiVittorio, who was sacrificed to third, then scored on a squeeze bunt by Amie Zimmerman.
The squeeze was fielded less than halfway up the line by first baseman Pam Smith, who tagged Zimmerman in self-defense but could not make the throw to home.
"We felt the longer we could keep it scoreless, then anything could happen," said Lock Haven Coach Wayne Allison, whose team improved to 30-11. "They say anything can happen in a tiebreaker and for us it did."
But the end result did not dampen Allison's opinion of Dickmann's performance.
"That was just a super performance," he said. "She's probably the best pitcher we've faced in my six years here."
Sandy Hess, Lock Haven's pitcher, was almost as effective, but not nearly as overpowering. While Dickmann was mowing hitters down a la Roger Clemens, Hess was playing Tommy John.
She kept hitters off balance, nipped at the corners, and, most importantly, pitched her way out of jams in the middle innings. She gave up five hits.
In the fourth, Northridge left the bases loaded when Lyons looked at a third strike. The following inning, CSUN had runners on second and third with one out, but Lisa Martin struck out and Beth Onestinghel grounded out.
"We had good people up," Northridge Coach Gary Torgeson said. "They just didn't function. It was one of those freak things."
Hess, whose record is 16-4, said Lock Haven enjoyed playing the role of underdog.
"We figured we'd just play our game, and if we got killed, then we got killed, and if we win, we win. Maybe they were overconfident."
After the game, Hess met Dickmann and shook her hand. "I felt bad for you," she said to the All-American. "That was beautiful. You pitched a great game."
Dickmann was gracious, but said the compliment didn't make her feel any better.
"It doesn't change anything," she said. "They won. I lost."
And she did so despite facing one batter less than the minimum.