The development of a young ballplayer is not unlike the gradual maturity of young child: Success often comes after a series of failures.
But every once in a while, there is a glimmer of what is to come--the tiny shuffle before that big first step.
Bill Kernen, Cal State Northridge’s first-year baseball coach, caught a glimpse of the future Monday and liked what he saw.
Sure, Northridge dropped a 6-5 decision to Pepperdine in a nonconference game at CSUN, but that wasn’t the point. The Matadors-in-training--five of Northridge’s starting eight in the field were freshmen--had given a good enough account of themselves to inspire some serious post-game verb tossing.
“For us to go two games against a talented, experienced, quality, top-level Division I team like Pepperdine and beat them by one, then lose by one, that’s a positive step for the program,” said Kernen, whose team beat Pepperdine 5-4 a month ago. “I’ve been a lot more disappointed after some of our wins than I am right now.”
Specifically, Kernen was smiling over what he referred to as a “significant event” that took place in the fourth inning of Northridge’s seventh loss in 10 games.
Four consecutive Matador batters--three of them freshmen--took turns tatooing the wall surrounding Matador field. The barrier survived the attack, but Pepperdine starter Wayne Helm didn’t.
Helm, who came in averaging a strikeout an inning, led, 2-0, and had allowed only two hits through 3 2/3 innings, but that impressive start quickly unraveled.
Greg Shockey staggered Helm by blasting a triple that landed halfway up the wall in straight-away center field, 400 feet from home plate. J. D. Haendiges, also a first-year player, followed with a double that one-hopped the spot where Shockey’s ball landed.
Northridge (13-9-1) tied the game, 2-2, when Ted Weisfuss scored Haendiges with a line-drive double down the left-field line.
Craig Clayton, another freshman, chased Helm and gave the Matadors a 3-2 lead with a double off the wall in right-center.
“Right there,” Kernen said, “they showed who they really are and who they’re going to be when they grow up.”
Indeed, Pepperdine’s Andy Lopez is one coach who isn’t thrilled with the prospect of facing these same not-so-cherubic faces in, say, another two years.
“They’re going to be good ,” Lopez said. “They’re not just playing five freshmen. They’re playing five really good freshmen.”
Of Northridge’s 11 hits, eight were by freshmen--including solo home runs by Denny Vigo and Clayton.
Vigo’s homer, which easily cleared the 375-foot sign in left-center field, tied the game, 4-4, after Pepperdine used two singles, an error and a sacrifice fly to regain the lead in the fifth inning. It was Vigo’s first collegiate home run.
Clayton’s third homer of the season, another drive to left, pulled the Matadors within a run with one out in the ninth inning. And it almost ignited a winning rally.
With two outs, Chae-Ho Chong walked and Anton Siegl doubled. Rusty McLain then lifted a fly ball to shallow right field that Pepperdine outfielder Jalal Leach caught off his shoe tops for the final out.
Britt Craven earned the save for Pepperdine, pitching the last 2 2/3 innings in relief of winning pitcher Kipp Landis.
Landis (2-0) came on in place of Helm in the fourth.
Vale Lopez went the distance for Northridge, allowing 11 hits, walking four, hitting a batter and striking out one. Lopez (3-4) served up home runs by Rick Hirtensteiner, Chris Martin and Scott Shockey, Greg’s older brother.
Scott Shockey’s eighth-inning homer, which traveled approximately 450 feet to right field, was the game-winning hit.