Heather Lindstrom has a somewhat unusual method of managing tense situations on the softball mound. When the Cal State Northridge freshman pitcher finds herself behind in the count, she giggles. A baserunner threatening to score in the 10th inning might elicit a chortle.
And more often than not, the last laugh is also Lindstrom's.
Her light-hearted, airy demeanor inspired Northridge Coach Gary Torgeson to nickname Lindstrom, "Valley girl."
"If you were to walk up to her on the street and she said, 'I pitch for Northridge,' you'd laugh at her," Torgeson explained.
Dan Berry coached Lindstrom for four seasons at Crescenta Valley High and is well acquainted with her happy-go-lucky approach to handling pressure.
"Don't let that fool you," Berry said. "She does not get rattled. She'll laugh a lot and it will seem like her concentration is not there. But she is not flighty at all."
Lindstrom dismisses insinuations that she's a stereotypical Valley girl as swiftly as she disposes of batters.
"Valley girls aren't athletic," she insists. "What am I supposed to do about the way I look? Take hormones?"
She finally cracks: "OK, I go out, I shop, I lay in the sun, typical Valley things."
But at Crescenta Valley, Lindstrom was anything but typical. She was the Pacific League's Player of the Year in 1987 and 1988. In those two seasons, she walked a combined 11 batters and averaged nearly nine strikeouts a game.
Despite playing with a pulled groin muscle, Lindstrom had an integral role in the Falcons' 1986 Southern Section 4-A title, prompting Berry to call her, "one of the fiercest competitors I've ever coached."
Even though Lindstrom had an illustrious high school career, Torgeson questioned the freshman's intensity when she showed up for practice.
"I wasn't sure how serious she was when she started," said Torgeson, whose Division II team is ranked No. 1 in the nation. "I was thinking, 'What in the world is this girl doing out here?' She should be at the beach or something. She looks like she should be spending her time at the beauty parlor."
But Torgeson soon discovered Lindstrom could style on batters as well as style her locks.
It didn't take too long for the No. 2-ranked Cal State Sacramento team to learn, either. Lindstrom, whose record improved to 15-4 with a win Tuesday, pitched 17 of 19 innings of a nonconference doubleheader with Sacramento on Sunday, allowing just seven hits and striking out 13 batters. CSUN (44-14 before Wednesday's game with U. S. International) won the first game in 12 innings, 2-1, and shut out the Hornets in the second game, 2-0.
Torgeson pulled Lindstrom in the first game after nine innings but, on her request, allowed her to pitch the entire second game. He says the game served as an initiation of sorts.
"She just matured Sunday," Torgeson said. "She just got that self confidence. That, 'Hey, I can do it. I can pitch against anybody.' "
For Lindstrom, the performance made up for a poor outing against Sacramento in the championship game of the Bakersfield tournament in March. Northridge lost, 3-0.
Losing is a experience Torgeson's teams very seldom encounter. Since he began coaching the Matadors in 1982, Torgeson has posted a 388-114 record and won four of the past six national championships.
The school's softball legacy could, understandably, fluster any freshman. And Lindstrom was no exception.
"There was little bit of fear on her part at first," Torgeson said. "There is so much pressure to succeed and not to lose when you come into this program."
Berry says it was the adjustment to a new coaching staff, not fear, which left Lindstrom apprehensive.
She has acclimated well, however, and often relies on assistant Andy Kim for pitch-by-pitch instructions during a game.
Kim says Lindstrom has a knack for fine-tuning her throws under pressure.
"She corrects herself on the mound," he said. "She knows when she's thrown a bad pitch."