Areas along the green brick wall at Matador Field have been problematic for Rob Wheatcroft this baseball season. Namely, those portions over which the Cal State Northridge right-hander has watched his home-run pitches sail.
“All of them are going right between the 330 (foot sign in right) and the 325 (sign in left),” he said after beating Chapman College, 8-6, Thursday to move Northridge into second place in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. standings, 2 1/2 games behind Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Despite being victimized by 17 home runs, Wheatcroft (11-2) has learned to rise above the rising long ball, emerging as the CCAA’s winningest pitcher. Chapman reached him for one home run and several long flies Thursday, but the Panthers discovered the reality of Wheatcroft’s resiliency.
“He’s gotten bitten by the home-run ball a lot,” Northridge Coach Bill Kernen said of Wheatcroft. “It’s made him throw a little less and pitch a little more.”
And a good offense has helped, too. The Matadors (27-16-1, 13-10-1 in conference play) broke a 3-3 tie with five runs in the sixth inning to get Wheatcroft over the hump.
Mike Solar led off the sixth with an infield single and Ted Weisfuss followed by slicing a looping single to right, sending Solar to third. When Chapman pitcher Matt Patuano misfired on a pickoff try at third, the ball skittered into the Northridge dugout and Solar scored.
After a pop out, Randy Thompson delivered another infield single, sending Weisfuss to third. Craig Clayton followed with a single to left, driving in Weisfuss. After an out and a walk, Rusty McLain and Anton Siegl hit consecutive singles, scoring Thompson, Clayton and Chae-Ho Chong.
Chapman (22-25, 10-15) scored a run in each of the final three innings--one on a home run by Jody Garcia--but could not sustain a rally.
Northridge benefitted from a home run of its own in the second. Seldom-used Greg Hansen, who was replacing Denny Vigo at third, hammered a two-run shot over the wall in left. It was Hansen’s third home run in 16 at-bats this season.
In the third, McLain drove in Chong, who had reached base on an error, with a double to the center-field wall.