Scott Sharts does a lot of things for the Cal State Northridge baseball team--most exceptionally well.
He is 6-2 as a pitcher.
He is batting a respectable .299.
He holds the school record for home runs in a season and leads CSUN in runs batted in.
At Paterson Field on Thursday, he demonstrated an impeccable sense of timing and a real flair for the dramatic.
Like a boxer with a knockout punch, Sharts, a heavyweight among college baseball’s power hitters, saw an opening and delivered.
The result: a three-run home run that climaxed an eight-run eighth inning as Northridge defeated Lewis (Ill.) University, 8-6, to advance to the NCAA Division II championship game.
CSUN’s opponent in Saturday’s noon (PDT) title game will be top-seeded Jacksonville (Ala.) State. Jacksonville State (41-9) defeated University of Tampa, 3-0, Thursday night.
Through seven innings, Lewis (49-14) led, 6-0, and Northridge had only three hits. CSUN had scored 36 runs on 49 hits in its previous two tournament games, but Lewis left-hander Andy Stemler shut out the Matadors on three singles--all by Eric Johnson--through 5 1/3 innings.
It was then that Northridge got the first in a series of breaks. In the sixth inning, a blister that had developed on the index finger of Stemler’s left hand popped, forcing his exit.
Robert Anderson, another left-hander, came on to retire six of the next eight batters.
Then, five outs shy of being shut out for the first time this season, CSUN rallied.
Northridge (39-21) scored its runs by parlaying five hits, three walks and four errors--only two of which made it into the official score book.
Mike Stevenson, Lewis’ right fielder, committed the most crucial miscue.
With Lewis leading, 6-5, and Sharts at bat with two out, he got a late break on a foul ball hit down the right-field line, and it fell untouched.
Sharts hit the next pitch over the scoreboard in left for his 28th home run.
“That’s baseball,” said Bill Kernen, Northridge’s coach. “It always seems to happen like that. You just don’t give a hitter like Sharts a second chance.”
Northridge’s other runs scored on a two-run triple by Andy Hodgins, an error on left fielder Scott Bertrand, a wild pitch and a passed ball.
A key hit in the eighth was a 400-foot single by Craig Clayton. It went 350 feet up and about 50 feet out.
Jim Guidi, Lewis’ reliever, called for the ball before giving way to third baseman Tom Michalak.
There was only one problem: Michalak backed off when he first heard Guidi’s call. What would have been the third out fell untouched for a single and Kyle Washington raced all the way from first to third, from which he later scored on a wild pitch.
Guidi, obviously shaken, then walked Greg Shockey on four pitches. He had a 2-1 count on Sharts before Lewis Coach Irish O’Reilly opted to bring in left-hander Eric Ehlers.
Ehlers had struck out the right-handed hitting Sharts during Lewis’ 18-5 loss to CSUN on Sunday.
“When I saw him come out, I geared up for him,” Sharts said. “I told myself that there was no way I was going to let him do that to me again.”
Kernen said he was confident that CSUN would have continued its comeback had the foul ball hit by Sharts been caught.
“If it didn’t happen then, it would have the next inning,” Kernen said. “There was never a doubt in our minds that they wouldn’t just cruise through 27 outs. We just didn’t know how long it was going to take.”
Before Northridge hit in the eighth, Kernen had called his team into a huddle. His magic words:
“I told them, ‘Listen to how quiet it is in here. You can hear a pin drop. You know why? Because everyone here thinks this game is over. There (are) only 20 people in this ballpark who know it’s not.”
Given a reprieve, Vale Lopez (12-4) retired six of the last seven batters he faced to record his ninth consecutive victory.
Lopez, a senior right-hander, struggled in the sixth and seventh when Lewis scored two runs in each inning.
“His wheels came off there for a while, but he gathered himself and came back,” O’Reilly said. “He did what we couldn’t do.”
Its victory over Lewis might have been a good omen for Northridge. The last two teams that eliminated Lewis from World Series competition ended up winning the national title. . . . Eric Johnson, the only CSUN player to go hitless in an 18-5 win over New Haven on Tuesday, was four for four against Lewis. . . . Denny Vigo hit well during batting practice Thursday but did not play. He sustained a torn hamstring muscle in his right leg on Tuesday.