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Northridge Takes Step Up Without Tripping : College baseball: Versatile Scott Sharts leads Matadors to an 11-2 win in Division I debut.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

So much for first-game jitters.

Cal State Northridge, playing its inaugural game as a Division I baseball team, came out of the gate swinging Friday afternoon at Grand Canyon University’s Brazwell Stadium.

Northridge pounded six Grand Canyon pitchers for 13 hits, including four home runs, in an 11-2 victory. And, before it was over, Ryan Freeburg, the Antelopes’ right fielder, and catcher Grant Gunkel each had taken a turn on the mound.

Right-hander Scott Sharts was the beneficiary of the support--and he also provided some. Sharts allowed four hits in eight innings to pick up the victory and blasted a towering two-run home over the left-field fence to help the Matadors break open a one-run game with a three-run fifth inning.

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Kyle Washington, Greg Shockey and Scott Richardson also hit home runs for Northridge.

Sharts, who was 6-3 last season, took a two-hitter into the eighth, although he struggled to get that far. He threw 130 pitches and walked five, including three in the first inning.

Sharts did his best work in the middle innings and at one point retired 13 of 14 batters. He also recorded eight strikeouts before giving way to Todd Denhart, who retired the side in order in the ninth.

But despite the offensive cushion, Sharts failed to settle down on the mound.

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“I didn’t have good command of my pitches,” he said. “The key for me is to be able to throw my fastball to spots and my breaking ball to spots. I didn’t do either.”

Sharts seemed just wild enough to keep Grand Canyon off balance. The Antelopes wasted an opportunity in the first when Sharts walked the bases loaded.

In fact, Grand Canyon’s only offense was a two-run home run to right-center by Freeburg in the third inning. After that, the Antelopes weren’t heard from again until Casey Rush singled to lead off the eighth. Two outs later, Freeburg singled.

But Sharts pitched out of that jam too, getting Gunkel on a fly to left.

Grand Canyon, which, like Northridge, was making its Division I debut, might have succumbed to the pressure, Antelope Coach Gil Stafford said.

“We just weren’t aggressive out there, maybe because it was our first game,” Stafford said. “Of course, they were very aggressive and it was their first game too.”

Northridge struck early, collecting hits on the first two strikes thrown by Grand Canyon starter John Flores. Craig Clayton started the inning with a double into the gap in right-center and Shockey followed with a run-scoring line-drive single to left-center.

“Any time you can come out and hammer the ball right away, it really picks up the intensity out there,” Shockey said.

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At least it did for Shockey. He went three for four, scored twice and drove in three runs.

Washington put the Matadors ahead, 2-0, in the second with a home run to left.

Doug Kimball’s one-out single in the third marked the Antelopes’ first hit and, one out later, Freeburg’s homer tied the score.


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