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Creighton Beats CSUN for Title at Fresno

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Creighton University played in the NCAA baseball regionals last season and when the Bluejays start listing standout players who have returned to the team this season, the list is long.

There is a preseason All-American choice. There are others who made last season’s All-Missouri Valley Conference team.

And then there is catcher Ryan Martindale, who is less-than-glowingly mentioned in the Bluejays’ preview as a senior “back for his final season.”

Cal State Northridge has reason to wish even that weren’t true.

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Martindale and his battery-mate, pitcher Mike Heathcott, were a two-man gang against the Matadors on Saturday night at Fresno State’s Beiden Field.

Martindale drove in all of Creighton’s runs with a home run and a single and Heathcott tossed a four-hitter, striking out eight, as the Bluejays defeated Northridge, 3-1, in the championship game of the Fresno tournament.

Heathcott outdueled Northridge’s Scott Sharts, who allowed only six hits and made few mistakes--although one was major. He hung a slider to Martindale in the seventh inning, which was deposited over the left-center-field fence for a two-run home run.

“It was a pitcher’s duel and sometimes when those break, they break the hard way,” said Sharts, who struck out 12 and walked three. “I left a pitch hanging. It was my mistake.”

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Sharts (5-3) had two out in the inning before he walked John Pivovar, bringing Martindale to the plate.

A similar error in the ninth inning led to an insurance run for the 20th-ranked Bluejays (14-2), who avenged a 9-5 loss to Northridge earlier in the tournament.

Sharts had two out in the ninth when he walked Pivovar. After a wild pitch moved pinch-runner Kimera Bartee to second, Martindale punched a single to right, scoring the run.

Northridge (19-9-1) broke up Heathcott’s shutout bid in the bottom of the eighth on a one-out double by Craig Clayton and a run-scoring single by Greg Shockey.

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Heathcott (5-0) retired Mike Solar on a fly ball to left to end the inning, then put the Matadors down in order in the ninth.

“We just couldn’t swing the bat like we can,” Sharts said. “We swung at some bad pitches and he made some quality pitches when he had to.”

Heathcott, who was 2-0 and allowed only three runs in 17 2/3 innings, was chosen the most valuable player of the tournament. Clayton, who was 2-0 as a pitcher and also batted .333, was Northridge’s only player on the all-tournament team.

The pitchers’ duel took shape early.

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Sharts retired Creighton’s first 11 batters until Scott Stahoviak lined a two-strike pitch into center field for the game’s first hit.

Heathcott didn’t allow a hit until there were two out in the fifth, but the senior right-hander was in trouble early. He walked the bases loaded with one out in the first inning, only to coax Solar to bounce into an inning-ending double play.

Solar started a string of 12 Matador batters retired in order without hitting a ball out of the infield.

Mike Sims finally ended that streak with Northridge’s first hit, a single that bounced over Stahoviak, the Bluejays’ third baseman, with two out in the fifth inning.

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Had Stahoviak been playing a conventionally deep third base with two out and two strikes, Heathcott would have carried his no-hitter into the sixth inning. But Sims has tendinitis in his left wrist to such an extent that he can barely swing a bat.

In three previous at-bats against Creighton in the tournament, Sims attempted to bunt every time--including with two strikes on his first trip to the plate in the third inning Saturday.

Sims’ single followed a walk to Denny Vigo, which constituted Northridge’s first scoring threat. It ended when Clayton was retired on a long foul ball down the right-field line.

Creighton moved runners into scoring position in the fourth and fifth innings and had its leadoff hitter single in the sixth, but Sharts pitched out of trouble each time.

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But with two out in the seventh and Pivovar on at first with a walk, Martindale connected on the first pitch thrown to him, sending it deep over the 380-foot sign in left-center field for his sixth home run of the season.


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