The Fresno State mystique.
That's how Cal State Northridge softball Coach Gary Torgeson explains the Matadors' inability to put away the Bulldogs with any consistency the past three seasons.
The second-ranked Matadors will get another shot at the Bulldogs today at 1 p.m. in the first game of a best-of-three series of an NCAA Division I regional at Northridge.
The teams play a second game Sunday at 1 p.m. and a third game immediately, if necessary. The winner advances To the College World Series in Oklahoma City, May 27-31.
Since Northridge joined the Division I ranks in 1991, the Bulldogs have beaten the Matadors six of nine times, including four of the past six. Last season, in Northridge's first appearance in the Division I playoffs, the Matadors didn't score in the best-of-three series, losing to Fresno State, 3-0 and 6-0.
"If we're going to take it to the next step and get to the World Series, it's good that we play the team that really embarrassed us last year," Torgeson said. "We need to get that out of our system."
If ever there was a year to beat the perennial powerful Bulldogs, this one is it. Fresno State and Cal State Fullerton are the only teams in the 20-team playoff pool to participate in every Division I playoff since the inaugural championship in 1982. But the Bulldogs have struggled this season.
Eleventh-ranked Fresno State (37-22) has endured its worst season since losing 23 games in 1984, and is not hosting a regional series for only the second time in the past 11 seasons.
Northridge won the Western Athletic Conference championship, but Fresno State, which finished third, was the only conference team to beat the Matadors this season. The Bulldogs were 2-2 against the Matadors, splitting two conference doubleheaders.
Initially, the Matadors blanched at drawing the Bulldogs, but now they want to bury the Fresno State mystique.
"I think it's been the best week of practice all year," Torgeson said. "What helps is that they have a great deal of respect for Fresno and they won't take them lightly."
Torgeson will likely start sophomore right-hander Kathy Blake (19-2, 0.86 earned-run average), the only Northridge pitcher to beat Fresno State this season.
Blake's biggest problem will be Fresno State senior shortstop Kim Maher, a Buena High graduate. Maher has hit 14 of the Bulldogs' 16 home runs and is batting a team-high .381 with 49 runs batted in. Fresno State is batting .278.
Fresno State Coach Margie Wright said she will choose from three starting pitchers, but senior right-hander Marcie Green is clearly the ace. Green (23-9), with a 0.90 ERA, has 210 strikeouts in 225 innings.
Northridge, which set an NCAA single-season home run record with 38, is led by Beth Calcante (.366, 51 RBIs, 12 home runs), Scia Maumausolo (.329, 25 RBIs, six home runs), Jen Fleming (.313, 19 RBIs) and Tamara Ivie (.293, 25 RBIs, eight home runs).