Granted, it was only a season opener. But against UC Santa Barbara in a nonconference doubleheader Saturday, the Cal State Northridge softball team didn't look anything like the inexperienced bunch it's supposed to be.
Fact is, after sweeping the Gauchos, 2-0 and 4-0, this new Matador squad is off to a better start than last year's team, which finished as the runner-up in the College World Series.
"People look at us and don't think much, but we'll show 'em," said first-year Northridge Coach Janet Sherman, who has taken over a program that lost eight starters from a team that finished 52-10 last season.
Northridge, which lost its opener to Cal State Fullerton a year ago, will get a tougher test today when the 10th-ranked Matadors face 15th-ranked Fullerton in a nonconference doubleheader at Northridge.
There is no mistaking however, that these Matadors look vastly different from the stalky group that preceded them.
For starters, with the exception of freshman Chelo Lopez (5-foot-11) and returning junior Scia Maumausolo (5-9), the Matadors have shrunk--in stature and quantity (14-player roster). Three of the starters in the second game were 5-foot-1 or smaller.
Ironically, it was the smallest player on the field who attracted the most attention.
Four-foot-11 junior transfer Tamara Silvera turned heads when she jogged out to her position at second base. But when she turned on a screwball and ripped a liner over the left-field fence in the first game to give the Matadors a 2-0 lead, Northridge fans appeared pleased to find that power hitters are not missing from the lineup . . . they are just harder to find.
"She puts all her weight into it, every ounce," Sherman said.
Apparently all 106 pounds.
Silvera, who played two years at Pierce College and last season was a redshirt at Santa Barbara, surprised herself. It was her first home run to clear a fence--and she wasn't convinced it happened.
"I was rounding second and I had to ask the second baseman if it went out," said Silvera, who also hammered a run-scoring double into the left-center gap in the second game.
But Silvera's homer was not the only surprise of the day. Sophomore catcher Jennifer Parker parked her first college home run over the left-center field fence in the second inning. And now she has a different opinion of herself.
"I'm not a power hitter . . . well I guess I am now," she said.
But while the home runs provided highlights, it was the pitching that carried the Matadors.
Kathy Blake-Small and Jen Richardson picked up complete-game victories.
Blake-Small, a senior right-hander who was 17-7 with a 0.51 earned-run average last season, pitched a four-hitter and walked one in the opener.
She pitched herself into one jam in the seventh by walking the leadoff batter and giving up a single to Johnna Mike.
But with runners at second and third and two out, Blake-Small escaped on a popup.
Richardson (1-0), who started in center field and doubled in the opener, looked sharp but said she tired in the late innings.
Richardson, 9-1 with an 0.64 ERA last season, retired the last 13 batters in order and threw a two-hitter with five strikeouts.
With Blake-Small and Richardson taking care of the pitching, Sherman's only concern was the defense.
But, considering the Matadors' error-free play, she can look elsewhere for weakness.
"All week long we were worried about the defense," Sherman said. "And the defense was awesome."
The Matadors made the most of nine hits in the doubleheader.
In the nightcap, they scored three runs in the second on two hits, two errors and a walk.
Jessica Cunningham had a two-run single in the inning and Silvera added an RBI double in the fourth.