One Strikes Out, One Finds Home

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although the Cal State Northridge softball team got what it wanted and the baseball team didn't, the coaches of both teams are happy.

When the Big West Conference this week invited the Matadors to join in softball next year, while not even considering the baseball team, it all but guaranteed Northridge would return to independent status in baseball in 1997.

Coach Mike Batesole concedes he would rather be in the Big West, but he said the program will still be in good shape.

"Being an independent has got a lot of advantages," Batesole said. "We don't have any restrictions on our scheduling. Miami has done a great job [as an independent] every year. And Notre Dame in football has done a good job."

Northridge's scheduling will be the key in 1997, after a final year in the Western Athletic Conference. In order to participate in postseason play, the Matadors will need to rely on the NCAA selection committee to pick them as an at-large entry in the 48-team field.

The Matadors qualified for postseason play as an independent in 1991 and 1992 because they had good records while playing a tough schedule of local teams such as USC, UCLA, Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State and Pepperdine.

As a Big West member, Northridge would have been eligible for an automatic NCAA berth by winning the conference tournament. Northridge also would have been guaranteed 30 games in what is considered one of the best baseball conferences in the nation.

Rob Halvaks, Big West associate commissioner, said conference officials accepted Cal State Sacramento instead of Northridge because they wanted to split the conference into two four-team divisions.

With Northridge, the Big West would have had five Southern California teams and University of the Pacific, Nevada and New Mexico State. With Sacramento, the conference has better balance between Northern and Southern California.

The Big West will not split into divisions in softball, though, making it easier for the conference to add Northridge and Sacramento.

Another probable reason for Northridge's invitation in softball is that the Matadors, among the nation's best, will raise the Big West's power rating. By contrast, Northridge's baseball team might not have added much to an already-strong conference.

Softball Coach Janet Sherman said she was excited when she finally got the news that the Matadors would have a conference next season.

"I wasn't surprised but I was relieved," she said. "It could always have come up the way it did with baseball. We are very fortunate.

"I'm very happy with it. It will definitely help us. It's going to be a great conference."

Northridge's application to the Big West became necessary in the fall when WAC officials decided not to include part-time members starting next season. The Big Sky Conference, which Northridge is joining in most sports, does not have baseball or softball.

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