It''s Tourney Time
Hornets clinch playoff berth
In its first year as an affiliate member of the Western Athletic Conference, Sacramento State clinched a berth in the postseason tournament.
The Hornets enter the double-elimination tourney as the No. 6 seed, playing regular-season conference champion and No. 1 seed, Fresno State at 7 p.m. on Thursday.
The Bulldogs claimed the title after a three-game sweep of the Sacramento State this past weekend. Every team is guaranteed at least two games in the tournament, with the eventual winner earning the conference''s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
With a win on Thursday, Sacramento State would next play the loser of No. 3 San Jose State and No. 4 Nevada at 3 p.m. on Friday. With a loss to the Bulldogs, the Hornets would play the loser of No. 2 Hawai''i and No. 5 Louisiana Tech in a must-win game at 11 a.m. on Friday. All the games will be broadcast on www.hornetsports.com, with Brian Berger and Dylan McKenzie providing the play-by-play. Fans can also watch live video streaming on www.wacsports.com.
A Long Road
Hornets hit some bumps in the road Sacramento State''s first season in the WAC has been full of its highs and lows. The Hornets started conference competition dropping three games in Fresno, but rebounded to win their next two series, defeating Nevada, 2-1, and then sweeping New Mexico State in Las Cruces.
Sacramento State returned to take one game in a home series with San Jose State, before battling for two nail-biting wins in a home series with Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs came into the series at the time holding onto first place in the WAC, but Sacramento State used back-to-back Brian Conradi game-winning RBIs to take the series.
The Hornets followed up their series victory over Louisiana Tech with a 9-6 non-conference win over UC Davis, but since have struggled to find wins on the diamond.
Sacramento State enters the tournament not recording a victory since the April 25 win over the Aggies, and currently possesses an 11-game losing streak, including conference sweeps at Hawai''i and Nevada before closing the season with losses to Fresno State. The Hornets have been more than competitive in the games, losing all but one by three runs or less. In fact, four of the losses were suffered by just one run.
Holding their own against conference competition While Sacramento State has struggled with posting wins in the last month, the Hornets'' .289 batting average ranks third against WAC competition, with David Flores and Buddy Morales both batting above .300 in conference play.
Flores, the Hornets'' starting third baseman, is hitting .395 in WAC play to lead the team as well as leading the team overall with a .340 average. On the year, his 28 RBIs and 16 doubles lead Sacramento State as well. Batting fifth in the lineup most of the year, he has 53 hits and 16 walks, while scoring 29 runs and connecting on three homers.
Morales has been a menace for opposing teams at the plate. His .429 on-base percentage leads the team and his .330 average overall falls just behind Flores. Sacramento State''s starting catcher has been hit a team-high 19 times, tying the program''s single-season high. Currently on a three-game hitting streak, he led the team in the last series against Fresno State, batting .667 (6-for-9) while also getting hit twice and walked on two additional occasions.
While Flores and Morales have given their best efforts offensively, senior right-hander Travis Kane has returned to the starting rotation in top form.
After picking up a victory in a relief effort against UC Davis, Kane moved back into the rotation, earning starts at Nevada and against Fresno State.
The Wenatchee, Wash., native was unfortunate to take losses in both appearances, but has developed a penchant for the strikeout.
Against the Wolf Pack, Kane pitched seven innings allowing the just three runs on five hits, while setting a new career-high with 11 strikeouts. The mark was the best of any Hornet pitcher since 2003 and just two short of the program''s single-game record of 13.
On Sunday against Fresno State, Kane again recorded 11 strikeouts in 6.1 innings of work, allowing five runs on 10 Bulldog hits. In his second year with the program, Kane (4-7) has pitched 62.2 innings and leads the staff with 60 strikeouts this season.
Thursday''s game against Fresno State will mark the fourth consecutive game the two teams have played. In last weekend''s regular season-ending series, Sacramento State produced offensively against the Bulldogs, batting .287 and scoring 14 runs on 31 hits.
Returning to the Hornets'' starting lineup was outfielder Ronnie Machado, Jr. The Tulare, Calif., native took advantage of his time on the field, recording two knocks in each game and hitting .545 (6-for-11) in the series with two runs. Machado was inserted into the lineup on Friday and received the starts in center field on Saturday and Sunday.
Fellow outfielder Jim Strombach hit .375 against the Bulldogs, with two RBIs, two runs scored, two doubles and two walks.
Fresno State enters the tournament on a 10-game winning streak, matched only by Hawai''i. The Bulldogs have won their last four conference series heading into the tourney, sweeping three.
Beau Mills leads the team batting .355 at the plate with 71 hits, 58 RBIs, 42 runs, 20 doubles and 14 home runs. Starting shortstop Christian Vitters is batting .341 on the year with 71 hits, 57 RBIs, 50 runs, 13 doubles and 11 home runs.
As a team, Fresno State is batting .313, while its pitching staff is holding opponents to a .264 average. Right-hander Doug Fister (7-5), the expected starter for Thursday''s game, posts a 3.86 ERA and is holding batters to a .258 batting average. In 102.2 innings, he has 96 strikeouts. Against the Hornets last Friday, Fister lasted 3.2 innings in the starts, surrendering seven runs on eight hits and four walks.
A Fresh Start
Welcome to the WAC
Mission Impossible no longer. Sacramento State has ended its three-year stint competing as an independent team, and will begin 2006 competing as an affiliate member of the Western Athletic Conference.
The league includes Fresno State, Hawai''i, Nevada, San Jose State, New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech, with the top six teams advancing to the conference tournament held May 25-28. The outright winner of the postseason tourney will receive the WAC''s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Hornets last competed in conference play from 1997-2002 in the Big West and were members of the WAC from 1993-96.
Head Coach John Smith
Since taking over the Sacramento State program in November of 1978, head coach John Smith has produced 18 winning seasons, including 12 years with at least 30 wins and four years with at least 40 wins.
In his 28th season as a head coach, he has posted 793 wins, ranking him among the top 40 active Division I coaches. The 793 victories and his 27-year tenure are also the most by any coach in Sacramento State baseball history. Smith''s current mark is 793-772.
Smith has led the team to four NCAA postseason appearances, winning two regional crowns and making two trips to the NCAA Div. II Championship. Smith was named American Baseball Coaches Association/NCAA Western Regional Coach of the Year twice, in 1986 and 1988.
A native of Redding, Calif., Smith spent three years in the U.S. Army Special Forces as a Green Beret. He played collegiately at Sacramento State in 1971 and 1972 and began his coaching career the following season. After five seasons as the head coach at Encina HS in Sacramento, Smith took over the Hornet program in 1978.