SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Sacramento State baseball team looks to build off consecutive 30-win seasons as it opens the 2014 season at 2 p.m. Friday hosting Utah at John Smith Field. The Hornets and Utes play a four-game season opening series, playing at 2 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and at 1 p.m. on Monday. All four games can be heard live on HornetSports.com/Radio.
For all games Friday-Sunday this season there will be no charge to park for home games at John Smith Field. Beginning one hour prior to first pitch fans can park on the top floor of parking structure one, located just north of the stadium behind the left field wall, for no charge. Click here for ticketing information and to purchase individual game and season tickets.
"The team's goal is to play in the NCAA tournament," said Sacramento State head coach Reggie Christiansen leading up to his fourth season leading the Hornets. "Our goal as a coaching staff is to go into each day and try to find a way to make us better and allow all the players on the team to have success on the field. It will be interesting to see how the younger guys do and how we're able to hold up health-wise will be huge."
The Hornets return seven starting position players, three starting pitchers, and their closer with three All-WAC selections coming back after the team went 34-25 in 2013. Over the last two years Sacramento State recorded back-to-back 30-win seasons for the first time since 1992 and 1993 and for the first time as a member of the WAC. Pitching and strong defense were the squads strong point last year, setting records in opponent batting average (.255) and shutouts (9), and will be another key in 2014.
Anchoring the bullpen is sophomore closer Sutter McLoughlin, who shattered the school record with 17 saves as a freshman last season en route to earning Freshman All-American honors. Entering his second season McLoughlin has been named to the 2014 National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) Division I Preseason All-America Third Team, one of just 10 total relief pitchers named Preseason All-Americans. He was also named to the NCBWA Stopper of the Year watch list, an award given annualy to the top relief pitcher in NCAA Division I baseball.
McLoughlin is one of three former Freshman All-Americans on the 2014 Hornet roster along with sophomore outfielder Chris Lewis and junior first baseman Rhys Hoskins. Hoskins was WAC Freshman of the Year in 2012 and, following a strong sophomore season, turned heads over the summer as he was named an All-Star in the prestigious Cape Cod League after hitting .321 with 30 RBIs, 30 runs, 44 hits, and five home runs. In December Hoskins was named the No. 68 college prospect on Baseball America's College Top 100 list and has since earned Preseason All-America third team honors from the organization.
"Playing in the Cape Cod League with some guys from bigger name schools does a lot for your confidence especially when you go out there and have success, and confidence is half the battle in this game," Hoskins said. "I think we have 40 wins in us this year. Our goal is to be an NCAA tournament team and to be the first team from Sacramento State to make the regionals would be such a great thing."
The third former Freshman All-American on the Hornet roster is outfielder Chris Lewis who, along with McLoughlin, also became the first freshman in program history to be named as an all-WAC first team selection. Lewis was also the WAC Freshman of the Year after leading the team with a .349 batting average and 75 hits while totaling 46 RBIs and four home runs with a .484 slugging percentage. After serving primarily as the team's designated hitter as a freshman, Lewis is projected to be the every day left fielder for the Hornets in 2014.
In all the Hornets bring back seven starting position players and top starting pitchers Brennan Leitao and Ty Nichols. Nichols will get the call for Friday's season opener followed by Leitao, freshman Jared Paderez, and senior Hunter Greenwood in the rotation for the four-game set. The set is the first of 32 home games for the Hornets this season, including 15 home WAC games and seven games under the lights at Raley Field.
Scouting Utah (21-31 in 2013)
Utah returns 19 letter winners, including junior starting pitcher Mitch Watrous, who was an honorable mention all-Pac-12 selection last year. The Utes also return all but two starters in the field from the squad that went 21-31 overall last year and 7-23 in the Pac-12. Watrous went 4-4 with a 2.81 ERA and 64 strikeouts, throwing a team-high 93.0 innings, while the team's top returning hitter, senior infielder Cory Hunt, hit .287 with 18 RBIs in 2013. Utah won four of its last six games to end the 2013 season, including a three-game sweep of Kansas. The Hornets are 3-2 all-time against Utah and have won two straight meetings, including a 6-2 win in Salt Lake City in 2012, while the teams will be playing a full series for the first time since 2001.
The 2014 Sacramento State roster is almost entirely from the state of California, with just two of 32 players coming from outside the Golden State. The California players stretch the entire state, from as far north as Eureka (David Del Grande) and McArthur (Sterling Humphry) to as far south as Irvine (Brennan Leitao) and La Quinta (Scotty Burcham). Among the group are 14 players from the Greater Sacramento area, including five from within the city limits. Coincidentally, both players from outside of the state play the same position in catchers Dane Fujinaka (Aiea, Hawaii) and Gunner Pollman (West Linn, Oregon).
Sacramento State was picked to finish third in the preseason WAC coaches' poll. The coaches picked Bakersfield to win the 2014 conference title, as the Roadrunners garnered eight first place votes and 80 total points. The Hornets and New Mexico State each had one first place vote and the Aggies finished just two points ahead of the Hornets in second place. With 68 points, Sacramento State finished well ahead of the 50 points received by fourth-place Utah Valley.
Feelin Fine in the Summer Time
Nine Hornets played in wood bat summer leagues this past June and July. Sacramento State was represented on seven teams and in six different states, including one player (Chris Lewis) competing in Canada. Senior David Del Grande and juniors Rhys Hoskins and Kyle Moses were selected as All-Stars in their respective leagues and helped lead their teams to winning records.
Rally to Raley
Raley Field, The home of the Sacramento Rivercats, will host an unprecedented seven mid-week Hornet games this season. Since the field was constructed in 2000 Sacramento State has played there just five times with a 2-3 record: two games each in 2001 and 2002 and a single game last year, a 3-2 loss vs. Fresno State in front of 1,212 fans. The Bulldogs will return to Raley field this season while the Hornets will also host Nevada, Pacific, Air Force, San Francisco, Oregon State and, for the third time, Causeway rival UC Davis under the Raley lights.
WAC in Flux
The Western Athletic Conference (WAC) had dramatic changes to its membership for the third consecutive year. Sacramento State is one of just four returning WAC baseball members from last season along with Bakersfield, New Mexico State, and Seattle U. Joining the conference as full members were Chicago State, Grand Canyon, Texas-Pan American, and Utah Valley while North Dakota and Northern Colorado joined the Hornets as affiliate members. Departed from the league in 2014 are Dallas Baptist, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State, Texas-Arlington, Texas-San Antonio and Texas State. Despite the changes the league maintained the same number of baseball-playing schools with 10.
Top of The Rotation
Junior Brennan Leitao was the Hornets ace last season and he figures to be among the team's top starters again this season. Last year Leitao became the first starting pitcher in program history to be an All-WAC First Team selection, as he led the team with eight wins (8-3 record), 100.2 innings pitched, 2.77 ERA, .217 opponent batting average, and 47 strikeouts. He ranked second in the WAC in opponent batting average and fourth in ERA while throwing five or more innings in 14 of 15 starts. The righty from Irvine pitched in three shutouts in 2013 and held right-handed hitters to a .168 season batting average.
California is arguably the strongest state in the nation for Div.-I baseball, and over the last two years the Hornets rank highly among the best teams in the state. Among 24 Div.-I baseball teams in California, the Hornets have recorded the sixth-most wins over the last two seasons. The team won 65 total games in 2012 and 2013, more than several perennial NCAA qualifiers such as Long Beach State, Fresno State, San Francisco, and Cal.
Three Hornets were drafted and signed in the 2013 MLB first year player draft. Outfielder Justin Higley (13th round, OAK), pitcher Tanner Mendonca (17th round, MIN), and second baseman Andrew Ayers (30th round, KC) all played professionally over the summer in Rookie Ball after hearing their names called in early June. Higley hit .275 with six home runs and 29 RBIs in 42 games with the AZL Athletics while Mendonca made seven starts and posted a 2-1 record with 23 strikeouts for the Elizabethtown Twins. Ayers played in 44 games and hit .214 with 11 RBIs for the Burlington Royals.
WAC at Wrigley West
The Western Athletic Conference has awarded Mesa, Ariz. the WAC Baseball Tournament for the 2014 season. The event will be played at the Chicago Cubs new Spring Training complex in Mesa, which was completed in December 2013. The $99 million new winter home of the Chicago Cubs is a 15,000-seat ballpark reminiscent of historic Wrigley Field. In May of 2014, the City of Mesa will host the double-elimination tournament with the winner earning the WAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The top six teams from the WAC's regular season standings will advance to the double-elimination tournament.