SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Sacramento State (9-11) kicks off Western Athletic Conference (WAC) play this weekend with a three game set against new conference member Northern Colorado (5-16). Game times at John Smith Field will be 3 p.m. on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday, and 1 p.m. on Sunday.
The First Pitch
Sacramento State is 4-0 in midweek games this season, hitting .286 with a 1.95 ERA and scoring 4.75 runs, but is 5-11 hitting .234 with a 4.18 ERA and 2.75 runs in series...After being held to a single run in four consecutive games Sacramento State has scored 13 runs in its last three games on 24 hits, including a home run and six doubles...The Hornets are in the midst of a season-long nine game home stand with seven games at John Smith Field, including three WAC games, and two contests at Raley Field...Closer Sutter McLoughlin has not allowed a run in 14.0 innings this season and 21.0 total innings dating back to last year, allowing just six hits and two walks during the stretch...Northern Colorado ranks 288th out of 296 NCAA Div.-I teams in both earned run average (7.64) and scoring (2.8 runs per game) and is hitting .229 with a 1-13 road record.
SAC - Brennan Leitao (Jr./RHP, 1-3, 3.77 ERA)
UNC - Connor Leedholm (Fr./RHP, 0-3, 8.37 ERA)
SAC - Sam Long (Fr./LHP, 2-0, 2.62 ERA)
UNC - Josh Tinnon (Sr./RHP, 2-3, 6.84 ERA)
SAC - Dallas Chadwick (RJr./RHP, 0-1, 10.12 ERA)
UNC - Chris Hammer (Sr./RHP, 1-4, 5.62 ERA)
Scouting Northern Colorado (5-16)
Northern Colorado joined the WAC this season after its former conference, the Great West, ceased operations. The Bears rank 288th out of 296 D-I baseball teams in both earned run average (7.64) and runs per game (2.8) and are just 1-13 on the road this season. UNC has given up double-digit runs in seven games this year and was outscored 45-3 in a three game set last weekend at Kansas State, including a 24-3 loss. Freshman outfielder Jake Ekman leads the team hitting .338 with nine runs but is the only Bear hitting above .300. Sacramento State is 6-3 all time against Northern Colorado but the teams have not met since 2007.
21.0 Innings and Counting
All-American sophomore closer Sutter McLoughlin has not allowed a run in his last 21.0 innings pitched dating back to last season. He was perfect the last seven innings he pitched in 2013 and has now allowed a run in 14.0 innings pitched this season, allowing just six hits and two walks with 15 strikeouts over the stretch. He leads the WAC with six saves and is one of just 10 pitchers in the NCAA that leads his team in both saves and wins (tied for team lead with 2 wins).
The Other Closer
After his pinch-hit 2-run double in the eighth inning on Tuesday Hornet redshirt freshman Ryan Locke is now 4-for-4 with three RBIs this season as a pinch hitter. Senior Clay Cederquist is also 2-for-3 as a pinch hitter as Sacramento State is 7-for-14 (.500) overall with a hit by pitch in pinch hit at-bats this season, with each of the seven hits coming in the seventh inning or later.
Bats Coming Alive
Sacramento State's offense has picked up significantly over the last three games. The team had scored just one run in four straight contests before putting six runs on the board on Saturday, three on Sunday, and four more on Tuesday. The team had 24 hits, nine walks, and three hit batters over the three games and cashed in 13 runs, though it did leave 24 men on base. On Sunday senior Clay Cederquist hit the first Sacramento State home run since March 2 and the team's first long ball of the season at John Smith Field.
Sacramento State is 4-0 in midweek games so far this season behind solid pitching and an uptick in hitting. Though it is a small sample size, the squad is hitting .286 in midweek games but just .234 in series games, and the team's era is 1.95 in the three midweek games and 4.18 in series. The Hornets also have sizeable gaps in slugging percentage (.391-.296) and on-base percentage (.351-.290) in going 4-0 in midweek games and 5-11 otherwise.
Sutter McLoughlin leads a potent three-man bullpen combination that has been mostly lights out late in games this season. In addition to the gaudy numbers put up be McLoughlin, junior Alex Palsha leads the team with 12 appearances and is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA over 20.0 innings of relief, allowing just 14 hits this season. Additionally, freshman Sterling Humphry has not allowed a run in 7.1 innings, giving up just two hits with a .087 opponent batting average. The trio has allowed just four earned runs over 41.1 combined innings pitched, a 0.87 ERA.
In For The Long Hall
LHP Sam Long made his fourth career start last Saturday against Minnesota and was strong again, allowing just two runs on seven hits and one walks over 6.0 innings, his third quality start oh the season. Long has allowed just 24 hits and six earned runs over 23.0 innings pitched as a starter this year with a 2.62 cumulative ERA and is tied for the team lead with two wins. In his collegiate debut at Fresno State the Rancho Cordova native allowed just one earned run on six hits and no walks with three strikeouts over five innings to earn the win and he beat the Bulldogs again with six scoreless innings when the teams met at Raley Field March 5.
Sacramento State opens conference play after being 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. Four WAC teams opened conference play last week, with North Dakota taking two of three at Utah Valley and Grand Canyon winning two of three at Bakersfield.
Starting at the Top
Sophomore Nathan Lukes has started in right field and in every game this season, primarily hitting leadoff, and is hitting .329 with a .409 on-base percentage, leading the team in both categories as well as hits (25), runs (11), and walks (10). He also has five RBIs, three doubles, one stolen base, and a 1.000 fielding percentage with three outfield assists. Among his five multi-hit games this season are a three-hit game against Nevada and a four-hit game against Utah and he had reached base in 13 consecutive games before failing to do so on Tuesday.