BASEBALL CLOSES REGULAR SEASON VS NORTH DAKOTA EYEING WAC TITLE
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - With a one game lead over Grand Canyon atop the WAC standings, Sacramento State (32-21, 18-6 WAC) close the regular season with a three game home series starting Thursday against North Dakota (10-26, 8-13 WAC).
First pitch will be at 3 p.m. on Thursday and Friday while Saturday's contest, which will be senior day for the six Hornet upperclassmen, will begin at 1 p.m. All three games will stream live on HornetSports.com/Radio with live stats available on the baseball schedule page.
Sacramento State enters the weekend with a one-game lead over Grand Canyon atop the WAC standings but has already clinched the top seed for the conference tournament....The Hornets lead the WAC in batting average (.282), slugging percentage (.380), hits (507), runs (274), ERA (3.32), and saves (11) and are second in home runs (27)...With a win on May 3 the Hornets clinched the third consecutive 30-win season for the program, a feat not accomplished since nine straight 30-win seasons from 1985-1993...Over the last four games, three of which were losses, the Hornets have had two 3-run innings but have been shut out and held to just 14 hits in the 34 other innings played...North Dakota enters the weekend two games behind New Mexico State for the final spot in the WAC Tournament. UND has a 5.38 team era and is 5-19 on the road this year.
SAC - Sam Long (Fr./LHP, 6-1, 2.59 ERA)
UND - Andrew Thome (Jr./RHP, 2-6, 5.31 ERA)
SAC - Brennan Leitao (Jr./RHP, 7-3, 2.25 ERA)
UND - Zach Muckenhirn (Fr./LHP, 2-4, 3.32 ERA)
SAC - Justin Dillon (RFr./RHP, 3-1, 3.93 ERA)
UND - RHP Alex Twenge or RHP Patrick Riewer
Sacramento State has a one game lead over Grand Canyon atop the WAC standings with three games to play. Grand Canyon owns the tiebreaker over the Hornets should they end the season tied, but Sacramento State has already clinched the top seed for the WAC Tournament because Grand Canyon is not eligible for postseason play as it completes the transition to Division I. The Antelopes host Utah Valley Friday-Sunday in their final series. The top six teams in the final conference standings (minus Grand Canyon) will earn bids to the postseason tournament, which will take place in Mesa, Ariz. May 21-25 with the tournament winner to earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Championship. As the top seed Sacramento State will get a bye on the first day of the tournament before playing the lowest-seeded winning team from day one at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 22.
Scouting North Dakota (10-26, 8-13 WAC)
North Dakota enters the weekend two games behind New Mexico State for the sixth and final qualifying spot for the WAC Tournament. One of six new baseball programs in the WAC this season, North Dakota has played 17 fewer game this year than Sacramento State and has only played seven true home games in Grand Forks, given that its field is covered in snow for at least half of the season. The team has lost eight straight WAC games and is just 5-19 on the road this season. UND is second to last in the conference with a 5.38 team ERA and 3.92 runs scored per game and is hitting .255 on the season. Infielder Ryan Reese leads the team with a .310 batting average and is one of three UND starters hitting better than .300, while freshman LHP Zach Muckenhirn has a 3.32 ERA in 10 starts but just a 2-4 record. Sacramento State and North Dakota will be meeting on the baseball diamond for the first time this weekend.
All or Nothing
In its last four games, Sacramento State has had two 3-run innings but has been held scoreless in its 34 other innings played. The Hornets scored three in the seventh inning in the first game against Texas-Pan American and three in the first against UC Davis but were scoreless on just 14 hits in the 34 other innings. Overall, the squad has scored in just four of its last 45 innings played, after scoring 17 runs in the two games prior to the finale of the Chicago State series.
Willing to Sacrifice
Sacramento State leads the WAC and ranks 23rd nationally in an often overlooked but important statistical category: sacrifice flies. The squad has recorded 29 sacrifice flies this season, which ties for 23rd best in the NCAA and is seven more than the second highest total in the WAC. Every Hornet starter has at least one sacrifice fly this season, led by seven from senior David Del Grande, which is the 32nd-best individual total in the nation. Additionally, Hornet catcher Dane Fujinaka is tied for second in the WAC and is No. 39 in the NCAA with 11 sacrifice bunts this year.
Despite a challenging weekend at UTPA the Hornets still rank among the WAC leaders in nearly every statistical category. Eleven of the team's 18 WAC wins have been by five runs or more, including four games that ended after the seventh inning due to the 10-run mercy rule. In WAC play the Hornets are hitting .305 with 18 home runs and 138 RBIs, averaging 6.3 runs per game with a .427 slugging percentage and .381 on-base percentage. Six Hornet starters are hitting better than .300 in conference games, led by a .371 average with 5 home runs and 29 RBIs from junior Rhys Hoskins. Hornet pitchers have a 2.24 ERA in conference play with a .212 opponent batting average. Top starters Brennan Leitao and Sam Long are a combined 10-0 in the WAC and the staff as a whole is allowing just 2.5 runs per game.
Leitao Leading the Way
Junior right handed pitcher Brennan Leitao was named WAC Pitcher of the Week on May 5 after throwing eight shutout innings in a win over Chicago State. This past weekend he started on both Friday and Sunday against Texas-Pan American as his Friday start was limited to two innings when the game was suspended. On Sunday he threw five shutout innings, allowing just four hits and no walks. In nine WAC starts, Leitao is 6-0 with a 1.47 ERA, allowing just nine earned runs over 55.0 innings with a 43/7 strikeout to walk ratio and a .223 opposing batting average. For the season he is 7-3 with a 2.25 ERA and a .239 opposing batting average with just 22 earned runs allowed in 88.0 innings.
Top of the Order
Sophomore Nathan Lukes has been phenomenal at the top of the Hornet lineup this season, leading the team with a .358 batting average to go with a .442 on-base percentage. He leads the WAC and ranks 26th in the NCAA with 77 hits this season and leads the league with 47 runs scored. Lukes has recorded a hit in 23 of 24 WAC games the Hornets have played and has a hit in 47 of 53 games overall. He has started in right field in every game this season, primarily hitting leadoff, and has 10 stolen bases and 17 RBIs. He had a career-high 20-game hitting streak, the longest by any WAC player this season and tied for the fourth longest in program history. He has also reached base in 33 consecutive games.
Rally to Raley
The Hornets were 5-0 this season at Raley Field, including a win over No. 4 Oregon State, but dropped their Raley finale on Tuesday to UC Davis. In the five wins at Raley, the home of the Sacramento Rivercats, the Hornets hit .323 with a 2.93 ERA and a .237 opponent batting average while averaging 5.6 runs per game. Prior to the six-game Raley Field slate this season Sacramento State had played there just five times ever 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. The loss against UC Davis was the third all-time meeting between the teams under the Raley lights.
Sophomore Closer Sutter McLoughlin earned his ninth save of the season on May 4, bringing his career total to 26 saves to tie the program career record held by Mike Frame. He is also now just three saves behind the WAC career record of 29, set by Caleb Dudley of Louisiana Tech last season. Prior to that game McLoughlin had just two save opportunities over the previous 25 Hornet games and none since April 12th. McLoughlin was an NCBWA preseason All-American and has named to the NCBWA Midseason Stopper of the Year watch list in April. He had a17-inning scoreless streak to open the year and in 23 appearances is 3-2 with 1.43 ERA and a .194 opposing batting average with a 30/9 strikeout to walk ratio.
Three Times Thirty
With its win over Chicago State on May 3 the Hornets secured the program's third consecutive thirty-win season, the longest such streak since a string of nine straight 30-win seasons from 1985-1993. The squad has recorded 97 wins over the last three seasons to rank among the most winning programs in the state of California and has clinched a winning record and a berth in the WAC Tournament for the third consecutive season.
Junior Alex Palsha is tied for 14th in the NCAA with 31 appearances this season and has been nearly unhittable. He had gone 14.1 consecutive innings, over 10 appearances, without allowing a run or even a hit before Bakersfield scored against him on April 26. He still has a 1.90 ERA this season, pitching in a variety of mid to late-game situations. He is 5-1 and has two saves over 47.1 innings of relief, allowing just 28 hits and 10 earned runs this season with a .178 opponent batting average. The team has not played more than two consecutive contests without Palsha taking the mound and he has thrown as many as three innings on two occasions. In WAC play he has allowed just three earned runs and 10 hits in 21.1 innings, holding hitters to a .139 average. He is two appearances shy of the single-season program record of 33, set last year by Brandon Creel.
Junior first baseman Rhys Hoskins has hit cleanup for most of the season and leads the WAC in home runs (8), doubles (15), and slugging percentage (.558) and is second in runs batted in (42) and total bases (96). He has 15 multi-hit and 11 multi-RBI games this season, and is hitting .371 with five home runs and 29 RBIs in the WAC.
Delivering in the Clutch
As a team Sacramento State is hitting .295 this season with runners in scoring position. David Del Grande is 23-for-60 (.383) with men in scoring position and Rhys Hoskins, Brandon Hunley, Dane Fujinaka, and Ryan Locke are also hitting better than .300 in those spots. Conversely, Hornet opponents are hitting just .229 off of Sacramento State pitching with runners in scoring position this season.
They've Got The Power
The Hornets have hit 23 home runs over the last 33 games after hitting just four homers through the first 20 games of the year. Junior Rhys Hoskins leads the WAC with eight home runs while freshman Brandon Hunley has six and senior David Del Grande has five as Sacramento State has three of the top-four home run hitters in the conference. Hunley and senior Will Soto each hit grand slams on March 30 at New Mexico State, a game in which the Hornets totaled five home runs.
In For The Long Haul
Freshman LHP Sam Long, who should still be finishing high school this semester, has allowed just 63 hits and 23 earned runs over 76.1 innings pitched this year for a 2.59 ERA, the fifth best ERA in the WAC among qualified pitchers. The team won each of the first nine starts made by Long this season and is 6-1 in the WAC games he has started, with five scoreless outings. He has thrown seven shutout innings three different times in WAC play and had seven strikeouts over seven scoreless innings at Texas-Pan American.
The Earlier The Better
Sacramento State's success this season has often been tied to its ability to build an early lead, as the team is 25-2 on the year when leading after six innings and 2-17 when trailing (5-2 when tied). The Hornets are also 26-6 when scoring the first run of the game but 6-15 when the opponent scores first.