SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The WAC Champion Sacramento State baseball team (39-22) will play in its first NCAA Regional as a Div. I program starting at 6 p.m. Friday in San Luis Obispo. Sacramento State will play the host and top seed in the region Cal Poly (45-10) in its first game while the other two teams in the region, Arizona State (33-22) and Pepperdine (39-16), will open the regional on Friday at 1 p.m.
Each game of the San Luis Obispo regional will be video streamed live on ESPN3, available on watchespn.com, and all Hornet games will be broadcast live on HornetSports.com/Radio starting 10 minutes prior to first pitch. For live stats and audio and video links visit the baseball schedule page.
Sacramento State won the regular season and postseason WAC championships, claiming the outright regular season title and winning the conference tournament for the first time...The Hornets won four straight games at the WAC Tournament after losing their first contest, and for the week hit .287 with a 2.80 ERA and outscored their opponents 33-16...Rhys Hoskins, Sam Long, and Reggie Christiansen were named WAC Player, Freshman, and Coach of the Year, respectively, and Chris Lewis was the WAC Tournament MVP...Sacramento State is making its first Div. I NCAA appearance but went four times in D-II and twice got to the College World Series. It's last D-II NCAA game was also at Cal Poly...Cal Poly is ranked as high as No. 5 in the nation (has been No. 1), Arizona State as high as No. 18, and Pepperdine No. 23. The Hornets have not faced Cal Poly since 2009.
Sacramento State earned both the regular season and postseason WAC championships, claiming the first outright regular season title in program history and earning its first conference postseason crown and NCAA Regional appearance. The Hornets won the WAC Tournament by winning four straight games following a 4-1 loss in their first game of the week. The team won one game on Friday, two more on Saturday, and the deciding game on Sunday to earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Sophomore Chris Lewis was named MVP of the tournament after hitting .500 with seven RBIs and five runs scored, leading four Sacramento State All-Tournament honorees after Sacramento State defeated Utah Valley twice to take the crown. As a team the Hornets hit .287 for the tournament and had a 2.80 team ERA, outscoring their opposition 33-16 over the five games played at Cubs Park in Mesa, Ariz.
The Hornets are making their first Div. I NCAA Tournament appearance this week but had a strong pedigree of success in the Div. II national championship. In fact, the last game the program played in the NCAA Tournament was also in San Luis Obispo and against Cal Poly in 1989. The squad played in the Div. II NCAA Regionals four times between 1985 and 1989, including regional wins and trips to the College World Series in 1986 and 1988. The team hosted the regionals in both 1986 and in 1988, and in the 1989 regional played in San Luis Obispo, losing to San Francisco State and Cal Poly. The program moved to the Div. I level the following year. Kennesaw State, of the Atlantic Sun Conference, is the only other team making its NCAA Div. I Regional debut this week.
How the WAC was Won
Sacramento State won the WAC regular season title with a 21-6 record and did so pretty easily, as 12 of the team's 21 WAC wins were by five runs or more, including four games that ended after the seventh inning due to the 10-run mercy rule. In regular season WAC play the Hornets hit .310 with 20 home runs and 155 RBIs, averaging 6.4 runs per game with a .438 slugging percentage and .381 on-base percentage. Five Hornet starters hit better than .300 in conference games and the team had a WAC-best .977 fielding percentage. Hornet pitchers totaled a 2.21 ERA in conference play with a .217 opponent batting average while allowing just 2.7 runs per game. Weekend starters Brennan Leitao, Sam Long, and Justin Dillon combined to go 14-1 in the WAC and each had ERA's below 2.25.
Junior first baseman Rhys Hoskins was named the most outstanding player of the Western Athletic Conference, becoming just the third Hornet to earn that prestigious honor. During the regular season Hoskins led the WAC with nine home runs and a .563 slugging percentage while ranking second in runs batted in (45) and doubles (16). He hit .360 with six homers and 32 RBIs in WAC play, driving in more than one run per game in conference play. He has 17 multi-hit and 14 multi-RBI games this year and at the WAC Tournament he hit .350 with three home runs and eight RBIs with a 2-homer game in the final. Hoskins ranks 15th in the NCAA with 12 home runs this season and follows Andrew Ayers in 2012 and Mike Eby in 1995 as the third Hornet WAC MVP honoree
Back in a Big Way
After a challenging regular season in which he hit just .181 overall and .133 in WAC play, sophomore designated hitter Chris Leiws went 3-for-3 in the Hornets' WAC Tournament opener and continued to rake for the remainder of the weekend. He hit 10-for-20 (.500) with seven RBIs, five runs scored, and three walks for a .545 on-base percentage. He had just eight RBIs in 116 at-bats during the regular season before driving in seven over 20 at-bats in the tournament. A Freshman All-American last year, it was only a matter of time before Lewis got back into a groove, and his timing was impeccable in leading the Hornets to the tournament crown and earning MVP honors.
Scouting The Regional
Cal Poly, which has been ranked as high as the No. 1 team in the country this season, is currently No. 5 in the nation in both the Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America polls. Surprisingly the Mustangs, who won the Big West regular season title, are not one of the top eight national seeds for the tournament but still earned the right to host the regional for the first time in their Div. I history. Arizona State is one of five Pac-12 teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament and is ranked No. 18 in the Collegiate Baseball poll. Pepperdine, the champion of the West Coast Conference (WCC), is No. 23 in the Baseball America poll. Sacramento State is 12-32 all-time against Cal Poly, having last faced the Mustangs in 2009 in a three-game sweep by Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, and Sacramento State has dropped the last seven games overall in the all-time series. The Hornets are 2-1 all-time against Pepperdine, winning the only series between the teams back in 1998, and has never before faced Arizona State.
Leitao Leading the Way
Junior right handed pitcher Brennan Leitao is tied for the NCAA lead with 17 starts this season and was named an All-WAC first team selection last week. He broke the Sacramento State program record for career wins with his 24th career victory in the WAC title-clinching win on Sunday. Leitao started both Thursday and Sunday last week, pitching on just two days rest on Sunday and allowing only one unearned run over five innings to get the win. In 10 WAC starts during the regular season, Leitao went 7-0 with a 1.43 ERA, allowing just 10 earned runs over 63.0 innings with a 52/9 strikeout to walk ratio and a .214 opposing batting average. For the season he is 9-4 with a 2.86 ERA and a .234 opposing batting average in a team-high 110.0 innings pitched.
Got Him for the Long Haul
Freshman LHP Sam Long, who should still be finishing high school this semester, was named the WAC Freshman of the Year. The freshman, who graduated high school early to enroll at Sacramento State in January, ranks fifth in the WAC with a 2.86 season ERA and is fourth with a .234 opposing batting average. He is 8-1 overall in the regular season and was 5-0 in WAC play, posting a 2.24 ERA in conference games and holding opponents to a .213 batting average. He recorded two shutouts and tallied 37 strikeouts in 56.1 innings during conference play and the team is 12-2 this season in the 14 games he has started. He is the third-consecutive WAC Freshman of the Year to come from Sacramento State, following Rhys Hoskins in 2012 and Chris Lewis in 2013.
Senior Send Off
Senior center fielder David Del Grande made a lasting memory in front of the home crowd on May 17 as he, one of six Hornet seniors playing their final home game, hit a walk-off home run leading off the bottom of the ninth. Del Grande also had a key double leading off the bottom of the seventh and senior Will Soto followed with the fly ball to right field that allowed Del Grande to advance to third and score on a safety squeeze. Senior catcher Blake Hugaert made his first career start in the game as the designated hitter and had two at bats, while Clay Cederquist, Hunter Greenwood, and Scott Loper didn't play on Sunday but all saw action in front of the Hornet crowd in their final home games. Del Grande, Loper, and Soto all started throughout the WAC Tournament and each made major contributions in the Hornets' title win.
Top of the Order
Sophomore Nathan Lukes' phenomenal play all season earned him all-WAC first team honors. He leads the team with a .357 batting average to go with a .437 on-base percentage and reached base in 36 consecutive games through the end of the regular season. He leads the WAC and ranks 12th in the NCAA with 89 hits this season and leads the league and ranks 30th nationally with 52 runs scored. Lukes recorded a hit in 26 of the 27 WAC games the Hornets played and has a hit in 52 of 61 games overall. He has started in right field in every game this season, hitting leadoff or second, and has 10 stolen bases and 23 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.
Willing to Sacrifice
Sacramento State leads the WAC and is tied for 5th nationally in an often overlooked but important statistical category: sacrifice flies. The squad has recorded 37 sacrifice flies this season, which ties for 5th best in the NCAA and is nine more than the second highest total in the WAC. Every Hornet starter has at least one sacrifice fly this season, led by eight from senior David Del Grande, which is the 9th-best individual total in the nation.
Beating the Beavers
Sacramento State stunned No. 4 Oregon State on April 21, rallying from a 6-1 deficit for a 7-6 win at Raley Field. Now ranked No. 1 in the country, Oregon State was the highest ranked opponent that the Hornets have defeated in program history. Sacramento State pounded out 16 hits in the game, all singles, while four relievers combined to throw seven shutout innings after the Beavers scored six runs in the first two innings. Five Hornets scored runs and five had RBIs in a complete team effort in front of 1,569 fans, including several MLB scouts. The win was the third of the year for the Hornets over a ranked team, having also defeated No. 21 Texas A&M and No. 24 Fresno State, and the team is 3-3 vs. top-25 squads this year.
Delivering in the Clutch
As a team Sacramento State is hitting .300 this season with runners in scoring position. David Del Grande, Rhys Hoskins, Brandon Hunley, Dane Fujinaka, Nathan Lukes, and Ryan Locke are all hitting better than .300 in those spots. Conversely, Hornet opponents are hitting just .228 off of Sacramento State pitching with runners in scoring position this season. The Hornets are also hitting .340 this year with the bases loaded.
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. With their 39th win of the season last Sunday the Hornets have their most wins in a year since the 1991 team went 41-23.
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 28 appearances is 4-2 with 1.85 ERA and a .208 opposing batting average with a 35/10 strikeout to walk ratio.
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 31-2 on the year when leading after six innings and 3-18 when trailing (5-2 when tied). The Hornets are also 32-6 when scoring the first run of the game but 7-16 when the opponent scores first.
They've Got The Power
The Hornets have hit 30 home runs over the last 41 games after hitting just four homers through the first 20 games of the year. Junior Rhys Hoskins leads the WAC with 12 home runs while senior David Del Grande has hit seven and freshman Brandon Hunley has six 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.
Junior Alex Palsha is tied for 9th in the NCAA with 35 appearances this season and has broken the program record for appearances in a season set last season by Brandon Creel. He has a 1.60 ERA this season, pitching in a variety of mid to late-game situations. He is 5-1 and has four saves over 56.1 innings of relief, allowing just 30 hits and 10 earned runs this season with a .161 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 allowed just three earned runs and 12 hits in 25.0 innings, holding hitters to a .141 average, and in the WAC Tournament he threw 5.1 scoreless and hitless innings with nine strikeouts and one walk with two saves.
Big In a Pinch
Senior Clay Cederquist is 4-for-7 and redshirt freshman Ryan Locke is 5-for-11 pinch hitting this season. As a team Sacramento State is 13-for-38 (.342) overall in pinch-hit at bats this season while Hornet opponents are just 6-for-39 (.154) pinch-hitting against the team.