SACRAMENTO, Calif. - After a series win against Utah the Sacramento State baseball team (3-1) remains at home this weekend to host Portland (1-4) in another four-game series. The teams will play Friday at 2 p.m., a doubleheader beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday, and a single game at noon Sunday at John Smith Field.
The Hornets dropped their season opener against Utah but won the next three games to take the series, outscoring the Utes 25-17 over the weekend with a .286 team batting average....A total of 2,178 fans attended the Utah series, with all four crowds bigger than all but one crowd at John Smith Field last season. The biggest was Sunday's announced crowd of 643....Freshman Dan Deely hit .308 last week and had a walk-off RBI single on Sunday while fellow freshman Bronson Grubbs hit .286 and leads the WAC with four stolen bases in five tries...Starters Sam Long and Ty Nichols both had scoreless outings against Utah, with Long earning the win, while ace Brennan Leitao allowed just two runs in five innings in his first start...Portland ranked last in all Div. I with a .218 team batting average last season. The Pilots went 0-4 at UC Riverside last weekend but had a 9-0 home win over Seattle U on Tuesday.
SAC - Brennan Leitao (Sr./RHP, 0-0, 3.60 ERA)
POR - Jackson Lockwood (Jr./RHP, 0-1, 1.29 ERA)
SAC - Ty Nichols (Sr./RHP, 0-0, 0.00 ERA)
POR - Kurt Yinger (Sr./RHP, 0-1, 9.00 ERA)
SAC - Sam Long (So./LHP, 1-0, 0.00 ERA)
POR - Cole Doherty (Jr./LHP, 0-0, 0.00 ERA)
SAC - Jake Stassi (Sr./LHP, -- )
POR - Davis Tominaga (So./RHP, 0-1, 8.44 ERA)
All Sacramento State home games stream live online at HornetSports.com/Radio with Anthony Rifenburg and Dominic Johnson providing the play-by-play call. Live stats for each game are available on hornetsports.com and all game day media links can be found on the baseball schedule page. For more content and game updates follow @hornetsports and @SacStBaseball on twitter and like Sacramento State Athletics and Sacramento State Hornet Baseball Fans on facebook.
Scouting Portland | All: 1-4 | Road: 0-4
Portland returned eight starting position players and two starting pitchers from its 2014 team than went 11-41 and finished last in the West Coast Conference (WCC). The Pilots opened their season with a four game series at UC Riverside last weekend and were swept, but back in Portland the squad crushed fellow WAC member Seattle U 9-0 on Tuesday. In 2014 Portland ranked last among all 296 NCAA Div. I teams with a .218 team batting average but is hitting .301 so far this year with a 4.39 earned run average. The Hornets are 4-1 all-time vs. Portland, all single games in Sacramento.
After dropping its season opener Sacramento State won three straight games against Utah to take the season-opening series. The Hornets led 10-0 early in Saturday's game, but the three other contests were all competitive. Hornet starters Sam Long and Ty Nichols both had scoreless outings while ace Brennan Leitao allowed just two runs over five innings in his start. Sacramento State hit .286 for the series and outscored the Utes 25-17, holding Utah to just five extra-base hits over the four games. The Hornets especially excelled on the base paths, stealing nine bags in 11 attempts and conversely holding Utah to seven stolen bases in 14 attempts. Sacramento State also committed just one error in the series while Utah had eight.
Playing their first collegiate games in front of friends and family on their home field, several Hornet freshmen were superb against Utah. The Hornets had four freshmen starters in the every day lineup, with second baseman Dan Deely leading the strong play of the newcomers with a .308 batting average and three RBIs, including the walk-off single to win Sunday's game. Devin Lehman started all four games as the DH and hit .308, while center fielder Bronson Grubbs hit .286 with three RBIs and stole four bases in five attempts, two more steals than any other WAC player totaled last week. First baseman Vinny Esposito hit the first Hornet home run of the season and went 3-for-5 in Saturday's game. Ryan Smith was one of three freshman pitchers that debuted last week and had two strong outings, allowing just one hit and one walk in two scoreless innings.
Right Where He Left Off
Junior Nathan Lukes' phenomenal play in 2014 earned him all-WAC first team honors and he picked up right where he left off to open 2015. He led the team with a .389 batting average, five RBIs, a .615 slugging percentage and .471 on-base percentage, reaching base in nearly half of his at-bats. He also had two outfield assists, including one runner thrown out at the plate. Last year he had a .347 batting average to go with a .430 on-base percentage and reached base in 36 consecutive games through the end of the regular season. He led the WAC and ranked 18th in the NCAA with 90 hits this and also led the league with 54 runs scored. He tied the Sacramento State single-season record with 28 multi-hit games and broke the single-season record with 259 at-bats.
Fill the John
A total of 2,187 fans came out to John Smith Field over the four game series vs. Utah. Each of the crowds was bigger than any home game at the field last season other than the second of two games against No. 4 Oregon. The crowd both in the stadium and throughout the parking garage beyond left field made for an exciting and electric atmosphere throughout the weekend.
On Monday Sacramento State trailed Utah three different times but rallied each time and pulled out the walk-off win. Utah led 2-0, 3-2, and 6-4 before Sacramento State came back. The Utes rallied twice themselves in the back-and-fourth game but could only tie the game in the top of the ninth, enabling the Hornets to win it with one run.
Back for More
After a historic and record breaking 2014 season the Hornets return hungry in 2015, playing for back-to-back WAC titles and further success in the NCAA Regionals and beyond. The 2014 squad won the outright regular season WAC title and conference tournament for the first time to advance to its first Div. I NCAA Regional. The Hornets eliminated No. 18 Arizona State from the NCAA Tournament for their 40th win, recording the program's first 40-win season since 1991. In 2015 the goal is to get to a Super Regional and perhaps further as Sacramento State looks to not only replicate but surpass the success it had a year ago.
Picked to Repeat
Sacramento State was a near unanimous pick to repeat as WAC Champion in the preseason conference coaches' poll. The Hornets received eight first place votes and 80 total points to be picked ahead of Grand Canyon, which was the regular season runner-up last year. Additionally, senior pitcher Brennan Leitao was named the Preseason WAC Pitcher of the Year and was a Preseason All-WAC selection along with senior outfielder Nathan Lukes, senior shortstop Scotty Burcham, junior closer Sutter McLoughlin, and sophomore starter Sam Long. No other WAC team had more than three preseason all-conference selections.
Sacramento State broke program records last season for team ERA (3.27) and opposing batting average (.240) and returns virtually its entire pitching staff in 2015, headlined by senior preseason All-American Brennan Leitao. All five pitchers that started five or more games last season are back this year and all but one key Hornet reliever (Alex Palsha, drafted by the New York Mets) is back in the bullpen, including junior closer Sutter McLoughlin. The team returns 81% of its total innings pitched last season and 59 of the 64 starts are back as well.
The Hornets returned six of their nine starting position players from last season. They did lose their corner infielders but return slick-fielding shortstop Scotty Burcham, who also hit .300 last season, and Brandon Hunley, who drove in 32 runs and hit six homers as a 17-year-old freshman. In the outfield, corner outfielders Nathan Lukes and Kyle Moses return after leading the team in batting average at .347 and .330, respectively. WAC Tournament MVP Chris Lewis also returns as a designated hitter but can also play as a corner outfielder or first baseman.
In With The New
Though the Hornets return many key players from 2014 the team actually has more newcomers than returners this year. While there are 17 returners a total of 18 newcomers joined the program for 2015, comprised of 14 freshmen and four junior college transfers. The group includes 10 pitchers, four infielders, one outfielder, and three utility players. Several of the newcomers will not only see critical action in their first year as Hornets but some will open the year as starters in the field.
In addition to a challenging 27-game slate of WAC games the Hornets will also face a daunting non-conference schedule that features three teams that are nationally ranked in the preseason. The team's first road trip will be a four-game series at 2014 College World Series qualifier Texas Tech, ranked as high as No. 5 in the nation. The Hornets will also host a three game set with UC Santa Barbara, ranked No. 16 by Collegiate Baseball, and have a trip back to No. 24 Cal Poly, which hosted the NCAA Regional last season and eliminated the Hornets. The squad also hosted Pac-12 Utah for the second consecutive season and has single games against big time programs including Notre Dame, Iowa, Nevada, and Fresno State.
Leitao Leading the Way
Senior right handed pitcher Brennan Leitao was named to the 2015 Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American Third Team selected by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. Already Sacramento State's all-time leader with 24 career wins and 304.0 innings pitched, Leitao is a two-time all-WAC first team selection and was also an all-WAC Tournament honoree last season. He went 9-4 with a 2.15 ERA last season, recording the fifth-lowest ERA in a season in program history and tying for third in the NCAA with 18 games started. He also ranked second in the WAC in ERA, wins, innings pitched (117.0), and strikeouts (74) and went 7-0 with a 1.43 ERA in 10 WAC games. He is now eighth in program history with 173 career strikeouts and is 10th with a 3.17 career ERA.
California is arguably the strongest state in the nation for Div. I baseball, and over the last three 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 eighth-most wins over the last three seasons. The team won 105 total games in 2012-2014, more than several perennial postseason qualifiers such as San Diego State, UC Santa Barbara, Long Beach State, San Francisco, and Fresno State and Pac-12 teams Cal and USC.
Got Him For The Long Haul
Sophomore LHP Sam Long, who should be a freshman this season, was named the WAC Freshman of the Year last year. The sophomore, who graduated high school early to enroll at Sacramento State as a freshman last January, was tied for fourth in the WAC with eight wins and ranked fifth with a .238 opposing batting average. He was 8-1 overall in the regular season and 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 was 12-3 last season in the 15 games he has started. He was the third-consecutive WAC Freshman of the Year to come from Sacramento State, following Rhys Hoskins in 2012 and Chris Lewis in 2013.
Locked Him Up
In August the Sacramento State athletics department and head coach Reggie Christiansen agreed to a contract extension and a deal that will keep him in the Hornet program through the 2019 season. Christiansen is a two-time Western Athletic Conference (WAC) coach of the year and over the last three seasons Christiansen's program has received one All-American Honor (Rhys Hoskins), four Freshman All-American Honors, three WAC Freshmen of the Year, and two WAC Player of the Year honors.
Willing to Sacrifice
Last season Sacramento State led the WAC and was 5th nationally in an often overlooked but important statistical category: sacrifice flies. The squad total 38 sacrifice flies last season, 10 more than the second highest total in the WAC. Every Hornet starter had at least one sacrifice fly and senior David Del Grande ranked 10th in the NCAA with 8. Catcher Dane Fujinaka also tied the single-season program record with 13 sacrifice hits.
Light it Up
Among numerous facility upgrades announced by the University in August are lights to be installed at John Smith Field. Installing lights will allow the team to be eligible to host postseason tournaments and student-athletes will miss less class time due to midweek day games. Sacramento State also allocated funds to re-grade the field to eliminate drop-off in the outfield. Both projects are expected to be completed by the start of the 2016 season.
Delivering in the Clutch
As a team Sacramento State is hit .298 last season with runners in scoring position. Conversely, Hornet opponents hit just .228 off of Sacramento State pitching with runners in scoring position. Through four games the team is hitting .265 this year with runners in scoring position.
Three Times Thirty
In 2014 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 40th win of the season against Arizona State the Hornets had 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 of last year, bringing his career total to 26 saves to tie the program career record held by Mike Frame. He enters 2015 just three saves behind the WAC career record of 29, set by Caleb Dudley of Louisiana Tech. McLoughlin was an All-WAC second team selection last year and was named to the NCBWA Midseason Stopper of the Year watch list in April. He had a 17-inning scoreless streak to open the year and in 29 appearances went 4-2 with 1.81 ERA and a .204 opposing batting average with a 36/10 strikeout to walk ratio.
The 2015 Sacramento State roster is almost entirely from the state of California, with just three of 35 players coming from outside the Golden State. The California players stretch the entire state, from as far north as McArthur (Sterling Humphry) to as far south as Irvine (Brennan Leitao) and La Quinta (Scotty Burcham). Among the group are 15 players from the Greater Sacramento area. Coincidentally, two of the players from outside of the state are catchers, Dane Fujinaka (Aiea, Hawaii) and Gunner Pollman (West Linn, Ore.), while the other out of state Hornet is JC transfer Grant Kukuk from nearby Reno, Nev.