SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The Sacramento State baseball team opens the 2016 season - and an 11-day, eight-game road trip - on Friday with the first of three games at Auburn, a Southeastern Conference (SEC) power that played in the NCAA Regionals last season. Friday's season-opener will be at 1 p.m. Pacific time with first pitch Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. Pacific. Friday and Saturday's games will be broadcast live on SEC Network +, available on WatchESPN.com.
- Sacramento State returns 17 letter winners and added 12 newcomers for the 2016 season with 10 junior college transfers and two true freshmen comprising the roster.
- The Hornets open the season with a 10-day road trip and will face two SEC teams. The squad has played one SEC team previously and had a win, beating No. 21 Texas A&M in 2014.
- Sacramento State was picked to finish second in the 2016 preseason WAC Coaches' poll. The Hornets earned four first place votes to be selected just behind Grand Canyon.
- Junior LHP Sam Long was selected as the Preseason WAC Pitcher of the Year and was named to the preseason all-WAC team along with sophomore first baseman Vinny Esposito.
- Auburn was ranked as high as No. 23 in nation last season and played in the NCAA regionals. The Tigers returned every starting position player from last year but has 19 newcomers.
SAC - Sam Long (Jr./LHP, 2015: 6-4)
AUB - Cole Lipscomb (Jr./RHP, 2015: 8-2)
SAC - Justin Dillon (Jr./RHP, 2015: 6-6)
AUB - Justin Camp (Sr./RHP, 2015: 2-1)
SAC - Max Karnos (Jr./RHP, 2015: N/A)
AUB - Gabe Klobosits (Jr./RHP, 2015: N/A)
Friday and Saturday's games will be televised on SEC Network +, which is available to subscirbers on WatchESPN.com. All three games will also have live audio and live stats on auburntigers.com and all game day media links can be found above and 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.
Auburn Tigers | 2015: All: 36-26 | SEC: 13-17 | Home: 25-11
Auburn returns every starting position player and seven pitchers but has 19 newcomers in 2016. The Tigers made the NCAA Regionals last season and were ranked as high as No. 23 in the nation last season, though they finished ninth in the SEC. The squad returned ace Cole Lipscomb, who was 8-2 with a 2.53 ERA last year, and closer Justin Camp, who will start for the Tigers on Saturday. Five returning position players for the Tigers hit better than .270 last year. The Hornets and Tigers have never before met. Auburn is unranked but received votes in the preseason NCBWA poll.
Off to 2016
Sacramento State opens the 2016 season with hopes of regaining its place atop the WAC and advancing in the NCAA Regionals. The Hornets return seven starting position players and a pair of starting pitchers, mixing 17 returners and 12 newcomers on a veteran team comprised mostly of juniors and sophomores. A challenging non-conference schedule, which begins with series against two SEC teams including No. 5 LSU, will quickly throw the Hornets right into the fire against high-level competition, and the team isn't just going for the experience. They hope, and expect, to come back to Sacramento with wins under their belt.
Sacramento State has never faced Auburn before but has had recent success playing at power conferences. In 2013 the Hornets opened their season at Texas and picked up a Saturday win, then in 2014 Sacramento State won at No. 21 Texas A&M, another SEC school, in the series opener playing before a sellout crowd. The Hornets also have wins over power conference schools Arizona State, Oregon State, Utah, and Minnesota over the last two seasons. Texas A&M is the only SEC team the Hornets have ever previously faced.
Sacramento State junior left-hander pitcher Sam Long enters the 2016 season having already received high praise. He was selected as the Preseason WAC Pitcher of the Year and was named to the Preseason All-WAC team. He was also named a top collegiate prospect on D1baseball.com's College 300 going into the season. Last year Long went 6-4 with a 2.81 ERA and led the WAC and ranked 13th in all of NCAA Div. I with a 0.85 WHIP. He was also second in the WAC with a .198 opposing batting average and allowed just 64 hits and totaled a team-high 63 strikeouts to just 16 walks. He will look to start the 2016 season as he did in 2015 when he began the year 5-0 with a 1.73 ERA through seven games (six starts).
The Hornets have a stacked non-conference schedule again in 2016. Between the series at Auburn and No. 5 LSU, the Hornets also face a Northwestern State team that won 31 games last year and was picked second in the Southland Conference. The team's first home opponent, South Dakota State, won 33 games last season, while Arizona was also a 30-win team last year and Cal Poly has been nationally ranked for most of the past five seasons.
Sacramento State has five seniors on its 2016 roster but just one of them, outfielder Chris Lewis, has been with the program for his entire collegiate career. A former Freshman All-American, Lewis hit a solid .275 with five home runs and 32 RBIs last year and once again led the team with a brilliant WAC Tournament for the second consecutive year. He enters his senior season only six RBIs shy of becoming just the 11th player in program history to drive in 100 career runs.
The JC Route
Of Sacramento State's 12 newcomers in 2016, 10 of them come to the Hornets as junior college transfers. Projected position player starters Trent Goodrich, Kody Reynolds, and Andrew McWilliam are new JC transfers as is Sunday starter Max Karnos. The team also has three returners that came to the Hornets as junior college transfers originally, all three of which came as juniors. The roster has just two players without previous collegiate experience in true freshmen James Outman and Matt Smith.
California is among the strongest states in the nation for Div. I baseball, and over the last four years the Hornets rank highly among the best teams in the state. Among 24 Division-I baseball teams in California, the Hornets are tied for the 7th most wins over the last four seasons. The team has won 138 total games since 2012, tied with Pepperdine and more than several other perennial postseason qualifiers such as Stanford, UC Santa Barbara, Long Beach State, Cal, USC, and Fresno State.
The First First Baseman
Following a strong freshman season Sacramento State first baseman Vinny Esposito was chosen as the top first baseman in the WAC on the 2016 preseason all-conference team. Esposito led Sacramento State and was tied for third in the WAC with eight home runs in 2015. He was also third on the team with a .423 slugging percentage and totaled 28 RBIs. Esposito was strong defensively at first base as well, leading the WAC with 548 putouts with a .991 fielding percentage.
Sacramento State will play 12 games at home over a stretch of 16 days between March 19 and April 3. Weather permitting, the homestand will be the longest in the Div. I era of the program, eclipsing a 10-game home stretch in 2005. The homestand will include weekend series against Cal Poly, North Dakota, and Northern Colorado along with two games against New Mexico and one against San Francisco, with all 12 to be played at John Smith Field.
Sacramento State was picked to finish second in the 10-team WAC in the preseason conference coaches' poll. The Hornets earned 74 points and four first place votes in the poll finishing just behind Grand Canyon, which had 77 points and five first place votes to be picked to repeat as WAC champion. As was the case last year, Grand Canyon is still not eligible to compete in the WAC or NCAA Tournaments as it reclassifies to Div. I, so the poll essentially predicts the Hornets to be the top seed for the WAC Tournament at the end of May.
The Hornets have two players on the 2016 roster that have been previously drafted. Sophomore transfer Andrew McWilliam has been drafted twice, selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 34th round last season after being picked by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 31st round coming out of high school in 2013. Junior pitcher Justin Dillon has also been drafted, as he was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 39th round following his final high school season in 2012.
Four Times Thirty
Sacramento State recorded its fourth consecutive thirty-win season last year, the longest such streak since a string of nine straight 30-win seasons from 1985-1993. The team has also recorded winning WAC records and double-digit conference wins in each of the last four years.
Junior catcher Gunner Pollman led the WAC with 27 runners caught stealing, 10 more than any other conference catcher totaled. He ranked eighth in the NCAA with a .435 caught stealing percentage and was named to the watch list for the Johnny Bench Award, an honor presented annually to the top catcher in NCAA Div. I baseball. He begins the 2016 season on the Bench Award watch list again.
The 2015 team was, statistically, the best pitching staff in program history as it ranked third in all of NCAA Div. I with a 1.09 WHIP as well as ranking third with just 2.07 walks allowed per nine innings. The squad also ranked 11th nationally with only 7.70 hits allowed per nine innings and recorded single-season school records for earned run average (2.97 - 17th best in Div. I), opposing batting average (.235), and fewest walks allowed (124).
Five to the Pros
Sacramento State had five players sign MLB contracts following the 2015 season with four draftees and one free agent signing, the team's most MLB signees since the 1993 season. Nathan Lukes was drafted in the seventh round by the Cleveland Indians, the sixth-highest drafted player in Div. I program history, while Sutter McLoughlin, Scotty Burcham, and Brennan Leitao were also drafted and Ty Nichols signed as a free agent. The five are among a group of 12 former Hornets still active in professional baseball, including 10 Hornets that were drafted over the last three seasons.
Former WAC Player of the Year and Kansas City Royals draft pick Andrew Ayers returned to the Hornets for the 2016 season to serve as the team's Director of Operations. Ayers left the program as the all-time leader in at-bats and was second in hits and runs upon graduating in 2013 and being selected by the Royals, for whom he played one season in the Rookie Appalachian League. Another former Hornet star and a four-year pro in the Astros organization, David Flores, is also back with the team for his second season as a Volunteer Assistant Coach in 2016.
WHIP it Good
Sacramento State ranked 3rd in the NCAA with a 1.09 season WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning) last year. No other WAC team had a WHIP better then 1.30 as the Hornets allowed just slightly more than one base runner per inning. No Div. I team had a WHIP below 1.00 as the Hornets finished just behind TCU (1.04) and UCLA (1.05).
Through the Ranks
Sacramento State has five wins over ranked teams over the last two seasons. The squad beat No. 4 Oregon State, No. 18 Arizona State, No. 21 Texas A&M, and No. 24 Fresno State in 2014 and topped No. 18 UC Santa Barbara last year. The team was also an out away from a win over No. 5 Texas Tech and pushed No. 15 Iowa to 18 innings last year. No. 5 LSU will be the squad's first ranked foe this year.
Hornet pitchers allowed just 50 walks while totaling 155 strikeouts in 27 regular season WAC games last year. The staff permitted one walk or fewer in 14 WAC games and finished the year ranked third in NCAA Div. I allowing just 2.07 walks per nine innings for the season. The pitchers permitted one walk or fewer in 33 total games, including 12 walk-free games. In fact, over the team's last three games at the WAC Tournament last year the pitchers did not issue a single walk and totaled 25 strikeouts.
Locked Him Up
In August 2014 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 four seasons the program has received an All-American Honor (Rhys Hoskins), two all-West Region selections, four Freshman All-American Honors, three WAC Freshmen of the Year, and two WAC Player of the Year honors.
The 2015 Sacramento State roster features 22 players from the state of California. Among the group are 13 players from the Greater Sacramento area. The team has just two series against other California schools this season (Cal Poly and CSU Bakersfield) but plays mid-week games against UC Davis, Fresno State, San Francisco, and Pacific to face six of the 23 other Div. I California schools.
Rally to Raley
The Hornets play two games this season at Raley Field, the home of the Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, the Sacramento River Cats. Sacramento State played nine games at Raley Field over the 2014 and 2015 seasons, winning six with a 7-6 victory over No. 4 Oregon State on April 21, 2014. The Hornets are 3-0 all-time at Raley Field against ranked teams having also recorded wins over No. 7 Stanford in 2001 and No. 24 Fresno State in 2014. The squad has an 8-6 all-time record overall under the lights at Raley in West Sacramento.