SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The 2017 Sacramento State baseball season begins Friday night with the first of eight straight home games to kick off the year. The Hornets host Pac-12 opponent Washington State for four games, with opening night at 6 p.m. Friday and games at 6 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, and 6 p.m. Monday at John Smith Field.
- Sacramento State returns seven starting position players, losing just two, as well as three starting pitchers and five relievers from last season. The Hornets have nine seniors and 13 juniors on the 2017 roster and the team returns with 30 combined years of playing experience as Hornets.
- The Hornets will be looking for a season-opening series win over a Power 5 team for the third straight season, having won 2-of-3 games at Auburn last year after opening 2015 taking 3-of-4 games at home vs. Utah. The team also split a four-game home series vs. Utah to open the 2014 season.
- In their first full season under the lights at John Smith Field the Hornets have 31 home games scheduled with 21 night games. After the first home night game in program history last May 17, the Hornets played two more night games during the final weekend of the 2016 regular season.
- Among 24 Division-I baseball teams in California, the Hornets have recorded the 7th most wins over the last five years, more than several perennial postseason qualifiers including Pepperdine, Stanford, Long Beach State, Cal, and USC. The team has recorded five straight 30-win seasons.
- Washington State was 17-29 overall and 10-17 in the Pac-12 last season to finish in last place in the conference. The Cougars did win league series over No. 10 Oregon State and No. 14 Washington last year but were 6-16 on the road. The Hornets and Cougars have not faced each other since 2005.
All Sacramento State home games stream live for free on HornetSports.com/Radio with Anthony Rifenburg and Noah Alvarez providing the play-by-play call. Links for the audio broadcast and live stats are available above and on the baseball schedule page on hornetsports.com. Follow @SacStBaseball on twitter for in-game updates and see more on the official team pages on facebook and instagram.
Scouting Washington State (2016: 17-29)
Washington State was 17-29 overall and 10-17 in the Pac-12 last season to finish in last place in the conference. The Cougars did win league series over No. 10 Oregon State and No. 14 Washington last year but were 6-16 on the road. Utah Valley won 3-of-4 games at WSU last year and UT Rio Grande Valley also had a win over the Cougars. Washington State lost five starters and 14 letter winners from last season but returns several pitchers including Ryan Walker, an all-Pac-12 honorable mention selection who will be a starter this year after going 6-3 with a 2.40 ERA and five saves in 18 relief appearances last year. The Cougars had a league-worst 5.32 team ERA last season and scored the fewest runs but were second in the Pac-12 with 64 stolen bases. Sacramento State leads the all-time Div. I era series with Washington State, 12-10, but the teams have not met since 2005.
Sacramento State enters the 2017 season looking to regain its place atop the Western Athletic Conference. The team returns seven starting position players, losing just two, as well as three starting pitchers and five relievers from last season. With 19 total letterwinners back this season coach Reggie Christiansen has one of the most veteran lineups he has had in his seven years leading the Hornets.
The Hornets have nine seniors and 13 juniors on the 2017 roster. The group represents 22 of the 36 players on the roster and between them have 30 combined years of experience playing with the Hornets. Four players (Justin Dillon, Brandon Hunley, Chad Perry, and Austin Ragsdale) remain for the 2014 WAC champion and NCAA regional team.
The Hornets will be looking for a season-opening series win over a Power 5 team for the third straight season, having won 2-of-3 games at Auburn last year after opening 2015 taking 3-of-4 games at home vs. Utah. Four of the Hornets six nonconference series this year will be against Power 5 schools with three of them (Washington State, Penn State, and Minnesota) to be played at home. Sacramento State will play a total of 14 games against Power 5 schools and has had tremendous recent success against such opponents. The team took 2-of-3 vs. Auburn and also picked up a win at No. 5 LSU last year. The Hornets also have wins over Texas, Texas A&M, Arizona State, Oregon State, Utah, and Minnesota over the last four years.
Back on the Hill
After being limited to just three appearances last year due to injury, fifth-year senior starting pitcher Justin Dillon returns for his final season and will get the ball in Sacramento State's season opener. In limited action Dillon allowed just three hits in 5.2 innings for a .150 opposing batting average last season after picking up ten wins over his freshman and sophomore seasons. A 39th round MLB Draft selection out of high school, Dillon missed the 2013 season due to injury as well but has been among the team's top starters throughout his career when healthy.
21 Nights, 31 Dates
In their first full season under the lights at John Smith Field the Hornets have 31 home games scheduled with 21 night games. After the first home night game in program history last May 17, the Hornets played two more night games during the final weekend of the 2016 regular season. In the 21 games under the lights in 2017 the start times will be 6 p.m. while the 10 home day games will primarily come on the finale of each home series.
Senior Max Karnos was one of the best starters in the WAC last season and earned all-WAC second team honors in his first year as a Hornet. Over his last three regular season starts last year (all wins) Karnos allowed just three earned runs for a 1.17 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP, and a .187 opposing batting average. He finished 7-3 last year with a 3.38 ERA, fifth best in the WAC. Karnos was especially effective in conference as he had the best ERA among all starting pitchers in WAC play going 6-2 with a 2.27 ERA in nine WAC starts. He allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven of his nine WAC starts.
The Sacramento State baseball program had one of the best players in program history return as a coach this season. All-American Tim Wheeler, who is the only first round draft pick in program history and played seven seasons of professional baseball with four at Triple-A, joined the coaching staff as an undergraduate assistant for the 2017 season. The Hornets also brought back assistant coach Tommy Nicholson, who returns for his second stint on the coaching staff and his third overall season in Sacramento after coaching the last four seasons at Texas.
Big Bats Back
The Hornets return three players that hit better than .285 last season. Senior Kody Reynolds hit .295 with 14 multi-hit games in his first season as a Hornet and sophomore Matt Smith hit .289, opening his collegiate career on a 16-game hitting streak during which he hit .421. Junior Andrew McWilliam hit .286 last year and is the team's top returning player with six home runs, 36 RBIs, and 32 runs scored with a .447 slugging percentage last year.
Happy at Home
The Hornets have had winning home records in four straight seasons and are 63-28 at home over the last three years. Due to weather and field conditions just one of Sacramento State's first 14 games last season was played on their primary home ballpark, John Smith Field. The team has had at least 16 home wins in five straight seasons.
California is among the strongest states in the nation for Div. I baseball, and over the last five years the Hornets rank among the best teams in the state. Among 24 Division-I baseball teams in California, the Hornets have recorded the 7th most wins over the last five years. The team has won 168 total games since 2012, more than several perennial postseason qualifiers including Pepperdine, Stanford, Long Beach State, Cal, USC, and Fresno State.
Playing the World
Former Hornet shortstop Scotty Burcham is on the roster for team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. In September Burcham, who plays in the Colorado Rockies organization, helped Israel win a WBC qualifying tournament in Brooklyn, starting at shortstop in each of Israel's three games and hitting 5-for-11 (.455) with a double and three runs scored. Israel will play in WBC pool B in Seoul beginning March 7 against host South Korea, Chinese Taipei and The Netherlands.
Five Times Thirty
In 2016 Sacramento State recorded its fifth consecutive thirty-win season, 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 five years.
19 and Counting
Junior Andrew McWilliam reached base in 19 consecutive games to end the 2016 season, the longest such streak by a Hornet last season. He hit .316 during the stretch with a .500 slugging percentage and nine extra-base hits.
Sacramento State was picked to finish third in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) in the Coaches Poll. The Hornets earned two first place votes and 47 total points. Defending regular season WAC champion Seattle U was picked to win the league with 60 points and four first place votes and New Mexico State earned 52 points to finish ahead of the Hornets, though it received only one first place vote.
In January head Coach Reggie Christiansen and the Sacramento State baseball team signed 6-year-old Yeshua "Rock" Thrower. Yeshua, who was diagnosed in 2014 with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), came to the Hornets through Team Impact, a nonprofit whose mission is to improve the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses through the power of team. Rock spent time with the team last season and this fall and officially became a member of the program in front of family, Sacramento State players and staff, and local media at a press conference on January 17.
In July the Hornets received the Team Academic Excellence Award from the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA). To be eligible for the award, a program must have posted a GPA of 3.0 or better during the 2015-16 academic year. 2016 was the first year of the award, and Sacramento State was one of just 29 NCAA Div. I baseball teams to receive the honor. In addition, the baseball squad has been the recipient of the Sacramento State Men's Academic Team of the Year Award three consecutive years. The team had 11 players selected Academic all-WAC following the 2016 season.
A near capacity crowd was on hand for Sacramento State's first ever night game under the new lights at John Smith Field last May 17. Coach Reggie Christiansen and former coaches John Smith and Cal Boyes ceremonially turned on the lights for the first time before Sacramento State President Robert Nelsen threw out the first pitch to former Hornet catcher and 2014 team captain Dane Fujinaka. In the first night game in the 63-year history of the field, which opened in 1953, the crowd watched as the sun set and the lights took full effect for the first time around 8:30 p.m.
The 2017 Sacramento State roster features 27 players from the state of California. Among the group are 15 players from the Greater Sacramento area. The team has just two series against other California schools this season (CSU Bakersfield and San Diego) but plays mid-week games against UC Davis, Fresno State, San Francisco, and Pacific. The team's first 23 games this season will be against schools from outside California before hosting Pacific on March 28.
Locked Him Up
Sacramento State and head baseball coach Reggie Christiansen agreed to a contract extension last July that will keep him in the Hornet program through the 2021 season. A two-time Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Coach of the Year, Christiansen has led the Hornets to five straight 30-win seasons and took the program to two WAC titles and its first Div. I NCAA Regional in 2014.
The 2016 Hornet pitching staff ranked second in the WAC in ERA, WHIP, and opposing batting average and issued the third fewest walks. Sacramento State pitchers hit the fewest batters in the league and allowed just over three walks per nine innings. The staff put together a sparkling 3.27 ERA in WAC play.
Sacramento State led the WAC and was 68th in the nation with 70 stolen bases last year. The Hornets had at least one steal in 36 games last year with multiple steals in 15. The teams top-four stolen base leaders from last year all return as Trent Goodrich led the way with 11 steals while Andrew McWilliam had 11 and Bronson Grubbs and Brandon Hunley totaled nine apiece.