SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Sophomore Caitlin Brooks threw a two-hit shutout with no walks and a career-high 12 strikeouts to lead Sacramento State to a 2-0 victory over Idaho State in the first game of a Big Sky Conference softball doubleheader Saturday afternoon at Shea Stadium. Idaho State scored seven unearned runs in the nightcap to defeat the Hornets, 11-6.
These same two teams will meet tomorrow in the final game of the series at noon. The game will also mark the finale of the regular season for both teams, and the game is a big one in magnitude. Should Idaho State (27-21, 13-4) win tomorrow's game, it would assume the No. 1 seed and host next week's Big Sky Tournament (May 9-11). If Sacramento State (22-19, 7-7) wins, then Portland State will assume the No. 1 seed and host the tournament.
The tournament field is already set as the top two seeds, between Idaho State and Portland State, remain unsettled. Southern Utah will be the No. 3 seed and Sacramento State the 4 seed. The Hornets will open the double-elimination tournament on Thursday, May 9, against the No. 1 seed. The top four teams in the seven-member league qualified for the event as Northern Colorado, Weber State and North Dakota's seasons all came to an end today.
Brooks was nearly flawless in the opener as the only two hits she allowed were a ball lost in the sun in the fourth inning, and a bad-hop single in the sixth inning. She threw just 103 pitches, a relatively low number considering she struck out 12 batters. In fact, the right-hander struck out seven of the first nine batters she faced, while also working out of a first and third with one out situation in the fourth inning after a Hornet error and a pop-up lost in the sun.
Brooks faced just five batters over the minimum, and improved to 14-5 this season while lowering her ERA to a miniscule 1.33. Opponents are hitting just .155 against Brook this season, and she also improved to 6-1 with a 1.43 ERA against conference opposition. In 21 starts this year, she now has 17 complete games, eight shutouts, has allowed three hits or less 11 times, and has posted double figures in strikeouts on five occasions. In addition, she has a robust 4.6-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (143 strikeouts, 31 walks). She entered the game ninth in the nation in hits allowed per seven innings (3.9), and that number got even better after today's effort.
The Hornets provided Brooks all the run support she would need in the first inning after Kortney Solis' two-out single drove home Kelli Frye from second base. Sacramento State would tack on one more run in the sixth inning after Kayla Papez went the opposite way on an 0-2 pitch to right field which drove home Paige Martin from second base.
Sacramento State had at least one hit in every inning of the game, but pushed across just the two runs. Idaho State's Kelsi Ott (8-5) got the loss, allowing six hits and one run in 4.1 innings. Amanda Fitzsimmons worked the final 1.2 innings in relief.
Five of the Hornets' first six hitters in the batting order had at least one hit, including Papez who went 2-for-3 with an RBI. Papez would later get a hit and an RBI in her only at-bat of the nightcap as well.
In a game where Sacramento State's pitching wasn't nearly as bad as the final score indicated, Idaho State took advantage of three crucial Hornet errors to score seven unearned runs in an eventual 11-6 win. The game lasted two hours and 46 minutes, by far the longest this season for Sacramento State in a seven-inning game.
Things got off to a bad start in the first inning after a Hornet error followed by a mental error on the very next play opened up the flood gates. In fact, what should have been a 1-2-3 inning for Sacramento State starter Jennifer Hartman turned into five runs, capped off by a grand slam with two outs from Katee Wiley. Hartman was replaced by reliever Kaitlyn Yerby, who worked the final 6.1 innings.
Idaho State scored in every inning but the fourth and fifth, as both runs in the third inning were unearned. In fact, the only runs the Bengals truly earned came on single runs in the second and seventh innings, and two in the sixth. Sacramento State scored six runs, but had ample opportunities to score more as the team stranded 11 runners on base. Conversely, Idaho State left just five runners on base.
The Hornets stranded the bases loaded in the second and seventh innings. Sacramento State had at least one hit in every inning, and finished the doubleheader with at least one hit in all 14 innings played. The Hornets scored once in the third inning, three times in the fifth, and once more in the sixth and seventh, but never got closer than within four runs of ISU's lead the entire game.
A total of 13 non-pitchers played in the game for Sacramento State, and eight of those players recorded hits, including T.J. Watts who had a three-run double in the fifth. Alexa Chattleton reached base safely in all four plate appearances, going 2-for-2 with two walks and an RBI while Frye added two hits as well.
Hartman (4-4) got the loss, allowing two hits and five unearned runs in two-thirds of an inning. Yerby allowed 10 hits and six runs (four earned) in 6.1 innings. Fitzsimmons (12-12) got the win for Idaho State after working the first five innings.