SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Sacramento State softball squad (19-18, 7-4) will embark upon its final regular season home games this week against Portland State.
The Hornets and Vikings will play a three-game Big Sky Conference series that features a doubleheader on Friday at noon, followed by a single game on Saturday at noon. Prior to Saturday's game, Hornet seniors Yesenia Alcala, Paris Prado and Taylor Stroud, as well as junior Paige Castro will be honored for their contributions to the program.
The Hornets have just six conference games remaining, and are one of four teams in the seven-member league that have a legitimate chance of winning the Big Sky's regular season title and hosting the Big Sky Championship on May 8-10. The top four teams in the league qualify for the postseason event, and those four squads are currently within a half game of one another.
Southern Utah, which was idle last weekend, leads the league with a 6-2 record, followed by three teams locked in a virtual tie for second, including the Hornets (7-4), Idaho State (6-3) and Northern Colorado (6-3). Sacramento State will play three times this week, three more at Weber State next week, and will get a bye during the final week of the Big Sky's regular season.
Below is a look at the remaining schedules of the four teams battling for the league's regular season title. Each series is a three-game set.
IDAHO STATE: 3 vs. Northern Colorado; 3 vs. Southern Utah; 3 at Idaho State
NORTHERN COLORADO: 3 at Idaho State; 3 vs. North Dakota; 3 vs. Southern Utah
SACRAMENTO STATE: 3 vs. Portland State; 3 at Weber State
SOUTHERN UTAH: 3 vs. North Dakota; 3 at Idaho State; 3 at Northern Colorado
The Hornets lost two of three games at Idaho State last weekend, and both those losses came in heartbreaking fashion. After beating the Bengals in the first game, 9-3, Sacramento State blew a 5-1 lead in the fifth inning to lose game 2 by a 6-5 score, and blew a 2-1 lead in the 6th to fall in game 3 by a 3-2 score.
The Hornets have still won 11 of their last 16 games, and three of those five losses have come by two runs or less. Sacramento State will carry an 8-3 home record into Friday's doubleheader, and all 11 of those games came during a homestand which lasted from March 15-28. Friday will mark the team's first home game since beating Southern Utah, 6-3, in the second game of a doubleheader on March 28. One of the games during that series was rained out and will not made up.
The Hornets and Portland State have developed a friendly rivalry over the years that began in 1979. The Hornets are 37-20 all-time against the Vikings, including a 28-7 record when playing in Sacramento. This week will mark the first time the two teams have played in Sacramento since the 2008 season.
The Vikings, who won last year's Big Sky Championship and received the league's automatic berth into the NCAA Regionals, are currently 7-28 overall and 2-9 in the Big Sky. The team lost four starters and two pitchers from a year ago, and is under the direction of first-year head coach Barb Sherwood.
Game/Series Info vs. Portland State (7-28, 2-9)
Friday, April 18, at noon (Doubleheader); Saturday, April 19, at noon (Single Game)
Sacramento, Calif. - Shea Stadium
Coverage: Live Stats, Live Audio
Series Record: Sacramento State Leads, 37-20
Current Streak: Portland State has won 1
Last Meeting: L, 6-5, in 9 innings in Portland (4/27/13)
11-5 OVER THE LAST 16 GAMES
Over the last 16 games, Sacramento State is 11-5 after going just 8-13 during the first 21 games of the season. Over that 16-game stretch, the Hornets are outscoring the opposition by 2.4 runs per game (84-46) and are hitting .332 with 22 doubles, three triples, five home runs and a .404 on-base percentage. In the circle, the Hornets' pitching staff has yielded just a 2.27 ERA while holding the opposition to a .252 batting average. All three pitchers on the staff have sub-3.00 ERAs during the 16-game stretch.
PITCHING RICH SQUAD
Sacramento State's pitching rotation has a 2.80 ERA, easily the top mark in the Big Sky, and 68th best in the nation among the 350 Div. I squads. The Hornets also lead the conference in opponents batting average (.258) and fewest home runs allowed (12). Amazingly, Sacramento State's pitching staff accounts for four of the top six individual ERA's in the conference, including Caitlin Brooks (1st, 1.55), Kaitlyn Yerby (3rd, 2.46), Jennifer Hartman (4th, 3.56) and Taylor Stroud (6th, 3.66). Brooks' 1.55 ERA is the 35th best mark in the nation.
DRAMATIC TURN FOR THE OFFENSE
Through the first 25 games of the season, in which the Hornets went 11-14, the team's offense was averaging just 2.96 runs per game while hitting .248 with 60 RBIs. Only two players were hitting better than .300, and no one was above .313. However, over the last 12 games, in which the team is 8-4, Sacramento State is batting .365 with 65 RBIs and producing an average of 6.25 runs per contest. Seven of the team's nine regulars in the lineup are hitting better than .350 over that stretch, and four are hitting at least .395. That includes Sasha Margulies (.500), Paige Martin (.400), Alexis Martinez (.395) and Nicole Clark (.395).
BROOKS IS BACK
After missing a month because of injury, junior right-hander Caitlin Brooks made her return two weeks ago and has pitched in three games since rejoining the rotation. Despite the rust from the long layoff, Brooks has gone 2-1 with a 2.21 ERA in her three appearance since returning from injury. That includes throwing a combined 256 pitches on back-to-back days last week at Idaho State. Overall this season, she is 6-5 with a 1.55 ERA and opponents are batting just .230. Her 1.55 ERA easily leads the conference, and is the 35th best mark in the nation. The right-hander has gone the distance in 10 of her 11 starts which includes a pair of shutouts.
Sacramento State has 52 doubles this year, which is the second best mark in the Big Sky and 62nd best in the nation. Nearly 20 percent of the team's hits are doubles, and the team has combined for 15 two-baggers over the last seven games. Four Hornets have at least six doubles this year, comprised of Alexa Chattleton (9), Sasha Margulies (8), Kortney Solis (7) and Paige Martin (6).
TAKING 23 FOR THE TEAM
Right fielder Paige Martin has been hit by at least one pitch in 10 of the last 12 games. She has been plunked 23 times this year, and gets hit an average of 0.61 times per game, marks which rank third and second in the nation, respectively. Martin, who would rather wear a pitch on her person than dive out of the way of an oncoming pitch, also has 10 walks this season. The 23 plunkings and 10 walks have contributed to a team-best .488 on-base percentage, which is the second best mark in the Big Sky.
MARGULIES MASHING IN CONFERENCE PLAY
Despite going 2-for-11 in last weekend's series against Idaho State, Sasha Margulies has worn out Big Sky Conference pitching this season. In conference play, she is batting .433 with a .564 on-base percentage, marks which rank fifth and third in the Big Sky, respectively. In fact, she ranks among the league's top five players in four different categories, including tied for second in RBIs (10) and tied for fifth in runs scored (9). The transfer from Ball State has scored at least one run in four straight, and eight of the last 10 games.
CLARK'S HITTING STREAK
Outfielder Nicole Clark is currently riding a career-high eight-game hitting streak, which matches the second longest by a Hornet this season. During the eight-game ride, she is batting .370 (10-for-27) with two stolen bases and a .393 on-base percentage. Four Hornets have tallied hitting streaks of at least eight games this year, including Sasha Margulies (11), Nikki Gialketsis (8) and Alexa Chattleton (8).
LINEUP CONSISTENCY PAYING OFF
Head coach Lori Perez has used the same starting lineup each of the last 12 games, consisting of Alexa Chattleton in the leadoff spot followed by Paige Martin, Kortney Solis, Sasha Margulies at cleanup, Alexis Martinez, Paige Castro, Yesenia Alcala, Nikki Gialketsis and Nicole Clark. The lineup has been potent over that 12-game span, going 8-4. In addition, seven of those nine players are hitting better than .350 in conference play. The only players batting below .350 are hitting for a respectable average, including Chattleton (.282) and Alcala (.267). Amazingly, three Hornets are hitting at least .400 in league play, comprised of Margulies (.433), Clark (.412) and Martinez (.400).
PRODUCING IN THE CLUTCH
The Hornets have upped their team batting average with runners in scoring position to season-high .293 (107-for-365). Five regulars are hitting better than .345 with runners in scoring position, including Sasha Margulies (.390), Kortney Solis (.389), Nicole Clark (.385), Nikki Gialketsis (.381) and Alexis Martinez (.348).
Sacramento State had been 15-0 when leading after four innings until Friday's 6-5 loss to Idaho State in which the Hornets squandered a 5-1 lead in the fifth inning…the team is 16-5 when scoring first, and 3-13 when the opponent scores first…Sacramento State has scored 38 runs in the second inning and 33 more in the fourth, and the team's 71 combined runs during those two innings make up nearly half the overall total of 149 runs scored…catcher Kortney Solis is currently riding a five-game hitting streak and is batting .389 (7-for-18) with two doubles and a .421 on-base percentage over that span…the Hornets had been successful on nine straight steal attempts until Alexa Chattleton was caught stealing against Idaho State last Friday…still, the team has stolen bases at a 88.9 percent success rate this year (24-for-27)…the Hornets have gone five straight games without laying down a sacrifice bunt and have sacrificed just 14 times all season…should the Hornets win one game this week, it would mark Sacramento State's 12th consecutive season with at least 20 overall victories.