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Big Sky Conference standings

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Sacramento State (22-19, 10-4) embarks upon its final games of the regular season as the Hornets will travel to Ogden, Utah, to take on Weber State in a Big Sky Conference three-game series on Friday and Saturday. The Hornets and Wildcats will play a doubleheader on Friday at 1 p.m. PDT, and a single game on Saturday at 11 a.m. PDT.

There is much at stake for the Hornets as they have a legitimate chance to win the Big Sky's regular season title, and host the conference's postseason tournament on May 8-10. The top four teams in the seven-member league qualify for the Big Sky Championship, and Sacramento State is the only team in the league that has clinched a berth.

The top four teams in the Big Sky have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, comprised of Southern Utah (9-2), Idaho State (9-3), Sacramento State (10-4) and Northern Colorado (6-6). Realistically, its now a three-team race to win the conference's regular season title as Southern Utah, Idaho State and Sacramento State are all within a half game of each other in the conference standings.

Sacramento State has just three conference games remaining while both Southern Utah and Idaho State have six games left. The Hornets receive a bye during the final week of the regular season (April 28-May 4).

This much is known about the Hornets' chances of winning a regular season title -- Sacramento State will likely need to sweep Weber State, and see Idaho State and Southern Utah lose at least two of their remaining six games. Helping the Hornets' cause is Southern Utah will play three games this weekend at Idaho State, assuring that those two squads will combine for three losses.

Below is the remaining schedule for each of the top four teams in the conference.

SOUTHERN UTAH:  3 at Idaho State; 3 at Northern Colorado

SACRAMENTO STATE:  3 at Weber State

IDAHO STATE:  3 vs. Southern Utah; 3 at North Dakota

NORTHERN COLORADO:  3 vs. North Dakota; 3 vs. Southern Utah

Sacramento State and Weber State (20-21, 2-7) have played each other just four times, with the Hornets owning a 3-1 advantage. Weber State restarted its softball program in 2010, after dropping the sport in 1983. All four meetings between the two teams have come at Shea Stadium with the Hornets beating the Wildcats at the 2011 Capital Classic before taking two of three from them last season.

During last year's three-game series, Weber State picked up its lone win in a 15-inning marathon the Wildcats eventually won, 6-4. That 15-inning game was the longest in Sacramento State history and stretched over two days. The game was halted in the middle of the 15th inning on a Friday because of darkness before the bottom half of the inning was played the next day.

Weber State entered conference play as one of the top teams in the Big Sky, but the Wildcats have struggled against league opposition. In fact, Weber was 17-10 entering its first conference series of the season at Southern Utah on March 21. Since that point, however, the Wildcats are 3-11, which includes a 2-7 mark in the Big Sky.

Game/Series Info vs. Weber State (20-21, 2-7)
Friday, April 25, at 1 p.m. PDT (Doubleheader); Saturday, April 26, at 11 a.m. PDT (Single Game)
Ogden, Utah - Wildcat Softball Complex
Coverage: Live Video, Live Stats
Series Record: Sacramento State Leads, 3-1
Current Streak: Sacramento State has won 1
Last Meeting: W, 7-0, in Sacramento (4/13/13)


Over the last 20 games, Sacramento State is 14-6 after going just 8-13 during the first 21 games of the season. Over that 20-game stretch, the Hornets are outscoring the opposition by nearly two runs per game (95-58) and are hitting .331 with 25 doubles, five triples, seven home runs and a .394 on-base percentage. In the circle, the Hornets' pitching staff has yielded just a 2.29 ERA while holding the opposition to a .244 batting average. Three of the team's four pitchers on the staff have sub-2.00 ERAs during the 20-game stretch.

Sacramento State's pitching rotation has a 2.76 ERA, easily the top mark in the Big Sky, and 70th best in the nation among the 350 Div. I squads. The Hornets also lead the conference in opponents batting average (.253) and fewest home runs allowed (13). Sacramento State's 1-2 combination of Caitlin Brooks and Taylor Stroud own two of the top three ERA marks in the conference. Brooks is first with a 1.46 ERA, and Stroud is third at 3.31. Brooks' 1.46 ERA is the 26th best mark in the nation.

Entering the Weber State series, Sacramento State has seven players in the normal lineup batting .299 or better, and four of those players are hitting at least .330. The seven players are comprised of Sasha Margulies (.372), Paige Castro (.333), Kortney Solis (.331), Paige Martin (.330), Alexis Martinez (.324), Nikki Gialketsis (.306) and Nicole Clark (.299). In conference play, each of those seven players are hitting at least .333, led by Solis (.422), Margulies (.421), Martinez (.395) and Martin (.395).

After missing a month because of injury, junior right-hander Caitlin Brooks made her return three weeks ago and has pitched in five games since rejoining the rotation. Despite the rust from the long layoff, Brooks has gone 4-1 with a 1.70 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 33.0 innings since returning from injury. She was named the Big Sky's Pitcher of the Week on Monday after picking up two wins in the series against Portland State last weekend. On Friday against the Vikings, she carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning before giving up a one-out single, and on Saturday, she took a perfect game into the fifth inning before allowing a one-out single. Overall, she is now 8-5 with a 1.46 ERA and opponents are hitting just .213. Her 1.46 ERA easily lead the conference, and is the 26th best mark in the nation. The right-hander has now gone the distance in 12 of her 13 starts, including a pair of shutouts.

Right-hander Taylor Stroud, who has moved into the team's No. 2 spot in the rotation behind Caitlin Brooks, has been very good of late. She has allowed one earned run or less in five of her last six appearances, including a six-hit shutout of Portland State last Friday. Over those six appearances, she is 3-1 with a 1.45 ERA, and her only blemish during that span was allowing five earned runs to Idaho State in six innings. In conference play, she is now 3-1 and leads the conference with a 1.45 ERA. The fourth-year senior and team captain now ranks among the top seven players in Sacramento State's Div. I era record book in wins (32), complete games (39) and innings pitched (425.0). She also has a career ERA of 2.65 to go along with 231 strikeouts.

Right fielder Paige Martin has been hit by at least one pitch in 12 of the last 16 games. She has been plunked 25 times this year, and gets hit an average of 0.61 times per game, marks which rank tied for third, and tied for second in the nation, respectively. Martin, who wears pitches with a higher frequency than other player in school history, also has 11 walks this season. The 25 plunkings and 11 walks have contributed to a team-high .500 on-base percentage, which is the second best mark in the Big Sky. Prior to this year, the Div. I era single-season record for most hit-by-pitches was Nicole Deatherage, who was plunked 11 times in 2003. Martin has more than doubled that amount this year.

The Hornets' Nos. 3 and 4 hitters Kortney Solis and Sasha Margulies have feasted on conference pitching this season. Solis is batting .422 with a .471 on-base percentage and Margulies is hitting .421 with a .542 on-base percentage. The two have combined for nine of the team's 21 doubles, and 20 of the team's 69 RBIs during conference play. They are also owners of two of the longest Hornet hitting streaks of the season as Margulies had an 11-gamer earlier this year, and Solis had an eight-game streak end after going 0-for-3 against Cal on Wednesday.

Freshman Alexis Martinez is currently riding an eight-game hitting streak, and over that stretch, is batting .375 (9-for-24) with two home runs, 10 RBIs and a .625 slugging percentage. She is hitting .417 (5-for-12) with runners in scoring position, and six of those 10 RBIs during the run have come with two outs in the inning. Amazingly, Martinez is an 0-for-3 against Northern Colorado shy of currently having a 15-game streak. She hit safely in six straight games from March 21-April 4, then went 0-for-3 on the road against the Bears, and then started the current eight-game streak in the Hornets' next contest.

Sacramento State is now batting .285 (111-for-390) with runners in scoring position. Five regulars are hitting better than .357 with runners in scoring position, comprised of Kortney Solis (.395), Nikki Gialketsis (.381), Sasha Margulies (.370), Alexis Martinez (.360) and Nicole Clark (.357).

Sacramento State is 18-1 when leading after four innings, and 1-15 when trailing after the fourth…the team is 19-5 when scoring first, and 3-14 when the opponent scores first…the Hornets continue to get amazing offensive production in the second and fourth innings, averaging 1.0 run per game in the second, and 0.83 runs in the fourth…Kortney Solis has multiple-hit games in seven of her last 13 games, lifting her batting average 35 percentage points to its current mark of .331…shortstop Paige Castro, who is second on the team with a .333 batting average has recorded either a hit (39) or strikeout (31) in 70 of her 117 at-bats…the Hornets already have three more conference wins than they finished with last season 7-8…Sacramento State is 3-for-26 (.115) in pinch hitting situations this year, and opponents are hitting nearly as bad in the pinch (4-for-31, .129)…there is a strong chance of rain in the Ogden, Utah, area on Saturday, putting into question whether the Hornets and Wildcats will be able to play all three games of the series.

February 5, 2014 2014 SOFTBALL SEASON OUTLOOK