Big Sky Conference standings

SACRAMENTO -- Right-hander Celina Matthias threw seven strong innings, and Suzy Brookshire connected on her 14th home run of the season to help lead Sacramento State to a 4-1 victory over North Dakota in the rubber game of a three-game Big Sky Conference series at Shea Stadium.

Today was also Senior Day as fourth-year seniors Celina Matthias, Zamari Hinton and Marissa Maligad were honored prior to the game for their contributions to the program. Fitting that it was Senior Day as all three had roles in today's win, including Matthias who notched her 17th win and 19th complete game after throwing seven strong innings. Hinton was 2-for-3 with a run scored, and Maligad was 1-for-2.

The victory allowed the Hornets (27-16, 12-6) to take two of three games from North Dakota (22-24, 8-7) as the two teams split a doubleheader yesterday. More importantly, today's win moved Sacramento State into a first-place tie in the Big Sky standings with Weber State. Only three conference games are left in the regular season as the Hornets travel to Montana next week, and Weber State hosts Northern Colorado. The winner of this year's regular season championship will host next season's Big Sky Tournament. Weber State will host this year's postseason event (May 10-12) after winning last year's regular season title.

Should the two teams finish tied atop the conference standings, Sacramento State would get the tiebreaker based on taking two of three over Weber State in Ogden earlier this year. Currently, the closest teams in the standings to the Hornets and Wildcats are North Dakota and Portland State (9-8) who both sit a game above .500 in conference play.

"At this point in the season, every win is extremely important," Sacramento State head coach Lori Perez said. "We are in the hunt to win the regular season championship and we needed to take care of business today. Now, we need to go to Montana next week and continue to play well, and hopefully come out of there with a conference title.

Stellar pitching was a common theme throughout the series, as Sacramento State's Matthias and Savanna Corr combined to limit North Dakota to a .147 batting average over three games. That includes the Fighting Hawks accumulating just 11 hits and four runs with 20 strikeouts in 21 innings. Matthias, who pitched in all three games, finished the series with a 0.88 ERA and a .125 opponents batting average.

Sacramento State never trailed in today's game, scoring once in the first inning, and three more in the third. The Hornets got on the board early, as Brookshire crushed a 2-2 Kaylin VanDomelen offering over the left field fence for a solo home run. The homer was Brookshire's 14th of the season, and she has now homered in three of the last four games. Brookshire set the school record with 15 bombs a year ago, and she may break her own record this season at her current pace.

North Dakota tied the game at 1-1 in the top of the third inning, but Sacramento State immediately bounced back with three runs in the bottom half of the inning. All three runs were scored with two outs, as Brookshire's single up the middle allowed Nene Alas to score and give the Hornets a 2-1 lead. Later in the inning, with Hinton at third and Brookshire at second, VanDomelen uncorked a wild pitch allowing Hinton to score. On the same play, UND catcher Alicia Young threw wildly to home trying to nab Hinton, and that allowed Brookshire to come all the way around from second base to score as well.

North Dakota had just three hits during the final four innings against Matthias. Over those final four innings, the Fighting Hawks' best scoring chance came in the sixth when they got runners to first and second with one out, but Matthias got pinch hitter Michaela Zins to pop out.

"Our hitters did a nice job with today's game plan and execution," Perez said. "Suzy (Brookshire) had a big day, obviously with the home run and then coming through with a big two-out hit. Celina (Matthias) was incredible on the mound again today in terms of executing her pitches and keeping North Dakota guessing. Defensively, we were sound as well. I thought we did a nice job with all three facets of the game today."

Matthias (17-7, 2.00 ERA) needed 110 pitches to earn the complete game victory. She allowed five hits (four singles, one double) while walking three and striking out four batters). VanDomelen (10-13), who shut out the Hornets yesterday, was the losing pitcher after allowing seven hits and four runs (two earned) with no walks and four strikeouts over six innings.

Brookshire finished 2-for-3 with two runs, a homer and two RBIs. Alas was 1-for-3 with a run scored and Sydney Rasmussen went 1-for-3.

Sacramento State will play its final non-conference game on Wednesday at Cal at 3:30 p.m. before the three-game series at Montana on Friday and Saturday. The Hornets and Grizzlies will play a doubleheader on Friday at 2 p.m. PDT, followed by a single game on Saturday at noon PDT.