SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Sacramento State (22-14, 10-2 WAC) looks to bounce back from its first conference series loss of the year and maintain its place atop the WAC standings in a three game home series vs. Utah Valley (14-20, 7-5 WAC). Game times are 3 p.m. Thursday, 3 p.m. Friday, and 2 p.m. Saturday at John Smith Field.
The First Pitch
Sacramento State is averaging 8.0 runs per game in its 10-2 start in WAC play, hitting .332 with 14 homers, and its pitchers have a 2.61 ERA allowing 2.8 runs per game...Hornet Junior Rhys Hoskins leads the WAC in home runs (7), RBIs (33), and slugging percentage (.636) and junior reliever Alex Palsha leads the conference with a 1.49 ERA...Sacramento State's 12-game winning streak, which came to an end last Tuesday at Pacific, was the second longest in program history, just shy of a 16-game streak in 1992...Five of the Hornets last 11 games have not gone nine innings, with the team playing three extra-inning games, including 14 and 15-inning contests, and recording two 7-inning wins...In its first year in the WAC Utah Valley is tied for fifth in the league at 7-5. The Hornets are hosting the Wolverines for the second consecutive year after taking 2-of-3 games in 2013.
SAC - Brennan Leitao (Jr./RHP, 4-3, 2.95 ERA)
UVU - Andrew Freter (Sr./RHP, 2-5, 4.19 ERA)
SAC - Sam Long (Fr./LHP, 4-0, 2.49 ERA)
UVU - Ryan Evans (Sr./RHP, 2-3, 4.57 ERA)
SAC - Justin Dillon (RFr./RHP, 1-0, 4.30 ERA)
UVU - Danny Beddes (So./RHP, 2-3, 4.15 ERA)
Despite a pair of WAC losses over the weekend, Sacramento State still leads the league with a 10-2 conference mark. Five of the 10 wins have been by seven runs or more, including three games that ended after the seventh inning due to the 10-run mercy rule. So far in WAC play the Hornets are hitting a robust .332 with 14 home runs and 91 RBIs, averaging 8.0 runs per game with a .490 slugging percentage and .411 on-base percentage. Six Hornet starters are hitting .300 or better in conference games with three players hitting better than .400, led by a .489 average with 24 RBIs, a .979 slugging percentage, and a .559 on-base percentage from Rhys Hoskins. Hornet pitchers have a 2.61 ERA in conference play with a .231 opponent batting average. Friday and Saturday starters Brennan Leitao and Sam Long are a combined 5-0 in the WAC as the staff as a whole is allowing just 2.8 runs per game in conference play.
Scouting Utah Valley (14-20, 7-5 WAC)
Utah Valley had a six-game winning streak, including five straight WAC victories, before losing 2-of-3 games at Texas-Pan American last weekend. The Wolverines have won WAC series at Bakersfield and at home against Chicago State and is 4-5 at home and 10-15 on the road. Utah Valley ranks second in the WAC with 58 doubles and is second in hit by pitches but is second to last in the league in fielding percentage (.953) and strikeouts per nine innings (4.4). Outfielders Craig Brinkerhoff and Shawn Moysh are both hitting .286 to lead the team with Brinkerhoff leading with four home runs and sophomore Mark Krueger with a team-best 22 RBIs. Utah Valley's weekend starting rotation all have ERAs at 4.15 or higher and all three have just two wins this season. Sacramento State has a 13-9 all-time advantage against Utah Valley but the teams have split the last six meetings over the last two years with both teams winning 2-of-3 at home.
Not Going Nine
The standard length for a baseball game is nine innings, but over the last two and a half weeks that has not been the case for the Hornets. Over its last 11 games Sacramento State has only played five nine-inning contests, playing three extra-inning games and winning two games after seven innings via the 10-run mercy rule. Eight Sacramento State games this season have not finished in nine innings, while the team is 3-2 in extra innings and has three seven-inning wins.
Junior Alex Palsha leads the WAC and is tied for eighth in the NCAA with 22 appearances and ranks 12th in the nation with just 4.71 hits allowed per nine innings. He has a WAC-best 1.49 ERA this season, pitching in a variety of mid to late-game situations and being mostly unhittable. He is 4-0 and has two saves over 36.1 innings of relief, allowing just 19 hits and six earned runs this season with a .158 opponent batting average. The team has not played more than two consecutive contests without Palsha taking the mound and he has thrown as many as three innings on two occasions. In WAC play he has allowed just two earned runs and five hits in 13.1 innings, holding hitters to a .111 average.
Senior David Del Grande was hit by a pitch twice last weekend to equal and then break the program record for career hit by pitches. He was plunked for the 39th time in his career in the ninth inning on Saturday and earned his record-breaking 40th hit by pitch in the ninth inning on Sunday, surpassing the previous record held by David Flores. He was hit just four times as a freshman but 16 times as a sophomore and had 13 more in his junior season.
Sacramento State's 12-game winning streak, which was the second longest in program history, came to a close with a 9-8 loss in 14 innings at Pacific last Tuesday. The streak was just four wins shy of the program record 16-game winning streak record during the 1992 season, and it was the longest active streak in NCAA Div. I after it reached 12 games. During the streak the Hornets hit .327 with 14 home runs and averaged 8.5 runs per game. The Hornet pitchers combined for a 1.83 ERA while holding opponents to a .204 batting average and just 2.2 runs per game, while defensively the team had a .978 fielding percentage. Four Hornets hit better than .350 during the streak, led by a .458 average (22-for-48) and 22 RBIs from junior Rhys Hoskins.
Junior first baseman Rhys Hoskins leads the WAC in home runs (7), RBIs (33), and slugging percentage (.636) and is second in the conference in batting average (.364) and doubles (11). He has reached base in 25 consecutive games, has 11 multi-hit and 10 multi-RBI games this season, and is hitting .489 with five home runs and 24 RBIs in the WAC, driving in 2.0 runs per game in conference play.
Lets Play 15 (and then14)
In a span of three games Sacramento State played two of its three longest games in program history, combining for 29 innings in those game and 38 total innings over a three-game stretch. Sacramento State played its longest game in program history on April 5, beating Seattle U 4-3 in 15 innings, then played a 14-inning contest just three days later at Pacific. The Seattle U game was one inning longer than the previous team record long game of 14 innings played against UT- San Antonio last season at the WAC Tournament. Neither team scored a run over nine full innings of play until a walk-off RBI single from Brandon Hunley, and the Hornets went 10 innings between scoring runs. Offense was more prevalent in Pacific's 9-8 win in 14 innings the following Tuesday, with the home team winning on a walk-off homer leading off the 14th.
Top of the Order
Sophomore Nathan Lukes is currently riding a career-best 16-game hitting streak, the longest by any WAC player this season, and has a hit in 32 of 36 games played this season. He has started in right field in every game this season, primarily hitting leadoff, and is hitting .336 with a .429 on-base percentage. He leads the team in hits (50), runs (36), and walks (24) and also has 14 RBIs, six doubles, and six stolen bases.
Delivering in the Clutch
As a team Sacramento State is hitting .311 this season with runners in scoring position. David Del Grande is 19-for-42 (.452) with men in scoring position, Rhys Hoskins is hitting .357, and senior Will Soto (.326) and freshman Brandon Hunley (.327) have also been clutch in those spots. Conversely, Hornet opponents are hitting just .230 off of Sacramento State pitching with runners in scoring position this season.
They've Got The Power
The Hornets have hit 18 home runs over the last 16 games after hitting just four homers through the first 20 games of the year. Junior Rhys Hoskins leads the WAC with seven home runs while freshman Brandon Hunley has five and senior David Del Grande has hit four. Hunley and senior Will Soto each hit grand slams on March 30 at New Mexico State, a game in which the Hornets totaled five home runs.
The Earlier The Better
Sacramento State's success this season has often been tied to its ability to build an early lead, as the team is 18-2 on the year when leading after six innings and 0-11 when trailing (4-1 when tied). The Hornets are also 19-5 when scoring the first run of the game but 3-9 when the opponent scores first.
In For The Long Haul
Freshman LHP Sam Long has allowed just 44 hits and 13 earned runs over 47.0 innings pitched this year for a 2.95 ERA, the fourth best ERA in the WAC among qualified pitchers, and is tied for the team lead with four wins. The team has won all eight games Long has started this season, including a 4-0 record in the WAC games he has started, and Long has worked five or more innings in each of his eight starts with three scoreless outings.