SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Facing its highest ranked opponent since a series at No. 1 Arizona in 2008, Sacramento State (24-15, 12-3 WAC) hosts No. 4 Oregon State (27-7, 11-4 Pac-12) at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Raley Field and at 1 p.m. Tuesday at John Smith Field. Oregon State reached the College World Series last year and advanced to the semifinals, winning a school-record 52 games during the 2013 season.
"We can compete with any team in the country," Sacramento State head coach Reggie Christiansen said. "I like our chances late with a lead against anyone with Palsha and McLoughlin at the end of the game, and I expect our guys to go out there and compete and play hard. I expect it will be a really good crowd and we've had some success at Raley Field so we're looking forward to having those guys come to town
Tickets for Hornet games at Raley Field are $10 for adults and $5 for students and children with $5 parking. Tuesday's game at John Smith Field will be the Green Army's Rain Delay game with free food, beach towels, water bottles and other prizes, including Southwest Airlines gift cards, for Green Army members. There will also be a giant water slide and a "Super Soak-Em" section. Additionally, Goodwill will be accepting donations before both games.
SAC - Justin Dillon (RFr./RHP, 1-0, 4.30 ERA) | OSU - TBA
SAC - Sam Long (Fr./LHP, 5-0, 2.17 ERA) | OSU – TBA
Scouting Oregon State (27-7, 11-4 Pac-12)
The Beavers are ranked in the top five in each of the four major Div. I baseball polls and are as high as No. 4 in the NCBWA and USA Today Coaches' Polls. The team has not played since a win at Washington State on April 13, having more than a week off before facing the Hornets on Monday. OSU has won seven of its last eight games and for the season has two common opponents with Sacramento State, having defeated Pacific in a midweek contest and sweeping Utah in Salt Lake City by an aggregate score of 19-2. Surprisingly the squad has only faced one ranked team this season, an 8-1 win over then-No. 10 Indiana.
Oregon State's greatest strength is pitching, as the Beavers are seventh in the NCAA with a 2.20 team ERA and are tied for fourth in the country with 10 shutouts while allowing just 7.01 hits per nine innings. The team can score as well, ranking 33rd in the nation with 6.4 runs per game and 19th nationally with a team on-base percentage of .394. Junior outfielder Michael Conforto leads all of NCAA Div. I with a .538 season on-base percentage, hitting .395 with 38 RBIs and ranking ninth in the country with 32 walks. Four Beaver starters are hitting .325 or better and junior Dylan Davis is 16th in the country with 40 RBIs. The Hornets are 8-13 in their Div. I history against Oregon State and the Beavers have won the last eight contests, dating back to 2004, but the teams have not met since 2007.
Sacramento State is 7-1 in midweek games so far this season, including a perfect 4-0 record at Raley Field. The squad is hitting .294 in midweek games with a 3.39 ERA while averaging 6.1 runs per game. In the four wins at Raley Field, the Hornets have hit .292 with a 2.19 ERA and a .228 opponent batting average and outscored their opponents by an average score of 5.3-2.8.
Climbing the Ranks
The Hornets have played four games this season against ranked teams and have gone 2-2. The squad won its series opener at then-No. 21 Texas A&M 1-0 before the Aggies won the last two games, and the Hornets took down No. 24 Fresno State in a 2-1 win at Raley Field on March 5. Sacramento State pitchers had a solid 2.09 ERA over those four games, but the Hornets were held to a .211 batting average. Oregon State will in all likelihood be the last ranked team the Hornets face through the remainder of the regular season.
Top of the Order
Sophomore Nathan Lukes is currently riding a career-best 19-game hitting streak, the longest by any WAC player this season, and has a hit in 35 of 39 games played this season. He has started in right field in every game this season, primarily hitting leadoff, and is hitting .344 with a .433 on-base percentage. He leads the team in hits (55), runs (38), and walks (24) and also has 15 RBIs, six doubles, and seven stolen bases.
In its three-game series against Utah Valley Sacramento State did not allow an extra-base hit, with the Wolverines totaling 19 singles. That came after UC Davis had just one extra-base hit on Tuesday as 30 of the 31 hits the Hornets allowed last week were singles. The Hornet pitchers have allowed just 67 extra-base hits this season while the offense has 92 extra-base knocks. In WAC play Sacramento State has a 45-16 advantage over its opposition in extra-base hits, allowing just 1.07 extra-base hits per game.
Despite a loss on Sunday Sacramento State still leads the WACwith a 12-3 conference mark. Six of the 12 wins have been by seven runs or more, including four 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 .326 with 16 home runs and 103 RBIs, averaging 7.4 runs per game with a .475 slugging percentage and .407 on-base percentage. Seven Hornet starters are hitting .300 or better in conference games, led by a .426 average with 5 home runs and 25 RBIs from junior Rhys Hoskins. Hornet pitchers have a 2.39 ERA in conference play with a .228 opponent batting average. Friday and Saturday starters Brennan Leitao and Sam Long are a combined 7-0 in the WAC as the staff as a whole is allowing just 2.7 runs per game in conference play.
Not Going Nine
The standard length for a baseball game is nine innings, but over the last three weeks that has not been the case for the Hornets. Over its last 14 games Sacramento State has only played eight nine-inning contests, playing three extra-inning games and winning three games after seven innings via the 10-run mercy rule. Nine Sacramento State games this season have not finished in nine innings, while the team is 3-2 in extra innings and has four seven-inning wins.
Junior Alex Palsha leads the WAC and is tied for 12th in the NCAA with 23 appearances and ranks 12th in the nation with just 4.71 hits allowed per nine innings. He has a WAC-best 1.37 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 39.1 innings of relief, allowing just 19 hits and six earned runs this season with a .147 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 16.1 innings, holding hitters to a .093 average.
Senior David Del Grande was hit by a pitch twice in the series at Grand Canyon 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 April 12 and earned his record-breaking 40th hit by pitch in the ninth inning the following day, 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 on April 8. 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 (34), and slugging percentage (.600) and is second in the conference in batting average (.344) and doubles (11). He has 11 multi-hit and 10 multi-RBI games this season, and is hitting .426 with five home runs and 25 RBIs in the WAC, driving in 1.67 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.
Delivering in the Clutch
As a team Sacramento State is hitting .306 this season with runners in scoring position. David Del Grande is 20-for-45 (.444) with men in scoring position, Rhys Hoskins is hitting .333, and Will Soto, Brandon Hunley, Nathan Lukes, and Ryan Locke are also hitting better than .300 in those spots. Conversely, Hornet opponents are hitting just .228 off of Sacramento State pitching with runners in scoring position this season.
They've Got The Power
The Hornets have hit 20 home runs over the last 19 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 and senior David Del Grande have each 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 20-2 on the year when leading after six innings and 0-12 when trailing (4-1 when tied). The Hornets are also 21-5 when scoring the first run of the game but 3-10 when the opponent scores first.
In For The Long Haul
Freshman LHP Sam Long has allowed just 48 hits and 13 earned runs over 54.0 innings pitched this year for a 2.17 ERA, the third best ERA in the WAC among qualified pitchers, and is tied for the team lead with five wins. The team has won all nine games Long has started this season, including a 5-0 record in the WAC games he has started, and Long has worked five or more innings in each of his eight starts with four scoreless outings and two 7-inning shutouts.