SACRAMENTO, Calif. – After securing its first outright regular season WAC title in program history, Sacramento State (35-21, 21-6) looks for another first – winning the WAC Tournament and earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Hornets are the top seed in the six-team, double elimination tournament at the new Cubs Park in Mesa, Ariz.
The tournament begins on Wednesday, but the Hornets won't open play until 7 p.m. on Thursday against the lowest seeded winning team from the first day of competition. Every Hornet tournament game will air live on HornetSports.com/Radio with Andrew Tomsky, J.D. Fox, and Kyle Madson providing the play-by-play. Live stats and video (for a fee) can be found on the WAC Tournament Central page.
With their walk-off victory over North Dakota the Hornets clinched their first outright regular season WAC title in program history and finished two games ahead of Grand Canyon...The Hornets lead the WAC in batting average (.286), slugging percentage (.387), hits (543), home runs (29), ERA (3.22), saves (11), and opposing batting average (.242)...With a win on May 3 the Hornets clinched the third consecutive 30-win season for the program, a feat not accomplished since nine straight 30-win seasons from 1985-1993...The Hornets went 21-6 in regular season WAC play with 12 of their conference wins coming by five runs or more, including four 7-inning games that ended via the mercy rule...Sacramento State had an 11-4 overall record against the five other teams that qualified for the WAC Tournament and won four of the five series against those teams.
With its walk-off victory over North Dakota on Saturday the Hornets clinched their first outright regular season WAC title in program history. The squad was one of three teams to finish tied for first place at the end of the 2012 season but are the sole regular season champion for the first time in 2014. Sacramento State also secured the top seed for the WAC Tournament, where the six qualifying schools will fight for the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Championship. As the top seed Sacramento State will get a bye on the first day of the tournament before playing the lowest-seeded winning team from day one at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 22. Action begins at the state-of-the-art Cubs Park in Mesa, Ariz. on Wednesday at 3:00 p.m.
How the WAC was Won
Sacramento State won the WAC regular season title with a 21-6 record and did so dominantly, as 12 of the team's 21 WAC wins were by five runs or more, including four games that ended after the seventh inning due to the 10-run mercy rule. In regular season WAC play the Hornets hit .310 with 20 home runs and 155 RBIs, averaging 6.4 runs per game with a .438 slugging percentage and .381 on-base percentage. Five Hornet starters hit better than .300 in conference games and the team had a WAC-best .977 fielding percentage. Hornet pitchers totaled a 2.21 ERA in conference play with a .217 opponent batting average while allowing just 2.7 runs per game. Weekend starters Brennan Leitao, Sam Long, and Justin Dillon combined to go 14-1 in the WAC and each had ERA's below 2.25.
Hornets WAC Tournament History
Sacramento State will be making its sixth all-time appearance in the WAC Tournament and will play for the league's NCAA automatic bid for the third consecutive year. The team's best showing at the tournament came in 2012, which also took place in Mesa at HoHoKam Park. The Hornets won their first two tournament games in 2012 but lost to Fresno State in their first elimination game and fell again to the Bulldogs 4-3 in 13 innings in the title game. Sacramento State lost its first two games at last season's tournament and went just 1-6 overall in its first three appearances from 2006-08.
Scouting The Tournament
Sacramento State had a combined 11-4 record during the regular season against the five other teams that qualified for the WAC Tournament. The team went 3-0 against both #5 Seattle U and #6 New Mexico State, was 2-1 against both vs. #3 Utah Valley and #4 Bakersfield, and was 1-2 against #2 Texas Pan-American. The Hornets have faced both New Mexico State and Bakersfield once before in the tournament, scoring an 8-5 win over the Aggies in 2008 and losing, 7-1, against the Roadrunners last season. Seattle U, Utah Valley, and Texas-Pan American will be playing in the WAC Tournament for the first time.
WAC at Wrigley West
The 2014 Western Athletic Conference tournament will be played at the Chicago Cubs new Spring Training complex in Mesa, which was completed in December 2013. The $99 million new winter home of the Chicago Cubs includes a 15,000-seat ballpark reminiscent of historic Wrigley Field.
Senior Send Off
Senior center fielder David Del Grande made a lasting memory in front of the home crowd on Sunday as he, one of six Hornet seniors playing their final home game, hit a walk-off home run leading off the bottom of the ninth. Del Grande also had a key double leading off the bottom of the seventh and senior Will Soto followed with the fly ball to right field that allowed Del Grande to advance to third and score on a safety squeeze. Senior catcher Blake Hugaert made his first career start in the game as the designated hitter and had two at bats, while Clay Cederquist, Hunter Greenwood, and Scott Loper didn't play on Sunday but all saw action in front of the Hornet crowd in their final home games last week.
Top of the Order
Sophomore Nathan Lukes' phenomenal play as of late as made him an all-WAC first team selection as he leads the team with a .371 batting average to go with a .449 on-base percentage and has reached base in 36 consecutive games. He leads the WAC and ranks 10th in the NCAA with 85 hits this season and leads the league and ranks 50th nationally with 49 runs scored. Lukes recorded a hit in 26 of the 27 WAC games the Hornets have played and has a hit in 50 of 56 games overall. He has started in right field in every game this season, primarily hitting leadoff, and has 10 stolen bases and 22 RBIs. He had a career-high 20-game hitting streak, the longest by any WAC player this season and tied for the fourth longest in program history.
Willing to Sacrifice
Sacramento State leads the WAC and ranks 8th nationally in an often overlooked but important statistical category: sacrifice flies. The squad has recorded 33 sacrifice flies this season, which ties for 8th best in the NCAA and is eight more than the second highest total in the WAC. Every Hornet starter has at least one sacrifice fly this season, led by seven from senior David Del Grande, which is the 19th-best individual total in the nation. Additionally, Hornet catcher Dane Fujinaka is tied for second in the WAC and is No. 57 in the NCAA with 11 sacrifice bunts this year.
Leitao Leading the Way
Junior right handed pitcher Brennan Leitao tied the Sacramento State program record for career wins with his 23rd career victory on Saturday against North Dakota, equaling the high mark set by Erik Bennett in 1987-89. In 10 WAC starts, Leitao went 7-0 with a 1.43 ERA, allowing just 10 earned runs over 63.0 innings with a 52/9 strikeout to walk ratio and a .214 opposing batting average. For the season he is 8-3 with a 2.16 ERA and a .231 opposing batting average with just 23 earned runs allowed in a team-high 96.0 innings pitched.
Three Times Thirty = 100
With its win over Chicago State on May 3 the Hornets secured the program's third consecutive thirty-win season, the longest such streak since a string of nine straight 30-win seasons from 1985-1993. The squad has now won exactly 100 games over the last three seasons to rank among the most winning programs in California.
Sophomore Closer Sutter McLoughlin earned his ninth save of the season on May 4, bringing his career total to 26 saves to tie the program career record held by Mike Frame. He is also now just three saves behind the WAC career record of 29, set by Caleb Dudley of Louisiana Tech last season. Prior to that game McLoughlin had just two save opportunities over the previous 25 Hornet games and none since April 12th. McLoughlin was an NCBWA preseason All-American and has named to the NCBWA Midseason Stopper of the Year watch list in April. He had a17-inning scoreless streak to open the year and in 26 appearances is 4-2 with 1.99 ERA and a .215 opposing batting average with a 33/9 strikeout to walk ratio.
Delivering in the Clutch
As a team Sacramento State is hitting .297 this season with runners in scoring position. David Del Grande, Rhys Hoskins, Brandon Hunley, Dane Fujinaka, Nathan Lukes, and Ryan Locke are al11 hitting better than .300 in those spots. Conversely, Hornet opponents are hitting just .229 off of Sacramento State pitching with runners in scoring position this season. The Hornets are also hitting .327 this year with the bases loaded.
Junior first baseman Rhys Hoskins was named WAC Player of the Year on Monday after leading the conference in home runs (9), doubles (16), and slugging percentage (.563) and ranking second in runs batted in (45) and total bases (103). He has 15 multi-hit and 12 multi-RBI games this season, and hitting .360 with six home runs and 32 RBIs in the WAC, driving in more than one run per game in conference play.
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 27-2 on the year when leading after six innings and 3-17 when trailing (5-2 when tied). The Hornets are also 28-6 when scoring the first run of the game but 7-15 when the opponent scores first.
They've Got The Power
The Hornets have hit 25 home runs over the last 36 games after hitting just four homers through the first 20 games of the year. Junior Rhys Hoskins leads the WAC with nine home runs while freshman Brandon Hunley and senior David Del Grande each have six as Sacramento State has three of the top-four home run hitters in the conference. 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.
In For The Long Haul
Freshman LHP Sam Long, who should still be finishing high school this semester, has allowed just 69 hits and 23 earned runs over 82.1 innings pitched this year for a 2.51 ERA, the fifth best ERA in the WAC among qualified pitchers. The team won each of the first nine starts made by Long this season and went 7-1 in the WAC games he has started, with five scoreless outings. He has thrown seven shutout innings three different times in WAC play and had seven strikeouts over seven scoreless innings at Texas-Pan American to help the Hornets recorded the first win of the year against Sam Street.
Junior Alex Palsha is tied for 8th in the NCAA with 33 appearances this season and has tied the program record for appearances in a season set last season by Brandon Creel. He had gone 14.1 consecutive innings, over 10 appearances, without allowing a run or even a hit before Bakersfield scored against him on April 26. He still has a 1.76 ERA this season, pitching in a variety of mid to late-game situations. He is 5-1 and has two saves over 51.0 innings of relief, allowing just 30 hits and 10 earned runs this season with a .176 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 allowed just three earned runs and 12 hits in 25.0 innings, holding hitters to a .141 average.
Big In a Pinch
Senior Clay Cederquist is 4-for-7 and redshirt freshman Ryan Locke is 5-for-11 pinch hitting this season. As a team Sacramento State is 13-for-38 (.342) overall in pinch-hit at bats this season. By comparison, Hornet opponents are just 6-for-34 (.176) pinch-hitting against the team.
On May 10 the Hornets did something no other team has been able to do this season: beat Sam Street. The Texas-Pan American senior from Australia entered the game 11-0 in 12 starts with a 1.69 ERA, tied for the NCAA lead in wins. The Broncs led 1-0 after two innings when the game was suspended, and Street continued on the mound in the resumption the following day. In the seventh inning the Hornets benefited from a UTPA error but came through with three hits in the inning and pushed across three runs, all with two away. That was all Hornet freshman Sam Long needed as he faced the minimum through seven shutout innings to give Street his first loss in a calendar year to the day.
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 with 10 so far this year.