MESA, Ariz. – Sacramento State jumped to a 6-0 lead in the second inning and withstood a rally by New Mexico State to score a 9-5 victory in a WAC Tournament elimination game on Friday. The Hornets stay alive for the WAC title while New Mexico State saw its season come to a close after a surprising run in the tournament.
The Hornets (36-22) will play at 3 p.m. on Saturday in a rematch against Bakersfield, which lost to Utah Valley 5-2 on Friday evening. With a win the Hornets would then play again at 7 p.m. Saturday against Utah Valley needing another win to force a championship game on Sunday.
New Mexico State (23-31), the No. 6 seed for the tournament, had already played three games in Mesa and defeated Texas-Pan American 7-4 on Friday morning to advance to play the Hornets. The Aggies decided to use the same starter in both games, as lefty Robert Kraft got the ball against the Hornets after throwing 92 pitches over seven innings just a couple hours earlier.
The move backfired, as Kraft allowed a leadoff walk followed by two singles and an RBI double from senior David Del Grande as the Hornets took a 3-0 lead before an out was recorded. Kraft faced one more batter and got one out before exiting, and Del Grande came in to score on a Scotty Burcham sacrifice fly as Sacramento State took a 4-0 lead.
The Hornets scored twice more in the second inning against reliever Zach Freeman, as sophomore Dane Fujinaka and freshman Brandon Hunley started the inning with consecutive singles and both came in to score on an RBI double from junior Rhys Hoskins and an Aggie fielding error.
With a six-run lead Hornet freshman lefty Sam Long pitched two strong innings before having some control issues in the third. After he got the first out of the inning long walked consecutive batters and both eventually came in to score to cut the lead to 6-2.
Sacramento State got those runs back in the fifth inning as four straight hits from senior Will Soto, Burcham, sophomore Chris Lewis, and Fujinaka plated a pair. Long ran into trouble again in the sixth inning, allowing a leadoff solo homerun followed by more two hits and a walk to score two more runs.
Junior Alex Palsha relieved Long to get the final out of the sixth and ended up pitching the remainder of the game. The Hornets added an insurance run in the eighth inning on a Hoskins sacrifice fly, and Palsha retired the first eight men he faced and allowed only one base runner over the final 3.1 innings to earn his third save and give Long his eighth win of the season.
Palsha was essentially unhittable, striking out seven in just 3.1 innings while allowing just one walk and no hits. His WAC-leading 34th appearance of the season broke the single season program record as Palsha struck out the side in the ninth inning and threw 33 of his 52 pitches for strikes.
Long allowed five runs on six hits and four walks over 5.2 innings, allowing more than three runs for just the third time this season. Kraft got the loss after winning the earlier game on Friday, allowing four runs and recording only one out in his peculiar second start of the day.
Hoskins was 2-for-4 with three RBIs while Fujinaka and sophomore Nathan Lukes also had two hits in the game. Eight of the nine Hornet starters had a hit as Sacramento State continued its dominance this season over New Mexico State. The Hornets went 4-0 against the Aggies, including a sweep in Las Cruces in March, and scored 48 runs (12 per game) while hitting .384 against New Mexico State on the year.
The Hornets are 2-2 this season against Bakersfield after the Roadrunners got the win on Thursday and took 2-of-3 at home against Utah Valley in mid-April. Sacramento State will have to defeat both teams on Saturday to reach a winner-take-all championship game on Sunday.