SAN LUIS OBIPSO, Calif. – Sacramento State used two big innings offensively and junior Brennan Leitao allowed just one earned run over seven innings as the Hornets withstood a ninth-inning rally to claim a 5-4 win over No. 18 Arizona State in an elimination game in the NCAA Regional.
"Win No. 40 in a regional and knocking off a perennial power in Arizona State ... we've believed all year long that we're a good club and we can play against anybody. Now other people are going to believe." head coach Reggie Christiansen said. "We were able to score two runs then gave it back. That was a critical point, but our guys continued to stay upbeat and positive in the dugout and then we score three when the shortstop makes an error."
The Hornets (40-23) reached 40 wins for just the fifth time in program history and the first time since 1991 while winning their first Div. I NCAA Tournament game. Sacramento State advances to play at 1 p.m. Sunday in another elimination game and a rematch against Cal Poly, which lost to Pepperdine 2-1 on Saturday night.
Arizona State (33-24), a perennial NCAA power that is fourth in the country with 116 all-time Div. 1 Baseball Tournament wins and was the No. 2 seed in the region, was eliminated with the loss. The win was the fourth of the season for Sacramento State over a nationally ranked team.
In a game that was scoreless until the fifth inning, the Hornets got on the board first as sophomore Nathan Lukes doubled home juniors Scotty Burcham and Kyle Moses with a line shot down the left field line. After the two runs scored Sacramento State loaded the bases with two outs and senior Will Soto hit laced a ball that was somehow stopped on a dive by second baseman Tucker Esmay, who flipped to second base to end the inning on the force out.
After the diving play prevented at least two more runs from scoring, the Sun Devils struck for a pair of runs in the top of the sixth after loading the bases with one out and getting a two-run single from third baseman Dalton Dinatale.
The scored remained 2-2 into the bottom of the eighth, where junior Rhys Hoskins drew a leadoff walk. Soto then hit a goundball to shortstop that could have been turned into a double play, but ASU's Drew Stankiewicz booted the ball into shallow right field allowing Soto to reach and the runners to move to second and third.
Senior David Del Grande followed with a single to left to score Hoskins with the go-ahead run. Sophomore Dane Fujinaka added an RBI single two batters later, and after the Hornets loaded the bases again, Lukes drew a bases loaded walk to make the score 5-2 heading to the ninth.
Junior Alex Palsha, who had pitched a scoreless eighth inning, returned for the ninth and the Sun Devils opened the inning with a double and a pinch-hit 2-run home run from RJ Ybarra to get within a 5-4 deficit with still nobody out. After a strikeout ASU got consecutive singles and had the tying run at third, but Palsha induced a fielder's choice groundout that cut down the lead runner, with the trail runner advancing to third on the pickle. Palsha then had a seven-pitch at bat against right fielder Trevor Allen and got a called third strike on a full count pitch to end the game.
"We never say die," Del Grande said. "We truly are a team and every game is special for us. It's fun being out there with everyone and we all want to keep going."
Making his program-record 37th pitching appearance of the season, Palsha earned the win to improve to 6-1 this season while reliever Jordan Aboites took the loss for Arizona State. Leitao pitched seven strong innings, allowing just five hits and one walk with four strikeouts and allowing just two runs (one earned). ASU starter Ryan Kellogg went seven innings as well, allowing two earned runs on six hits and four walks with two strikeouts.
Lukes tied his career high with three RBIs in the game while Moses had the lone Hornet multi-hit game with a 2-for-4 line and a run scored out of the leadoff spot. Arizona State outhit the Hornets 10-8, but the ASU pitchers issued seven walks while the Hornets allowed just one walk. Sacramento State uncharacteristically committed four errors in the game leading to one unearned run, but the lone ASU error committed by Stankiewicz proved to be the most costly miscue of the game.
If the Hornets can win again at 1 p.m. tomorrow, they would then face Pepperdine at 6 p.m. Sacramento State would need another win in that game to force a winner-take-all Regional title game on Monday.