SACRAMENTO, Calif. - With a 3-1 record so far on its season-opening trip to the Southeast, Sacramento State faces one of the premier college baseball programs in the nation with a three-game series at No. 5 LSU. The teams will play Friday at 5 p.m. Pacific time, Saturday at noon Pacific, and Sunday at 11 a.m. Pacific. All three games will be broadcast live on SEC Network +, available to subscribers on WatchESPN.com.
- Five Hornet pitchers held Northwestern State to four hits in a 4-2 win on Wednesday after Tuesday's game was cancelled. The team has started 3-1 for the second consecutive season.
- Sacramento State opened its season winning a series against a Power Conference team for the second straight year but had its first such win in a road series in its Div. I history.
- Freshman DH Matt Smith has a hit and RBI in each game this year hitting .467. He also has two steals and as a team the Hornets are 11-for-11 in stolen base attempts this year.
- Sacramento State defeated a top-five ranked team just two years ago, beating No. 4 Oregon State 7-6. The team has five total wins against ranked teams over the last two years.
- LSU ranked as high as No. 1 in the nation last year and made the College World Series. The Tigers swept Cincinnati to open the year but blew an 8-0 lead in a loss Wednesday at Lamar.
SAC - Sam Long (So./RHP, 0-1, 4.50 ERA)
LSU - Jared Poche (Jr./LHP, 0-0, 2.70 ERA)
SAC - Grant Kukuk (Sr./RHP, 0-0, 1.93 ERA)
LSU - Alex Lange (So./RHP, 1-0, 0.00 ERA)
SAC - Max Karnos (Jr./RHP, 0-0, 15.00 ERA)
LSU - John Valek (Sr./LHP, 1-0, 3.18 ERA)
All three games will be televised on SEC Network +, which is available to subscribers on WatchESPN.com. All three games will also have live audio and live stats on lsusports.net and all game day media links can be found above and on the baseball schedule page. For more content and game updates follow @hornetsports and @SacStBaseball on twitter and like Sacramento State Athletics and Sacramento State Hornet Baseball Fans on facebook.
#5 LSU Tigers | All: 3-1 | Home: 3-0
LSU is in the top 10 in every national poll and ranks No. 5 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll. The Tigers, who were ranked as high as No. 1 last season, played in the College World Series last year and have won six national championships, the last in 2009. LSU opened its season with a home sweep of Cincinnati but lost 12-11 at Lamar on Wednesday after blowing an 8-0 lead. The team's three weekend starters each allowed two runs or fewer and through four games the Tigers are averaging over eight runs per game. The Hornets are 2-2 all-time vs. SEC teams after winning 2-of-3 at Auburn.
Rain, Wind, and Win
Sacramento State was supposed to play games Tuesday and Wednesday at Northwestern State but Tuesday's contest was cancelled due to heavy rain and high wind. The teams did get in Wednesday's game, however, and five Hornet pitchers allowed just four hits in a 4-2 Sacramento State win. Kody Reynolds, Vinny Esposito, and Gunner Pollman each had two hits and Matt Gorgolinski struck out six batters in four innings to earn the win. The win, against a Northwestern State team that entered 3-0 and was picked to finish second in the Southland Conference in 2016, gave the Hornets a 3-1 start to the season for the second consecutive year
Quite a Debut
Sacramento State introduced itself to the southeast by taking two of three games at SEC school Auburn last weekend. After a 10-5 setback in the season opener the Hornets rallied for wins on Saturday and Sunday, coming back from late deficits to win 6-5 on Saturday and outlasting the Tigers 7-6 in 12 innings on Sunday. The team won the series with timely hitting and strong work from the bullpen, which totaled 21.1 innings pitched as none of the starters lasted more than four innings, with Justin Dillon coming out after just five pitches in his start on Saturday. The Hornets held Auburn to a .241 average in the two wins and hit .273 with runners in scoring position for their first ever road series win at a Power Conference school.
Lights Out After Seven
Sacramento State has outscored its opponents 9-0 after the seventh inning so far this season. The Hornets scored in the eighth inning in all three games at Auburn and used eighth inning rallies in both of their wins. Trailing 5-2 in the eighth inning last Saturday, Sacramento State sent eight men to the plate and plated four runs to go up 6-5. The next day the Hornets trailed 6-4 in the eighth but manufactured two runs on just one hit to tie the game before winning it in 12 innings. Against Northwestern State the Hornets scored an insurance run in the ninth.
Top Five Success
The Hornets won't be daunted facing a team ranked in the top 5 in the nation as the squad had a win over such an opponent just two seasons ago. On April 21, 2014 Sacramento State rallied for a 7-6 upset win over No. 4 Oregon State at Raley Field. Later ranked No. 1 in the country, Oregon State was the highest ranked opponent that the Hornets have defeated in program history. Sacramento State pounded out 16 hits in the game, all singles, while four relievers combined to throw seven shutout innings after the Beavers scored six runs in the first two innings.
In winning the series at Auburn, Sacramento State continued its recent success against Power Conference schools. For the second consecutive year the team opened its season winning a series against a Power school after taking 3-of-4 games against Utah to open 2015. In 2013 the Hornets opened their season at Texas and picked up a Saturday win, then in 2014 Sacramento State won at No. 21 Texas A&M. The Hornets also had wins over power conference schools Arizona State, Oregon State, and Minnesota over the last two seasons.
Through the Ranks
Sacramento State also has five wins over ranked teams over the last two seasons. The squad beat No. 4 Oregon State, No. 18 Arizona State, No. 21 Texas A&M, and No. 24 Fresno State in 2014 and topped No. 18 UC Santa Barbara last year. The team was also an out away from a win over No. 5 Texas Tech and pushed No. 15 Iowa to 18 innings last year.
Hornet newcomers Matt Smith and Kody Reynolds have each had at least one hit in every game this year. Smith, a freshman, also has an RBI in each of his first four collegiate games and has not struck out in 19 trips to the plate. He was spectacular in his first collegiate series, hitting 6-for-11 (.545) with six RBIs and two runs scored at Auburn. A junior transfer, Reynolds had his first multi-hit game at Northwestern State and has four walks and three runs scored thus far.
California is among the strongest states in the nation for Div. I baseball, and over the last four years the Hornets rank highly among the best teams in the state. Among 24 Division-I baseball teams in California, the Hornets are tied for the 7th most wins over the last four seasons. The team entered 2015 with 138 total wins since 2012, tied with Pepperdine and more than perennial postseason qualifiers including Stanford, UC Santa Barbara, Long Beach St., Cal, USC, and Fresno St.
The Hornets are a perfect 11-for-11 on stolen base attempts this season. The team was 9-for-9 at Auburn, helping creating 18 runs despite hitting only .239 for the series. Newcomers Andrew McWilliam (4-for-4) and Matt Smith (2-for-2) led the team on the base paths over the weekend. Sacramento State ranked second in the WAC with 79 stolen bases last season.
The Pen is Mighty
Sacramento State's bullpen threw 21.2 innings in the Auburn series. The relievers pitched nine full innings on Sunday and allowed just one run on three hits with three strikeouts, pitching the last six innings of the game without allowing a run. Three Hornet pitchers combined to not allow a single run or even hit over the last four innings of Wednesday's win at Northwestern State.
Sacramento State junior left-hander pitcher Sam Long entered the 2016 season having already received high praise. He was selected as the Preseason WAC Pitcher of the Year and was named to the Preseason All-WAC team. He was also named a top collegiate prospect on D1baseball.com's College 300 going into the season. Last year Long went 6-4 with a 2.81 ERA and led the WAC and ranked 13th in all of NCAA Div. I with a 0.85 WHIP. He was also second in the WAC with a .198 opposing batting average and totaled a team-high 63 strikeouts to just 16 walks.
The Hornets have a stacked non-conference schedule again in 2016. Between the series at Auburn and No. 5 LSU, the Hornets also facef a Northwestern State team that won 31 games last year and was picked second in the Southland Conference. The team's first home opponent, South Dakota State, won 33 games last season, while Arizona was also a 30-win team last year and Cal Poly was nationally ranked last season.
Sacramento State has five seniors on its 2016 roster but just one of them, outfielder Chris Lewis, has been with the program for his entire collegiate career. A former Freshman All-American, Lewis hit a solid .275 with five home runs and 32 RBIs last year and once again led the team with a brilliant WAC Tournament for the second consecutive year. He is now just three RBIs shy of becoming just the 11th player in program history to drive in 100 career runs. He had a home run, a double, and three RBIs in the Auburn series starting every game in right field.
The JC Route
Of Sacramento State's 12 newcomers in 2016, 10 of them came to the Hornets as junior college transfers. Position player starters Trent Goodrich, Kody Reynolds, and Andrew McWilliam are new JC transfers as is Sunday starter Max Karnos. The team also has three returners that came to the Hornets as junior college transfers originally, all three of which came as juniors. The roster has just two players without previous collegiate experience in true freshmen James Outman and Matt Smith.
The First First Baseman
Following a strong freshman season Sacramento State first baseman Vinny Esposito was chosen as the top first baseman in the WAC on the 2016 preseason all-conference team. Esposito led Sacramento State and was tied for third in the WAC with eight home runs in 2015. He was also third on the team with a .423 slugging percentage and totaled 28 RBIs. Esposito was strong defensively at first base as well, leading the WAC with 548 putouts with a .991 fielding percentage.
Sacramento State will play 12 games at home over a stretch of 16 days between March 19 and April 3. Weather permitting, the homestand will be the longest in the Div. I era of the program, eclipsing a 10-game home stretch in 2005. The homestand will include weekend series against Cal Poly, North Dakota, and Northern Colorado along with two games against New Mexico and one against San Francisco, with all 12 to be played at John Smith Field.
Sacramento State was picked to finish second in the 10-team WAC in the preseason conference coaches' poll. The Hornets earned 74 points and four first place votes in the poll finishing just behind Grand Canyon, which had 77 points and five first place votes to be picked to repeat as WAC champion. As was the case last year, Grand Canyon is still not eligible to compete in the WAC or NCAA Tournaments as it reclassifies to Div. I, so the poll essentially predicts the Hornets to be the top seed for the WAC Tournament at the end of May.
The Hornets have two players on the 2016 roster that have been previously drafted. Sophomore transfer Andrew McWilliam has been drafted twice, selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 34th round last season after being picked by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 31st round coming out of high school in 2013. Junior pitcher Justin Dillon has also been drafted, as he was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 39th round following his final high school season in 2012.
Four Times Thirty
Sacramento State recorded its fourth consecutive thirty-win season last year, the longest such streak since a string of nine straight 30-win seasons from 1985-1993. The team has also recorded winning WAC records and double-digit conference wins in each of the last four years.
Junior catcher Gunner Pollman led the WAC with 27 runners caught stealing, 10 more than any other conference catcher totaled. He ranked eighth in the NCAA with a .435 caught stealing percentage and was named to the watch list for the Johnny Bench Award, an honor presented annually to the top catcher in NCAA Div. I baseball. He begins the 2016 season on the Bench Award watch list again.
The 2015 team was, statistically, the best pitching staff in program history as it ranked third in all of NCAA Div. I with a 1.09 WHIP as well as ranking third with just 2.07 walks allowed per nine innings. The squad also ranked 11th nationally with only 7.70 hits allowed per nine innings and recorded single-season school records for earned run average (2.97 - 17th best in Div. I), opposing batting average (.235), and fewest walks allowed (124).