SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Sacramento State, which enters the 2014 season with a new head coach for the first time in over two decades, was picked to finish second in the Big Sky Conference preseason coaches poll, it was announced today by the league.
First-year head coach Lori Perez will oversee a roster that returns 16 players from last season's team which finished 22-22 overall and 7-8 in the Big Sky. Among those 16 returners are seven returning positional starters and the entire pitching staff. Perez, who has 13 years of experience at Sacramento State as either a player or assistant coach, takes over the head coaching duties for Kathy Strahan who retired after 21 seasons.
This year will mark the second season of Big Sky Conference softball, and the seven-team league consists of Sacramento State, Portland State, Northern Colorado, Idaho State, Weber State, North Dakota and Southern Utah. The winner of the Big Sky Championship (May 8-10) will receive an automatic berth into the NCAA Regionals. The three-day, double-elimination Big Sky Championship will be hosted by the conference's regular season champion.
Defending Big Sky regular season champion Idaho State sits atop the poll after receiving 35 points and five first-place votes. Behind Idaho State is Sacramento State (28 points, one first-place vote), Southern Utah (26 points, one first-place vote), Portland State (24), Northern Colorado (15), Weber State (13) and North Dakota (6). Portland State won last season's Big Sky Championship and received the league's automatic berth to the NCAA Regionals.
The Hornets return starters at catcher (Kortney Solis), first base (Alyssa Vanderdrink), second base (Kayla Papez), shortstop (Yesenia Alcala), left field (Alexa Chattleton) and right field (Paige Martin). The entire pitching staff of Caitlin Brooks, Taylor Stroud, Jennifer Hartman and Kaitlyn Yerby also return. The pitching staff combined to post a Big Sky-best 2.33 ERA last year, including Brooks who was a first team all-league selection after going 14-7 with a 1.81 ERA.
Martin was the team's leading hitter with a .336 batting average last season while Vanderdrink led the squad with four home runs. Also returning are three players who shared the designated player role last year in Alexis Martinez, Riley Price and Makenzie Wayadande. Martinez was batting .294 with a home run, three RBIs and a .455 on-base percentage before suffering a knee injury early in the 2013 season.
Sacramento State begins the season on Saturday, Feb. 8, when the team plays a doubleheader at Pacific. Each of the team's first 16 games of the season will come away from Shea Stadium as the Hornets' home opener doesn't take place until March 4 vs. UC Davis.
BIG SKY COACHES POLL
School - Points (First Place Votes)
1. Idaho State - 35 (5)
2. Sacramento State - 28 (1)
3. Southern Utah - 26 (1)
4. Portland State - 24
5. Northern Colorado - 15
6. Weber State - 13
7. North Dakota - 6