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OGDEN, Utah — In a rain shortened tournament, Sacramento State was the only team in the Big Sky Conference Tournament that never lost, beating Northern Colorado, 3-0, on Saturday to claim the conference championship. Exactly one week after winning the Big Sky's regular season title, the Hornets completed their season-long goal by winning the Big Sky's postseason crown and will receive an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
The Big Sky Tournament championship is the first for the Hornets since the conference began sponsoring softball in 2013. Sacramento State (31-18) will be making its first appearance at the NCAA Tournament since 2008. That 2008 team won the Pacific Coast Softball Conference title. The NCAA Tournament appearance will be the fourth for the program during the Div. I era (1990-pres.) as the 1993, 1995 and 2008 squads also clinched a spot.
Sacramento State completed the tournament with a 2-0 record, and was the only team among the tournament's six participants that did not lose a game. The Hornets began the tourney with a 7-3 win over Montana on Thursday, and had its game against Northern Colorado (originally scheduled for Friday) pushed back to today because of rain.
What started out as a double elimination tournament was shortened by more than 12 hours of weather delays. Inclement weather forced the tournament to fall behind schedule to a point where the scheduled 11 games could not be completed prior to the NCAA's Sunday evening deadline to submit an automatic qualifier. The Big Sky also implemented a rule this past year prohibiting teams from playing more than two games in a day. With Sacramento State's win today, no remaining team in the field would have been able to play enough games Sunday to claim a tournament title.
The Hornets will find out where, and who they will play at the NCAA Tournament when selections are made on Sunday at 7 p.m. PDT on ESPN2. The last time the Hornets qualified for the NCAA postseason event in 2008, they were shipped to the Fresno Regional.
Sacramento State is now the owner of a 31-18 overall record, a Big Sky regular season and a tournament championship, and will host next year's conference tournament at Shea Stadium. The Hornets are 13 games above the .500 mark for the first time since the 2008 team was 32-19, and will head into the NCAA Tournament on a four-game winning streak. Sacramento State was able to win the conference's regular season title last Saturday on the final day of the regular season with a road win at Montana.
Four Hornets were named to the all-tournament team, including seniors Celina Matthias and Marissa Maligad, junior Sydnee Strong and sophomore Suzy Brookshire. It was Brookshire who was named the tournament MVP after scoring four times and hitting two home runs during the tournament. Last week, she was named Big Sky's regular season MVP.
"Coming home with the tournament title means everything to us," Sacramento State head coach and Big Sky Coach of the Year Lori Perez said. "The players came out knowing what needed to be done in every game. They brought the energy and fought for each other.
"I could not be happier for our senior class (Matthias, Maligad, Zamari Hinton) to finish their Big Sky run this way. We are even more excited to represent the Big Sky in the NCAA Tournament. We will prepare hard for wherever we go."
In today's game, Matthias was dominant, tossing a four-hit shutout while striking out six batters. She needed just 98 pitches to notch the complete game effort while facing just six batters over the minimum. The right-hander improved her record to 20-9 with a 1.95 ERA. Coupled with her 20-win season in 2016, she becomes just the second Sacramento State pitcher during the Div. I era to post multiple seasons with at least 20 victories. The only other pitcher to accomplish the feat was three-time All-American, and eventual Olympian Susie Bugliarello.
The Hornets opened the scoring in the fourth inning when Brookshire led off the frame with a home run that went well over the left field fence. The homer was her program-record 17th of the season, as she was able to surpass the previous school record of 15 with a homer on Thursday. That previous record of 15 was set by Brookshire last year when she was a freshman.
The Hornets would tack on single runs in the fifth and sixth to open up a 3-0 lead. In the fifth, Hinton's two-out, RBI-single scored pinch runner Charizma Guzman. In the process, Hinton extended her hitting streak to 13 games. Earlier this season, it was Hinton that tied the program record with a 21-game hitting streak.
Sacramento State's final run came in the sixth inning when Mo Spieth's one-out double to left field scored Brookshire all the way from first base. That was more than enough run support for Matthias who did not allow a hit during the final two innings of play.
The Hornets had just four hits, but made them count. Hinton, Brookshire, Spieth and Maligad accounted for the hits. Brookshire scored twice. Northern Colorado saw its season come to an end with a 28-26 record. The Bears took two of three from the Hornets earlier this season in Greeley, Colo., and were one of just two teams in the Big Sky to win a series against Sacramento State this season. The Hornets won the Big Sky's regular season title by virtue of finishing with a 14-7 league record.
Valerie Vidal (18-11) got the loss for Northern Colorado, allowing four hits and three runs with six strikeouts over seven innings.