Reggie Christiansen does not mind bus rides to the Southwest as long as he's not behind the wheel.
The Sacramento State baseball coach prefers the shotgun view he has enjoyed this breakout season that landed the Hornets in Mesa, Ariz., for this week's Western Athletic Conference tournament.
The keys to success start with cohesion. The young Hornets like each other. They play well together. Players broke out T-shirts before the season with words vowing to go from worst to first, and backed it up in managing a share of the WAC championship. Cornell of the Ivy League was the only other Division I team to accomplish the same feat.
So the idea of packing 36 players, five coaches and additional staff onto a 56-man cruiser bus for that 800-mile trip to Mesa didn't elicit a chorus of groans. There was instead a collective cry by the players of "Fire up the engines!" Players would have hitchhiked to Arizona.
"We took a spring break trip as a team to Utah, so we're used to the bus," Christiansen said Friday from the team's hotel. "It's a great ride. This group doesn't mind getting on the bus. We saved our school $13,000 to $14,000 to get here. We want to do the right thing, and we enjoy it."
The journey included a Dodgers-Diamondbacks game in Phoenix on Tuesday, followed by the pre-tournament banquet Wednesday.
Sac State's versatile Andrew Ayers was named the conference Player of the Year at the banquet, and teammate Rhys Hoskins (Jesuit High School) was named the Freshman of the Tear.
For his worst-to-first accomplishment, Christiansen was named the WAC Coach of the Year.
It's the first time the Hornets won three top individual conference awards as well as a share of the WAC title since moving up to Division I in 1991.
Christiansen says even better days are ahead. He wants to replenish the program with "80 to 85 percent" local talent. He wants to play more night games at Raley Field to showcase the product. He wants annual trips to the WAC tournament and to reach the College World Series. He wants Sac State's program to rival that of Fresno State, which won the CWS in 2008.
The Hornets suffered a scare in Thursday's 15-5 tournament win over Nevada. Shortstop Scotty Burcham had a bunt attempt ricochet off his bat and into his neck. Burcham crumpled at the plate. He insisted he was OK but struggled to breathe sitting in the dugout. Burcham slumped into teammate Will Soto's arms and was taken by ambulance to the hospital.
"Scotty's OK now," Christiansen said. "It was a scary play, very scary, a freak play. I've seen that happen a couple times on bunts. Saw a guy foul it off his nose and break it. We all came together for Scotty."
The win over Nevada was Sac State's second in WAC tournament history.
"It's been a great run so far, and our team has been outstanding because you never know with a young team," Christiansen said. "And we're not done. We want more."
Perkins bows out
After guiding 17 teams to the playoffs in 25 seasons, Dean Perkins has stepped down as the baseball coach at Oakmont High School.
"I want to spend more time with my wife, Kathy, and enjoy my good health," Perkins said. "It's just time."
Perkins beamed when he spoke about his son, Matt, who played for him in 2002. Matt Perkins is now a Sacramento lawyer. Matt's sister, Jennifer, was a four-year volleyball player at Holy Names, a small private university in Oakland, and is now working on her teaching credential. Like father, like daughter.
Perkins teared up in recalling his twin brother and coaching inspiration, Duane, who died of cancer in 1999.
"I think about him every day," Perkins said. "He'd be very proud."