Bob Solorio / Special to the Sacramento Bee

Sac State baseball player Sutter McLoughlin.

Hometown Report: Former Rio Americano pitcher McLoughlin settles into closer role at Sac State

Published: Monday, May. 6, 2013 - 4:22 pm

Numbness and anxiety.

That's what Sutter McLoughlin experienced the first time he was summoned from the bullpen. Those are generally among the "must-avoid" quirks when your task is to fire fastballs to stall momentum and extinguish hope.

"I was super nervous," the Sacramento State freshman closer recalled Monday of that Feb. 16 date at Texas. "I couldn't feel my body. I was running out from the bullpen, and my legs felt like jelly. It was the most nervous I'd ever been."

And to think McLoughlin accepted a scholarship with the Hornets to enjoy the experience, not agonize over it. McLoughlin earned the save in that season-opening 5-3 victory in Austin over the nationally renowned Longhorns to begin a record-setting season.

Now that the jelly-leg days are done, the Rio Americano graduate bounds out of the bullpen, confident and determined, with full feeling of all of his extremities.

McLoughlin's 14 saves are a Hornets season record and rank fourth best nationally. He has a 1.86 ERA in 22 appearances, walking eight in 29 innings.

McLoughlin was a starter in high school, once striking out 16 in a playoff game as a junior, but Sac State coach Reggie Christiansen and pitching coach Steve Holm sensed a different role. On the eve of that Texas trip, the coaches informed McLoughlin of their plan.

"He has that closer mentality, and nothing affects him," Christiansen said. "We weren't sure who our closer would be entering that opening series. I told Sutter that if we get that opportunity, 'I'll go to you.' He hasn't looked back. Just outstanding what he's done."

McLoughlin's poise instills a sense of calm for the surging 29-19 Hornets, who play at UC Davis on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, the right-hander looks the role of regal reliever, peering down from his elevated perch with a reach that seemingly stretches halfway to the plate.

"I'm ready to go," McLoughlin said of his mentality. "All the nervousness has gone away. I know I have a mound presence like any big pitcher. You get a couple of strikeouts, and you feel good. I've been called in with runners in scoring position, or with the tying runner on, and it's a pressure situation, but it can be fun."

McLoughlin excels at being the last line of defense. He played water polo at Rio Americano to help avoid year-round baseball burnout and emerged as the Raiders' all-time water polo saves leader with 206. In the water, McLoughlin was fighting to prevent the ball from racing past him into the net. Now he aims to throw one past batters and into a catcher's mitt.

"They are really similar," McLoughlin said of his role in the pool and on the mound. "You're trying to prevent the opposition from having success. You have to want to do it."

Pen pals

Handwritten letters have become a lost art in college recruiting in this social media age, but Alex Van Dyke has a stack of proof of the old-school method of pursuit.

The Cosumnes Oaks wide receiver got a letter in the mail from every football player and coach at Oregon State last weekend.

That's 120 pieces of mail. OSU is one of 22 schools to offer a scholarship to the 6-4 standout whose size, good hands and speed make him the Sac-Joaquin Section's top skill-position player this recruiting season.

He is the son of Alex Van Dyke Sr., the former Burbank and Sacramento City College star and Nevada Athletics Hall of Fame wide receiver. The elder Van Dyke reports having received no letters in his day, except love notes penned by his wife, Yavonda, when she was his high school sweetheart.

New arrival

De La Salle, the national football power from Concord that will host Del Oro this fall, is about to add transfer Kahlil McKenzie to its roster. McKenzie is a 6-3, 245-pound sophomore defensive end from Wisconsin's Green Bay Southwest High and the son of Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie. The younger McKenzie and his family remained in Green Bay this academic year while Reggie settled in with the Raiders. Kahlil was the MVP of the U-15 USA team in the American Bowl last year.

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