Published: Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 - 7:03 pm

• Coach: Reggie Christiansen, fourth year, 84-92

• Conference: Western Athletic

• Other members: Northern Colorado, New Mexico State, Seattle, Grand Canyon, Utah Valley, Cal State Bakersfield, Chicago State, Texas-Pan American, North Dakota, Utah Valley

• 2013 record: 34-25; 14-13 WAC, fifth place

• 2014 predicted finish: Third

• Opening series: vs. Utah, 2 p.m. today, Saturday and Sunday and 1 p.m. Monday

• Five home games to watch (all at Raley Field): Nevada, Feb. 25, 6:35 p.m.; Fresno State, March 5, 6:35 p.m.; Pacific, March 18, 6:35 p.m.; Oregon State, April 21, 6:35 p.m.; UC Davis, May 13, 7:35 p.m.

• Key returners: 1B Rhys Hoskins (Jesuit High School), DH-OF Chris Lewis, 3B Will Soto (Elk Grove), RF Nathan Lukes (Center), C Dane Fujinaka, CF Dave Del Grande, SS Scotty Burcham, P Ty Nichols, P Brennan Leitao, P Hunter Greenwood (Franklin), P Sutter McLoughlin (Rio Americano), DH/1B Clay Cederquist

• Top newcomers: P Sam Long (Del Campo), P Jared Paderez P

• Outlook: The Hornets’ hope of building on consecutive 30-plus-win seasons and reaching the NCAA Division I tournament for the first time may have been made easier with the offseason reshuffling of the WAC. The six schools that left were replaced by six teams with lesser baseball pedigrees. Last season, Lewis (.349, 46 RBIs) was the WAC Freshman of the Year and a first-team all-WAC pick, along with McLoughlin (2.11 ERA, 17 saves). The pitching staff, which graduated five key players, could get a boost if Jeff Dillon (El Dorado) and Dallas Chadwick can return successfully from Tommy John surgery. After playing one game at Raley Field last season, the Hornets will play seven this year, starting with Nevada on Feb. 25. “We drew 1,300 people for Fresno State last year,” Christiansen said. “It’s obviously a great venue and creates some excitement for the players and fans. We’re also the only school in our conference that plays without lights. So it prepares us better for night games on the road, where it’s tough to win.”

– Bill Paterson

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