Even though Sacramento State’s Kathy Strahan stepped down at the end of last season after 21 years as softball coach, the program hasn’t missed a beat under interim head coach Lori Perez.
The Hornets (24-19, 12-4) are seeded No. 2 for the four-team Big Sky Conference double-elimination tournament today through Saturday in Pocatello, Idaho.
Sac State plays No. 3 Southern Utah (20-28, 10-6) at 3 p.m. today, after No. 1 Idaho State (32-18, 13-4) faces No. 4 Northern Colorado (20-32, 11-7) at noon.
Idaho State is hosting the tournament because it won the regular-season title, though the Hornets missed a shot at the crown when two conference games were rained out and not replayed.
The winner of the tournament receives an automatic NCAA tournament bid, and the Hornets are trying to make their first regional appearance since 2008.
Though it’s her first season as coach, Perez is no stranger to the program. As Lori Meixner, she was a four-year starter for the Hornets (1999-2002) before nine years as an assistant to Strahan.
Junior Caitlin Brooks (9-5, 1.44 ERA), the Big Sky Conference Pitcher of the Year, has been the team’s ace. She helped the Hornets lead all Big Sky teams in ERA (2.73). Six Hornets regulars are hitting .300 or better, led by sophomore first baseman Sasha Margulies (.359, 22 RBIs) and all-Big Sky first-team redshirt freshman third baseman Alexis Martinez (.318, 24 RBIs).
The Hornets are making a push to sign more area players, and all four signees for next season have area roots.
Pitcher Celina Matthias and infielder-outfielder Melissa Maligad are from Pleasant Grove, corner infielder Cassidy Martin plays at Center and second baseman Zamari Hinton is from Sheldon.
This year, only junior infielder Paige Castro (.328) from Franklin and junior outfielder Nicole Clark (.301) from Folsom played at local high schools.
Tough times in Reno – UC Davis’ two-game baseball winning streak ended Tuesday night with a 6-5, 10-inning nonconference loss to Nevada in Reno.
The Wolf Pack scored twice in the 10th, including the winning run on a bases-loaded wild pitch with one out. The Aggies (19-25, 5-13) have lost six times in their last seven trips to Reno.
With a sixth-inning single, junior center fielder Kevin Barker extended his team-high hitting streak to 12 games while also reaching base safely for the 22nd consecutive game. Barker is No. 4 in hitting in the Big West Conference with a .352 batting average.
UC Davis is at Gonzaga for a three-game, non-conference series this weekend.
Hornet pitching gems – Sac State junior Brennan Leitao was named the Western Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Week after allowing three hits in eight innings in a 6-0 win over visiting Chicago State last Friday. Leitao, an All-WAC first-team selection last season, is 6-0 with a 1.50 ERA in seven conference starts.
The right-hander from Irvine figures to get a challenge Friday when the Hornets play at Texas-Pan American. He is scheduled to face UTPA senior Sam Street, a Melbourne, Australia, native who is 11-0, tied for the NCAA lead in wins, and has a 1.63 ERA.
Sac State (31-18, 17-4) enters the three-game series with the Broncos (12-9, 22-27) with a three-game lead over second-place Grand Canyon (25-20, 14-7) after sweeping Chicago State last weekend.
On Tuesday, the Hornets will play the last of their six Raley Field games against Causeway Cup rival UC Davis.
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.