Fresh off earning its first outright Western Athletic Conference baseball title and landing three of the four major conference individual awards, Sacramento State begins play tonight in the double-elimination WAC tournament in Mesa, Ariz.
The top-seeded Hornets will play the lowest-seeded winner from Wednesday’s four-team opening round (No. 6 New Mexico State if it beats No. 3 Utah Valley; or the winner of the No. 5 Seattle vs. No. 4 Bakersfield game) at Wrigleyville West, the Chicago Cubs’ new $99 million spring training complex that includes the 15,000-seat Cubs Park.
Sac State is looking to win its first WAC tournament title and automatic NCAA Division I regional playoff berth in school history. In 2012, the Hornets tied with Nevada and New Mexico State for the conference regular-season title but lost to Fresno State 4-3 in 13 innings in the tournament championship game.
On Tuesday, Reggie Christiansen was named the WAC Coach of the Year for the second time in three seasons, junior first baseman Rhys Hoskins was voted Player of the Year and left-handed pitcher Sam Long the Freshman of the Year. Texas Pan American senior Sam Street, whose only loss in 13 decisions was to Sac State, was named the Pitcher of the Year.
Hoskins also made the All-WAC first team along with junior pitcher Brennan Leitao and sophomore outfielder Nathan Lukes (Center). Long made the all-WAC second team, as did sophomore closer Sutter McLoughlin (Rio Americano), junior outfielder Kyle Moses and senior outfielder David Del Grande.
The seven total all-WAC selections is a program record.
Christiansen, in his fourth year, has led the Hornets to three consecutive 30-plus-win seasons, a first for the school since 1993.
Hoskins led the WAC with nine home runs and a .563 slugging percentage and was second with 45 RBIs. He becomes the third WAC Player of the Year in program history, joining Andrew Ayers (2012) and Mike Eby (1995).
Long, who graduated early from Del Campo to enroll at Sac State in January, is the third consecutive Hornet to be named WAC Freshman of the Year, joining Hoskins (2012) and outfielder Chris Lewis (2013). Long went 7-1 with a 2.51 ERA.
Leitao (8-3, 2.16 ERA) was the team’s ace and has tied the program record for wins with 23, while Lukes led the WAC in hits (85), batting average (.371) and has reached base in 36 consecutive games.
McLoughlin had a WAC-leading nine saves, Del Grande six home runs and 40 RBIs and Moses, a defensive standout, hit .335 and had a team-leading 11 steals.
Sac State, which had a 12-game winning streak earlier in the season and beat Baseball America top-ranked Oregon State 7-6 in April at Raley Field, secured the WAC title and its tournament’s top seed by sweeping North Dakota at home in the final three-game series of the regular season last weekend.
Del Grande capped the sweep Saturday afternoon with a walk-off, ninth-inning home run to give the Hornets a 6-5 win on senior day.
The Hornets (35-21) finished 21-6 in the WAC, two games ahead of Grand Canyon (30-22, 19-8), which is not eligible for the postseason this year as it transitions from Division II to D-I.
Third-place finisher Texas-Pan American (27-28, 17-10), which beat the Hornets two out of three games during the regular season, is the No. 2 seed and also will begin tournament play today.
UC Davis – The Aggies (23-28, 7-14) will finish its season this weekend by hosting UC Santa Barbara, a school that still harbors a long-shot of making the NCAA playoffs.
The Gauchos (31-17-1, 9-12) need to sweep the three-game series against UCD, though that still may not be enough to land an at-large berth. The Big West Conference doesn’t hold a postseason baseball tournament.