Freshman left-handed pitcher Sam Long has performed beyond his years for Sacramento State throughout its history-making baseball season.
Long was 8-1 with a 2.86 ERA in 88 innings and was named Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year.
When the Hornets (39-22) play in the NCAA Division I Regionals for the first time in school history on Friday in San Luis Obispo, Long will be on the mound as the fourth-seeded Hornets open against top-seeded Cal Poly (45-10).
Long’s likely opponent will be imposing 6-foot-5 junior left-hander Matt Imhof, one of college baseball’s top pitchers who is expected to be a high pick in next week’s Major League Baseball draft.
Sac State coach Reggie Christiansen thinks the Hornets will be in good hands with Long, a player who would still be at Del Campo High School if he hadn’t graduated early to kick-start his college career.
“He’s going to be pitching for us this weekend when he probably should be at his high school graduation,” Christiansen said. “It’s amazing what he’s done. We’re 13-3 in games that he has pitched in, which is crazy.”
It might be crazy, but to Christiansen and Steve Holm, the Hornets’ associate head coach and a former Giants catcher, it’s not totally unexpected.
“Steve told our pitchers at the end of the fall that they had better work hard over the winter break and be ready to go when they got back because we had a high school kid named Sam Long coming in who might jump ahead of them and who is going to be in the big leagues some day,” Christiansen said. “That was a bold statement. But if he keeps doing what he’s been doing, that’s certainly going to be true.”
Junior Brennan Leitao, who earned his Sac State career-best 24th win with a 10-3 victory over Utah Valley in the WAC title game Sunday, normally would be the first-day starter. But Leitao pitched 14 innings over three days in the WAC tournament, so Christiansen decided to give him an extra day of rest. He’ll start Saturday’s game in the double-elimination regional that also includes No. 2 Arizona State and No. 3 Pepperdine.
“He pitched on Thursday and he pitched on Sunday, and he’s logged quite a few innings this season,” Christiansen said. “At this point, every game is critical. Brennan is either going to pitch us into the championship game or keep us from being eliminated.”
Hornets’ amazing climb – Senior center fielder David Del Grande, who has been in the Hornets’ program for five seasons, is pleased his college career has been extended at least two more games.
He said he’s amazed by how far the program has come since he arrived as a walk-on from Eureka. When he redshirted in 2010, the Hornets went 18-35-1, then won 19 games in Christiansen’s first season as coach. They have won 30-plus games in three consecutive seasons and have a shot at 40 with one more win this year.
“You could see right from the start that the program was headed in the right direction,” said Del Grande, a second-team All-WAC selection who has seven home runs and 45 RBIs this season. “For a lot of us, especially the senior and third-year players, we were guys who didn’t get many if any (scholarship) offers.
“But Reggie recruited guys who would work hard and weren’t selfish players. Those were the guys that he kept, and those are the guys he is recruiting. And you can see the results.”
Aggies honored – UC Davis senior second baseman Steven Patterson (.326, 24 RBIs) and junior outfielder Kevin Barker (.335, 63 hits) were selected for the All-Big West Conference second team.
Senior catcher Spencer Brann (.324, two errors in 135 chances), senior infielder Adam Young (.337, 59 hits), junior designated hitter Nick Lynch (.308, 34 RBIs) and freshman closer Zach Stone (3-4, nine saves) received honorable mention for the Aggies (23-31, 7-17).
Former Elk Grove High star J.D. Davis of Cal State Fullerton, a junior utility player, made the first team for the second consecutive year, and former Oakmont standout Tyler Kuresa, a UC Santa Barbara first baseman, made honorable mention.
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.