The thing about dog-pile celebrations is they are best approached strategically.
Arrive first to the fray and you run the risk of bodily harm, as in a crunch of humanity on top of you. Elbows and knees to the ear, lower back and elsewhere.
And there’s the pick-and-choose route Blake Edmonson prefers.
When Sacramento State recorded the final out to polish off Cal State Bakersfield 5-0 on Saturday night to win the Western Athletic Conference championship in Arizona, the mob scene was on.
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“It was a great pile, and I was on top, so that made it even more cool,” said Edmonson, the Hornets’ reserve outfielder and full-bore energizer. “We were talking about that before the game. A lot of guys had never experienced a dog pile. It can be fun if you’re not at the bottom.”
Edmonson’s voice was hoarse on Monday morning, the senior from Visalia so used to barking and cheering that his vocals gave way long ago. His team was weary from the taxing week, going 4-0 over four successive days in Mesa, but there was enough juice at Clubhouse 56 to celebrate a bit more. Only no dog piling this time.
Sacramento State earned the No. 4 seed in the Stanford Regional. The Hornets play the storied Cardinal on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Sunken Diamond in the double-elimination event. It’s the second time in three seasons the Hornets have reached the NCAA Tournament, a tribute to the efforts of tireless coach Reggie Christiansen, whose motto is to mine the region for prospects while also offering a green light to those from across the state – or country – to put on the Hornets’ green and gold.
“This is such a great area for baseball with really good high school and junior college coaches,” Christiansen said, soaking in the Clubhouse 56 scene. “We want kids who want to be wanted. We want kids who want to be here. We want to be Option A or B and not Option C or D.”
In a sport heavy on “what have you done lately?” Sac State (32-27) rolls onto The Farm winners of eight consecutive games. The Cardinal (40-14) have won 21 of 23. Stanford has won 16 of 29 Regionals, made the playoffs 30 times and reached the College World Series 14 times under retiring coach Mark Marquess.
It’s a daunting task but the Hornets feed on daunting.
Christiansen mirrored his team’s excitement about taking on the Cardinal, saying, “Why not? We’ll be the only (NCAA baseball) game televised that night. The whole country can see.”
What they’ll see is Hornets ace Justin Dillon, a senior from Placerville who was the WAC Tournament MVP. In two starts in Mesa, Dillon went 2-0, allowing one run and striking out 12 over 12 innings. Senior infielder Kody Reynolds also earned All Tournament honors after batting .533 with two home runs and 10 RBIs.
Sac State in the last year has put its program on display, often under the lights, at John Smith Field with promotions of “Fill the John” for home games. Smith coached the Hornets to the NCAA Division II World Series in 1986 and ’88, and he ushered the program into D-I in 1991. He also brought in Christiansen, who became his replacement eight years ago.
The Hornets take great comfort when the 6-foot-3 Dillon takes the mound. The right-hander threw the first no-hitter in Sac State’s D-I history on Feb. 24, when he beat Northern Kentucky 2-0. He struck out 13.
“When Justin’s on the mound,” Edmonson said, “everyone’s really into it.”
Edmonson roots more than he plays, having collected just four hits in 26 at-bats. But in this sport, it’s one for all and all for one.
“There comes a point where you can’t be selfish and you know and accept your role, and you’re all in, and that’s when teams really come together,” he said.
The Hornets are layered with young talent. Parker Brahms, a pitcher from Calabasas, went 7-3 in the regular season and earned WAC Freshman of the Year honors. Junior infielder Vinny Esposito of Granite Bay earned All-WAC accolades after tying for the conference lead with 33 RBI. He and outfielder James Outman are tied for the Hornets RBI lead with 52.
So, about this NCAA Regional, Vinny?
“Oh, unbelievable,” Esposito said. “Biggest part is our bench and how they’ve really picked us up. They’re carrying us. It’s everybody. This game can bring you to your knees it can be that hard. But then you can start rolling. We’re rolling, and we’re still going.”