The end was swift, cruel by baseball standards.
Sacramento State barreled into this NCAA Regional riding an eight-game winning streak, an upstart program armed with big bats and powerful arms with blowout victories left in its wake helping to earn this encounter.
But the Hornets were overmatched on The Farm, buffaloed and battered but not unbowed.
Sac State lost to Stanford 10-0 on Thursday night and then fell 6-1 to BYU on Friday afternoon at Sunken Diamond, thus sinking a season of promise in a hurry.
Still, there was optimism in the voices of Sac State coaches and players, even in elimination. This is no fluke, reaching an NCAA Regional for the second time since 2014. The framework and approach is there to make this the norm, and that’s the mandate by Sac State President Robert S. Nelsen.
Nelsen cheered on his program near the Hornets dugout in the early innings, pausing a moment for this interview to hold his pinkie high to match his voice as he belted out, “Stingers uuuuup! Go Hornets!”
He took a moment to assess what the team has accomplished under seventh-year coach Reggie Christiansen. The commitment to recruit the local region hard and to land prospects. Playing and beating a Top 20 team in each of the past four seasons. A program-best 3.31 GPA for the players for a spring semester.
And mentoring good citizens who understand baseball has deeper meaning than at-bats, ERAs and relay throws. On the eve of the season, Christiansen “signed” 6-year-old Yeshua “Rock” Thrower. The sweet-natured boy was in 2014 diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. He arrived to the Hornets through Team Impact, a nonprofit whose mission is to improve the life of youths afflicted with illness. The team held a news conference to introduce their “Rock.”
The Hornets can’t get too bummed about the end of the season when Thrower appreciates them every day. Perspective comes in small packages.
“Reggie’s my strongest coach,” Nelsen said. “He produces student-athletes with integrity. He’s holding them accountable as students and players and people. And we’ve got a really diverse baseball roster with different backgrounds with kids from all over, from Puerto Rico to Granite Bay.”
Sac State baseball is a trendsetter on campus. It isn’t a money-making sport, but it can continue to be an attention-grabbing one, a model to emulate. The Hornets pushed for lights, and got them a year ago, all the better to illuminate players and progress.
New Hornets athletic director Mark Orr is busy shaking hands and knocking on doors to find ways to get an event center built on campus to, among other things, help boost the basketball program. The football program has been in decline but it has the potential to appeal to the region as it did at times under coaches John Volek in the late 1990s and several seasons ago for an instant under Marshall Sperbeck.
“This is what we expect,” Nelsen said of competing in the postseason. “Sac State is capable of winning conference championships. We did it in golf and track and field and just won the (Western Athletic Conference tournament title) in baseball. It’s time we start to do it in football and basketball and all sports.”
Sac State will return seven position starters and two of its top four pitchers, including WAC Freshman of the Year Parker Brahms, who took the loss against BYU.
“It’s been a magical run, just to get into the WAC tournament, and, obviously, it wasn’t the end we wanted, but we’ll be better for it,” Christiansen said. “I’m excited about next year. We need to do a better job as a coaching staff to make sure we’re more prepared for this. We’ll be back.”
Said junior first baseman Vinny Esposito of Granite Bay, “It’s disappointing how we played because we didn’t show how good we can be, but there’s definitely a lot of upside.”