Sacramento State claims WAC title, earns first DI NCAA tournament berth
MESA, Ariz. -- For the first time in the Division I era of the program (since 1990), Sacramento State is headed to the NCAA tournament after a 10-3 win agaomst Utah Valley in the WAC tournament championship game on Sunday.
Sacramento State (39-22) earns the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, which begins next weekend. The Hornets won four consecutive games in the past three days to claim the title and defeated Utah Valley by a 10-3 score for the second consecutive day.
"These kids are special; we didn't give up after losing that first one as the No. 1 seed and we could have gone away but this was our goal and they didn't stop fighting," head coach Reggie Christiansen said. "In 25 years at Division I it's the first time we've won a WAC championship and first time we've been to the NCAA tournament. This group of guys here are helping change things for the future and it's a special group."
The squad will learn its NCAA destination when the field is announced at noon ET Monday live on ESPNU.
Sophomore designated hitter Chris Lewis was named MVP of the tournament as he hit .500 with seven RBIs and five runs scored over the five Hornet games. Junior first baseman Rhys Hoskins, junior starter Brennan Leitao, and junior reliever Alex Palsha were also named to the all-tournament team.
Leitao made his second start of the tournament on Sunday and was dominant pitching on just two days rest. He threw five innings and allowed just one unearned run on four hits with no walks and three strikeouts to earn the win, the 24th victory of his Hornet career to break the previous program record, which he had tied last weekend.
Just like in their 10-3 win against Utah Valley on Saturday night, the Hornets again scored three times in the first inning on Sunday as the first four hitters in the Hornet lineup hit singles off Wolverine starter Danny Beddes and the team took a quick 3-0 lead.
Hoskins hit his second home run of the tournament in the third inning on a deep solo shot to left field. Lewis drove home a fifth Hornet run on a two-out single in the fourth inning, but the Wolverines got one run back in the bottom of the fourth off an infield single and a Hornet throwing error.
Junior Scotty Burcham brought home another Hornet run the following inning with a safety squeeze bunt, and in the seventh senior David Del Grande blasted a solo home run to make the score 7-1. Utah Valley came back with a pair of runs in the bottom of the seventh to get within four, but the Hornets quickly built their lead back up in the eighth with three runs off an RBI single from sophomore Nathan Lukes and a two-run shot by Hoskins, his WAC-leading 12th home run of the season and his second two-homer game of the season.
Sophomore closer Sutter McLoughlin pitched a scoreless eighth and ninth, clinching the win when he got Utah Valley's Seth Rhineer to fly out to Hornet left fielder Kyle Moses and send the Hornets into the NCAA tournament.
Sacramento State last qualified for the NCAA tournament as a Division II team in 1989, its fourth NCAA tournament berth in a five year span. The squad was the Division II runner-up in 1988 before the program moved to Division I for the 1990 season.
With their 39th win of the season the Hornets have their most wins in a year since the 1991 team went 41-23. The team was co-WAC champion in 2012 and narrowly lost to Fresno State in the WAC title game that year, but in 2014 the squad used the momentum of a three-game winning streak to earn the win in the deciding contest.
"Our goal at the beginning of the year was to play in the NCAA tournament and win 40 games," Christiansen said. "We have 39 right now so I told the guys 'go get win number 40 and make some noise in the tournament'."