Despite initial cold and rainy weather, the Sacramento State baseball team has been heating up the John Smith Field as it begins the 2017 season.
After hosting its two opening series this season, Sac State has won five of its six total games. The Hornets took two games out of their three-game series against Power Five school Washington State — despite rain delays — and swept the four-game series over Northern Kentucky from Feb. 23-26.
Weather dampened the excitement of opening night under the lights after the first game of the season was postponed against Washington State to the following afternoon as a part of a doubleheader on Feb. 18.
“It was a disappointment for the players — to have the lead up and anticipation of opening day — then for it to get rained out,” Sac State coach Reggie Christiansen said. “I was more worried about getting here on Saturday (and) getting the field ready to play two games.”
The Hornets won the first game of the doubleheader against the Cougars 10-2 after right-handed senior pitcher Justin Dillon allowed only one hit. Sac State won the second game 6-4, but failed to complete the sweep after falling 4-3 despite freshman pitcher Parker Brahms only allowing one run on four hits in six innings during his collegiate debut.
The series with Washington State was supposed to be a four-game affair, but heavy rain came back and the first game was cancelled. Clear skies returned on Feb. 23 as Dillon — who struck out a career-high 13 batters — threw the first NCAA Division I no-hitter in program history en route to a 2-0 series opening win against Northern Kentucky.
“I believe in these guys behind me,” Dillon said about his team’s performance throughout the no-hitter. “All of these guys lay out for me — I have that trust in them — and they have that trust in me, which makes both of our jobs that much easier.”
On Feb. 24, the Hornets came from behind with two outs in the bottom of the 11th inning to tie the game 5-5 off of an RBI base hit from senior shortstop Trent Goodrich. Junior center fielder Ian Dawkins then ended the game with a walk-off to defeat Northern Kentucky 6-5 in extra innings.
“My only goal in that at-bat was to put the ball in play,” Dawkins said. “I know (Northern Kentucky’s) defense had made a few errors earlier in the game — last night they did as well — put pressure on the defense and see what happens.”
The next night, Sac State delivered a 10-0 blowout win over the Norse — featuring a seven inning, zero runs allowed, nine strikeout performance from Brahms, and a grand slam in the sixth inning from sophomore right fielder James Outman.
In the series finale, the Hornets recovered from two separate four-run deficits to win the outing 12-11, clinching the four-game sweep over Northern Kentucky — despite allowing 16 hits in the game.
Much of Sac State’s success can be credited to its pitching staff — which consists of performances by Dillon (2-0, 0.56 ERA), Brahms (1-0, 0.69 ERA) and sophomore Alex Dentoni (3-0, 1.29 ERA). The Hornets pitching staff is unique in that every single pitcher on the roster is right-handed.
“I’m a bad recruiter of left-handers,” Christiansen joked regarding the one-sided pitching staff. “We have addressed it — it is something that is certainly not by design — but it does force our right-handed pitchers to develop a changeup so they can get (left-handed batters) out.”
The Hornets will travel to Washington for a four-game series against the Huskies (4-3) on Thursday at 6:05 p.m.
“My friend at Santa Clara played against (Washington) so he has been giving me some input,” Brahms said about his thoughts on starting against the Huskies. “I’ll be trying to work the inside corner.”
Sac State (6-1) will return back to John Smith Field after the Washington series to take on Penn State in a three-game series from March 9-11.