Baseball’s pitching staff anchors the squad


Junior pitcher Justin Dillon throws a fastball to a batter during Sacramento State’s intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015 at John Smith Field. Dillon pitched in 13 games with 12 starts last season.

Kevin L. Shepherd

Armed with a lot of potential, the 2015 Sacramento State baseball team’s pitching staff aims to pitch the Hornets into contention by continuing an impressive run of stellar production.

This year’s team is following a 2014 squad which broke program records in team ERA, opposing batting average and innings pitched. They return key contributors from last year’s team along with impressive new additions to the staff.

In the team’s first series of the 2015 season, the Hornets had superb pitching against the University of Utah and is starting off the year with a 3-1 record. The bullpen has an overall team ERA of 4.00.

The unit looks to the talent on the pitching staff as a means of probable success, but credit their off-the-field chemistry and the coaching they receive as what truly makes being a Sac State pitcher unique.

“We keep each other accountable in our preparation for pitching,’’ said Brennan Leitao, senior pitcher and staff ace. “We have each other’s back and try to pick each other up as much as we possibly can.”

On Feb. 13 Leitao made his first 2015 start in the Hornets’ season debut against Utah, allowing just two runs and seven hits over six innings pitched in their 6-4 loss.

Leitao, the program’s all-time leader with 24 career wins, is a starting pitcher who bridges the gap to the relievers. Starting pitchers typically pitch once a week, so most of their preparation is mental in addition to the physical preparation.

The mental preparation includes film study and encouraging their fellow pitchers; the latter is what the staff attributes to being a big part of the shifting culture of Sac State pitching.

“I think the culture of pitching here has changed,” Leitao said. “Three or four years ago we were mostly an offensive team. We feel that being more pitcher and defensive focused gives us a chance to win every ball game.”

Winning every game is a relief pitcher’s dream. Relief pitchers are not guaranteed to pitch in any given game, yet must remain mentally sharp in case they are called upon. Sometimes they are called upon in the most stressful situations to save the day.

“It’s a roller coaster of emotion,” said sophomore reliever Chad Perry. “One day I may go out there and pitch great, and get the call the next day. Other times I may go a couple games without pitching. I just try to stay ready.”

The 2015 staff returns all of their starters from last year and key relievers such as Perry, Jared Paderez and Sutter McLoughlin.

McLoughlin is tied for the all-time saves lead at Sac State with 26.

The Hornets are a relatively young team overall, with four freshmen expected to start in the field. They hope that the chemistry of the veteran-laden pitching staff can carry the team.

“We feel like we have a brotherhood,” McLoughlin said. “Brennan and our other leaders on staff do a great job of taking everyone in, and making us feel as one.”

McLoughlin and the other Hornets pitchers credit their success to their ability to joke around at times, giving them the opportunity to stay loose.

They also credit the atmosphere head coach Reggie Christiansen has created and the guidance of associate head coach Steve Holm, who works with the pitchers.

The team often practices scenarios in which the game is on the line. The players said that the last out of the game is typically the most difficult one to get, and these scenarios prepare them for high-leverage situations.

This year, McLoughlin and Perry will share the closing duties while McLoughlin recovers from an offseason shoulder injury. Perry said he’s prepared to handle that role.

“I see a teammate doing well and I just want to go out there and finish the job for him,” Perry said. “I just want to get that guy the win.”

Perry credits his preparation to his ability to pitch is in middle relief or closing situations.

With starters, middle-relievers and closers intact, the 2015 staff looks to leave their own imprint on the history of Sac State pitching.

“I think we look really good all the way down the line,” Leitao said. “We have starters that can start and finish a game. We have relievers that can finish it for us. This is a great time to be a Hornets’ pitcher.”