Baseball sweeps Northern Colorado in doubleheader

Kevin L. Shepherd

Nathan Lukes became the Sacramento State Hornets’ all-time hits leader with his third inning solo home run, propelling the Hornets to a 9-3 victory over the University of Northern Colorado Bears today at John Smith Field in game one of a doubleheader between the Western Athletic Conference foes.

The junior’s record breaking hit, career hit number 230, was a sharply struck line drive, which cleared the wall in right field and put the Hornets ahead 1-0. This was his seventh home run of the season.

“It’s awesome that it was a home run,” Lukes said. “I struck the ball pretty well and I’m glad that it got out of there.”

The teams were slated to play a series at Northern Colorado this weekend; however, forecasted rain in Greeley forced the series to be moved to be Sacramento. Northern Colorado is the home team for the series, despite the games being played on Sac State’s campus.

Brennan Leitao (6-4, 2.42 ERA) pitched seven innings of three-run ball, allowing seven hits and striking out four to earn the victory. The senior picked up his 30th career victory, adding to his school record.

“My command was really good today,” Leitao said. “It felt really good that the guys were able to give me a big lead. It allowed me to get really comfortable and settle in.”

Gunner Pollman’s fourth inning two-run blast to left field was the third hit of the inning for the Hornets and the fourth run, advancing the lead to 5-0.

Northern Colorado added a run in the bottom half of the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. Sac State added a pair of runs in the sixth and ninth innings.

Both teams had eight hits. The Bears were led offensively by Bryan Tibbitts (2-for4, 1 RBI) and Jensen Park (2-for-4). The Hornets were led by Lukes (3-for-5, 2 RBIs), Pollman (2-for-5, 2 RBIs) and Devin Lehman (2-for-5).

Dylan Shiraki took the loss for Northern Colorado. The junior pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing seven earned runs.

Jeremiah Moore and Ryan Smith rounded out the pitching for Sac State, each pitching a scoreless frame.

During game two, Ty Nichols allowed one run over the six innings he pitched as the Hornets cruised to a 7-1 victory over Northern Colorado to complete the sweep of today’s doubleheader.

Sac State (28-23, 14-9 WAC) won its sixth consecutive game to move ahead of Northern Colorado and into fourth place in the WAC. Northern Colorado (16-26, 12-11) fell into sixth place in the conference standings.

The Hornets got a stellar effort from the versatile Nichols. The senior, making his eighth start of the season, has been a weapon for the Hornets’ bullpen recently and has 18 total appearances this season.

Nichols recorded five strikeouts and only allowed three batters to reach base. He improved his record on the season to 4-0.

“I felt really good early and ran into a little trouble in the middle,” Nichols said. “I was able to stick with it and battle it out … I like the mentality of coming out of the bullpen, but I like starting as well because I can set the tone for the team.”

Sac state jumped on Northern Colorado in the top of the second with a Brandon Hunley RBI single, followed by a Dan Deely RBI double that was hammered to center field, giving the Hornets a 2-0 lead.

The Bears answered in the bottom of the third with a Payton Tapia RBI single to center to make it 2-1. Sac State answered with Lehman’s RBI single, which pushed the Hornets lead to 3-1 in the top of the fifth.

Vinny Esposito’s leadoff solo blast over the left field wall put the Hornets ahead 4-1. It was the freshmen’s sixth home run of the season.

Sac State added a pair of runs in the seventh inning with Scotty Burcham’s RBI double followed by Lehman’s RBI single to make it 6-1. Chris Lewis’ ninth inning RBI double to the gap in left center rounded out the scoring.

The Hornets outhit the Bears 13 to three and were led offensively by Esposito and Lehman. The two freshmen combined to go 6-for-10 with three RBIs.

Sac State scored a combined 16 runs for the doubleheader. They have scored at least seven runs in each game during their season-high six game winning streak.

“Our aggressiveness has created positive vibes in our dugout,” said Sac State coach Reggie Christiansen. “We have guys who have realized that you can help the team out by bunting [and] by stealing bases more than just hitting.”

Matt Loutzenhiser pitched six innings, allowing four runs to take the loss for Northern Colorado. Sam Long pitched three perfect innings in relief for Sac State. The sophomore and usual starter struck out five.

The Hornets will close out the series vs. Northern Colorado tomorrow at 12 p.m. at John Smith Field.

Sac State will conclude its regular season with a three-game series at home versus Grand Canyon University May 14-16.