Softball earns No. 2 seed in conference tournament

Jeremiah Martinez

With an opportunity to clinch first place in the Big Sky Conference standings, Sacramento State softball could not come through when they were swept by Idaho State University in a three-game home series April 17-18.

Since then, Idaho State (33-16 overall, 17-4 Big Sky) finished the regular season on top of the conference standings and clinched the top seed as well as hosting rights for the conference tournament, which begins Thursday May 7 and concludes May 9.

Before the series began, both teams entered the three-game set tied for first in conference at 10-2. After being swept, the Hornets dropped to 10-5, but won five of their last six games to improve their conference record to 15-6 and clinch the second seed in the tournament.

“I definitely think we have learned a lot of lessons from the Idaho State games,” said Hornets’ coach Lori Perez. “I think we came out a little hyped up for it.”

Other teams that qualified for the tournament were Weber State University (35-17 overall, 13-6 Big Sky), who will be the third seed in the tournament and Southern Utah University (20-28 overall, 11-10 Big Sky), who clinched the fourth seed at the end of the regular season.

It was important for Perez’s squad to hold on to second place in the standings, especially during their series against Weber State, who at the time were tied with the Hornets for second place in the standings.

“Taking two out of three from Weber was great and [a] good rebound for us,” Perez said.

On April 24, the Hornets split their doubleheader against the Weber State Wildcats, with Sac State coming out victorious 1-0 in the first game and losing 9-5 in the second game.

The series finale on April 25, which was senior day for the Hornets, was a pitchers’ duel through six innings until sophomore Alexis Martinez hammered a two-run home run to center field, as Sac State defeated the Wildcats 2-0.

After the win, the Hornets had sole possession of second place before sweeping the Portland State University Vikings on Friday and Saturday in a three-game series.

The series finale was important because the Hornets entered the contest one game ahead of Weber State for the second seed in the conference tournament.

In the finale, the Vikings had a 2-1 lead before Shelby Johnston tied the game with an RBI double down the line that scored Nicole Clark from second. The Hornets took the lead with a Paige Martin RBI single to score Johnston later in the inning.

After the Hornets took a 3-2 lead, pitcher Caitlin Brooks pitched two scoreless innings to win the game.

Not only are the Hornets entering the conference tournament on a four-game winning streak, but their lineup also includes four batters hitting over .300: junior first baseman Sasha Margulies (.406), senior outfielder Alexa Chattleton (.369), freshman second baseman Zamari Hinton (.311) and senior outfielder Clark (.306).

Overall, the women ended the regular season as the fourth-best hitting team (.293) in the Big Sky.

Margulies’ .406 batting average was good for fourth best in the conference and she became the fourth player in the program’s Division I era (1990 through present) to hit over the mark.

Also, the junior went hitless in three plate appearances in the series finale against the Vikings that ended her 15-game hitting streak, which is the fourth longest in the program’s Div. I era.

Before the streak ended, Margulies said it was more important for her to get on base then to focus on extending the streak.

“It just means that I’m doing what I need to do in the [batter’s] box,” Margulies said. “I’m seeing the ball well and I want to continue that kind of mentality going through [the end of the] season.”

Another hitter in the Hornets’ lineup that put together a solid season at the plate was Martin.

The fifth-year senior finished the season with a team-high five home runs, 29 RBIs and a .292 batting average.

On April 11, Martin hit two home runs against the University of North Dakota in a 16-2 win, which tied a program single-game record and moved her into a seventh-place tie for career home runs in school history with 11.

Martin said her accomplishment reflects on her effort of helping the team win games.

“I don’t go into games looking for home runs, but if it happens it happens,” she said. “It’s awesome that I’m able to do that to help the team.”

The pitching staff of the Hornets capped off the season with the third-best team ERA (3.71) in the conference.

Defensively, Sac State was the second best team in terms of fielding percentage (.965) in the Big Sky.

“You want to be playing your best ball at this point in the season,” Perez said. “We started off conference playing really good softball all around and we had a little bit of a dip after we had two tough road trips [at Southern Utah and North Dakota] … And in our series against Weber State, we started to turn things around a little bit.”

The Hornets will begin action in the double-elimination Big Sky tournament on Thursday against No. 3 seed Weber State starting at 3 p.m. No matter the outcome of the game, the Hornets will face either first-seed Idaho State or fourth-seed Southern Utah on Friday May 8.

Sac State has qualified for the tournament all three years since the Big Sky began sponsoring softball in 2013.

Also, it will be the third straight season the tournament will be held in Pocatello, Idaho.

Last season Southern Utah won the tournament, defeating Idaho State 8-5 in the championship game.