The State Hornet

Baseball team looks to build upon previous success to begin season

Sacramento+State+junior+James+Outman+celebrates+with+teammates+after+scoring+a+run+against+Northern+Kentucky+on+Feb.+26%2C+2017+at+John+Smith+Field.
Sacramento State junior James Outman celebrates with teammates after scoring a run against Northern Kentucky on Feb. 26, 2017 at John Smith Field.

Sacramento State junior James Outman celebrates with teammates after scoring a run against Northern Kentucky on Feb. 26, 2017 at John Smith Field.

Cameron Leng - The State Hornet

Cameron Leng - The State Hornet

Sacramento State junior James Outman celebrates with teammates after scoring a run against Northern Kentucky on Feb. 26, 2017 at John Smith Field.

Shaun Holkko

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The Sacramento State baseball team set the bar high after advancing to the NCAA Regional last season — and is focused on achieving that goal once again.

Sac State coach Reggie Christiansen led the Hornets to at least 30 wins for the sixth consecutive season after going 32-27 in 2017. In Western Athletic Conference competition, Sac State went 12-12 for a third-place finish, but saved its best for last.

The Hornets — which were predicted to finish third in the preseason coaches poll on Feb. 7 — entered the WAC Tournament on a four-game win streak and carried that momentum into four more wins to become conference champions. This title clinched Sac State a berth into the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the last four years.

RELATED: Sac State wins WAC title, advances to play Stanford in NCAA Regional

Christiansen’s resume of success then paid off as he received a contract extension back in October, rooting himself here until 2024.

“We want to continue to improve over the course of the season,” Christiansen said. “We want to continue to perform as a program on the field but also in the classroom.”

Players to watch out for this season include senior outfielder Ian Dawkins, junior outfielder James Outman and sophomore outfielder Matt Smith.

Dawkins, who was named to the all-WAC preseason team on Wednesday, started all 61 games at center field and earned all-WAC first team honors last year. This recognition was due in part to Dawkins leading the Hornets in batting average (.340), on-base percentage (.401), hits (89), runs (56) and stolen bases (15). Dawkins also ranked 17th in the nation in hits in Division I baseball.

Fellow senior Vinny Esposito, who was selected to the all-WAC preseason team last week, described Dawkins as having “ice in his veins,” saying he “is never really fazed by anything.”

Outman, who was also selected to the all-WAC preseason team, is another key member of the team who is looking to build upon last season’s success and have a breakout campaign in 2018.

In his sophomore season, Outman was named to the all-WAC Tournament team. He led his team in RBIs (53), doubles (16), walks (37) and tied for first in home runs (11). Outman’s 11 home runs were tied for the most in a season since Rhys Hoskins in 2014, who is now a rising star on the Philadelphia Phillies.

“Outman did very well last year and had a very good summer so we expect a lot of good things from James, and I think he will have a good season,” Dawkins said.

Following a breakout true-freshman season, Smith was sidelined for the entire 2017 season with a shoulder injury. Luckily for him, he did not lose a year of eligibility as it counted as a medical redshirt season.

Smith began his collegiate career on a 16-game hitting streak and followed that up with an eight game hitting streak later in the season. Smith started at designated hitter for all but two of his 48 starts during his freshman campaign.

“Having Matt Smith back in our lineup and on the field will be huge for our team,” said senior pitcher Austin Root.

Christiansen and his coaching staff are still undecided on who will be the everyday catcher and what the pitching rotation will look like but he said that should be decided within the coming weeks.

“Our mindset has shifted the last couple years and we are on a different level as a program,” Christiansen said. “We believe that we belong on the field with anyone in the country, and I think we’ve proven that.”

Sac State will open the season with a four game series against the University of Washington on Friday at John Smith Field.

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