PREVIEW: Sac State baseball opens season on Friday against Northern Illinois

Hornets look for 11th straight winning season, fourth WAC conference championship


Dylan McNeill

Sac State’s baseball team warms up before a practice Feb.17 in front of the Hornets’ brand new scoreboard.”The new scoreboard is something we’ve been working for, fundraising and just playing our hearts out on the field for everybody.” said senior pitcher Brady Rodriguez.

Dylan McNeill

With a fourth potential WAC Championship and 11th straight winning season on the line, the Sac State baseball team will return to action this weekend as the Hornets play host to Northern Illinois University at John Smith Field.

The Hornets look to continue their recent success under manager Reggie Christiansen, who is returning to Sac State for his 12th year. Christiansen has a career record of 338-279 and has led the Hornets to three Western Athletic Conference championships. The Hornets have also had 25 players drafted to the MLB during his tenure. 

The Hornets enjoyed another successful season in 2021, going 35-22 which was good for third in the WAC. The Hornets lost in the semifinal to eventual runner-up University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to end their 2021 season. 

While much of the 2021 Hornets are returning, the two Hornet pitchers with the most innings both left the program after being drafted and two of the three Hornets who finished with the most hits in 2021 have since graduated.

“It’s a new team, a new group of players, so I think we’re trying to eliminate the expectations of what other teams had done and just really go out,” Christiansen said about the 2022 Hornets. 

“This is the first opportunity for these guys this weekend to play somebody in a different uniform.” 

The Hornets lost their two aces to the MLB draft; Travis Adams who was taken in the 6th round by the Minnesota Twins, and Scott Randall who was drafted in the 7th by the Arizona Diamondbacks. The combination of Adams and Randall pitched a combined 166.2 innings for Sac State with 175 strikeouts. 

Without the pitching tandem in the top of their rotation this year, the Hornets will be vying for answers in that area as the season unfolds

“Eli Saul has been really good and he’ll pitch on Fridays for us, Noah Lucchesi is a freshman left-hander that’ll pitch game two,” Christiansen said. “After that, it’s just going to be week to week based on matchups, it’ll look a little bit different than what we’ve done in the past just because we do lack experience.” 


Hornets’ Offensive Core

Offensively, the Hornets lost perhaps the best hitter in program history, Matt Smith. Last year Smith took over as the Sac State leader in both base hits and runs batted in. This year Smith was hired as an assistant coach on Christiansen’s staff. 

Other than Smith, many of the Hornet hitters are returning for 2022, including senior catcher Dawsen Bacho, junior outfielder Trevor Doyle, and senior third baseman Steven Moretto,  presenting Sac State with plenty of experience to lean on going into the season.

“We already have that bond, and the addition of the transfers and freshman made us even closer,” Doyle said. “The whole fall we’re facing our own pitchers and we’re ready to see some competition, we’re fired up for it.”

Smith, Bacho, and Doyle, along with junior first baseman Martin Vincelli-Simard, senior catcher/second baseman Dylan McPhillips, and sophomore middle infielder Jorge Bojorquez, whose season ended after he was hit in the jaw by a pitch, forcing him to miss the season’s final 27 games. 

“Jorge Bojorquez obviously was a big part of our team last year prior to getting hurt, we didn’t play very well after he went down,” Christiansen said. “That just goes to show how valuable he was to our team, so I’m looking for him to step into a leadership role and be a big part of our offense.” 


Pitching Rotation

On the pitching front, the Hornets have returning players Brady Rodriguez, a senior left-hander who went 8-2 in 2021 working primarily out of the bullpen, and junior Jack Zalasky who pitched in 28 games out of the bullpen last year for the Hornets going 7-2. 

“My expectation in my last year here is to just help out the team in any way that they need me, whether that’s coming out of the bullpen, or starting,” Rodriguez said. “I’m ready for whatever, we have a young staff, but they’re really good.” 


Season Outlook

Sac State’s baseball program has been among the most consistent in the nation, never having a losing record since Christiansen’s first year with the Hornets in 2011, making them the most successful sports team at Sac State over the last decade.

“I can’t wait to see that structure full of cars, and people yelling down at us. It’s going to be fun.” Rodriguez said.

Game one of the four-game series against Northern Illinois will be 2:00 p.m. Friday at John Smith Field, before a doubleheader Saturday, and then one game at noon on Sunday to wrap up the series. The series is available to stream here.