PREVIEW: Hornets look to continue winning-season streak

2023 baseball season begins Friday at home vs. North Dakota State


Alyssa Branum

Redshirt freshman Griffin Harrison celebrates with teammates after hitting a homerun during an intersquad game Friday, Feb. 10, 2023 in Sacramento. Sac State’s baseball season starts Friday with a home series at John Smith Field.

Isaac Streeter

Sac State baseball returns to the John Smith Field Friday with a four-game home stand against the North Dakota State Bison.

The Hornets look to continue their consistency and claim a 12th winning season in a row. 

The Hornets are the only Division I program in California to boast 30-win seasons in each of the last 10 non-pandemic years. All of these have come under the tenure of head coach Reggie Christensen, who is entering his 13th year leading the team. 

The 2022 team finished 32-26 but after losing in the WAC tournament, the Hornets season came to an end, missing an opportunity at an NCAA regional berth for the second season in a row. 

The team has seen a great deal of turnover since.

Staples of the offense have graduated, including catcher Dawsen Bacho, infielder Nick Iwasa, second baseman/catcher Dylan McPhillips, third baseman Steven Moretto and shortstop Keith Torres.

On the pitching side, Eli Saul became the 26th player in the Christensen era to be drafted by Major League Baseball. Saul was tied in starts for the Hornets in 2022 against Colin Hunter, who has also left the program. 

Even the coaching staff has experienced turnover, with Jon Wente being newly hired for 2023 to take over as the team’s pitching coach. 

With all of these moves, the Hornets still have a number of questions to be addressed about their team before the 2023 season gets underway. 

How will the Pitching staff be filled out?

Losing Saul and Hunter are major blows to the pitching staff. The two combined for 30 starts, while five other pitchers combined for the other 28.

Neither Christensen or Wente named a starting rotation, or an ace of the roster who will get the Friday game starts to open up the series. 

“I think we’re still trying to figure out who’s gonna pitch in what roles,” Christensen said. “That being said, we don’t have a true Friday guy that’s been tested.” 

According to Christensen and Wente, there are eight pitchers who could have the opportunity to seize a role in the four-man starting rotation this season. 

Kevin Haynes is a right-handed junior who started two games for the Hornets last year.

According to Christensen, Xavier Richards is the only freshman pitcher who will see considerable action.

“Kevin Haynes has taken a big leap,” Wente said. “Xavier Richards [is] a freshman that will get a chance to throw some quality innings.” 

With a lack of clear answers on the starting rotation from the coaching staff, the only solidified slot in the pitching mix will be the team’s only preseason All-WAC selection, closer Jack Zalasky. 

“It’s really an honor that they trust me to have the ball in that situation,” Zalasky said. “‘I’m just hoping to give us a chance to win every time I’m out there.”

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What does the Offensive Core look like? 

While the losses of Bacho, Iwasa and others are major, hitting coach David Flores said he feels confident in the team’s ability to reload, not rebuild. 

“We lost the presence of a lot of older guys,” Flores said. “We think we did a good job of having some of these other guys come in and be ready to go this year.” 

Outfielders like sophomore Jeffery Heard and junior Josh Rolling look to build on strong 2022 campaigns.

Junior third baseman Jorge Bojorquez also returns after starting every game, leading the team in at bats and hits last year. 

Junior slugger Cesar Valero is also set to return after missing the last month of the 2022 season due to a labrum injury, according to Flores. Valero said he won’t be able to play the outfield until March while his shoulder continues to heal, but will be the everyday designated hitter until then. 

“‘I’m excited,” Valero said. “I’m hungry to play.” 

The Oregon State transfer led the team with 13 home runs despite only playing in 39 games for the Hornets in 2022. His bat back in the lineup will be massive for Sac State. 

Junior Gunner Gouldsmith will take over at second base when he returns from injury in 3-4 weeks, according to Christensen. Until he returns, Rolling and Bojorquez will see time at the position. 

Freshman shortstop Wehiwa Aloy will be the everyday starter, Christensen said.

Who’s Catching? 

Behind the dish, replacing Bacho will be no easy task. He led the team in batting average and was tied for second in hits. 

Christensen said he feels confident he’s got the two guys to do it in junior Carson Blatnick and senior Martin Vincelli-Simard. 

“I think the catching situation is gonna be solid.” He said. “You’ve got both [Vincelli-Simard] and [Blatnick] who will share time back there.” 

Christensen said Blatnick is in a great position to have a breakout year in 2023. Vincelli-Simard will look to continue the hot streak he had at the end of 2022 while changing positions. 

The two will split reps — two games apiece — to start the year, according to Christensen. 

Season Outlook

Sac State entered the 2023 season not returning a single All-WAC performer, and were picked in a three way tie to finish fourth in the WAC by preseason voters.

They also have to face six teams who qualified for the NCAA tournament last season. 

“[The goal is] to win 50 games.” junior pitcher Noah Takacs said. “At the end of the day, I want to win a super regional with this team.” 

Christensen said he has high expectations for his 2023 squad, comparing them to the 2012 Hornet squad — a team recently inducted into Sac State’s athletic hall of fame.

“You know this team kinda reminds me of that team in regards to trying to prove people wrong,” Christensen said.