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by Rick Cabral

HORNETS' EARLY GRAD SENSATIONS

LONG AND HUNLEY PLAY ABOVE GRADE


when a collegiate player sits out a season he or she is called a “redshirt.” But what do you call a player who should still be a senior in high school?

When you’re Reggie Christiansen, head coach of the Sacramento State baseball team, you might want to come up with a term soon, because two of his starters should still be playing for their prep teams.

For grins, we’ll call them “greenshirts” since Brandon Hunley and Sam Long now play for the green and gold, though in 2014 they should be playing for Christian Brothers and Del Campo High Schools respectively.

Although they took different routes to get here, the results have been extremely positive for both players.

 

 Long_Sac_State

Southpaw Sam Long is 3-0 with a 2.17 ERA in his first year on the Hornets.
He 's done it with a mixture of pitches, including the circle change-up.


At the time of publication, Long had just started his fifth game and sports a 3-0 mark and 2.17 earned run average to lead the starting pitching staff.

Hunley, an infielder who started three seasons for the Falcons high school varsity, is batting just .240, but leads the Hornets with 13 runs batted in and three home runs to date. Plus, he’s making all the plays around the keystone sack.


“They’re both really mature and were good students (in high school),” Christiansen says, noting qualities that helped these teens become top collegiate players in just their first year. “The parents are good people, they’ve been raised the right away. So you knew that if the kid was going to struggle (on the ballfield) how they were going to deal with it.

“So, it’s not surprising at all to see the success they’re having.”

Both Long and Hunley played for Christiansen’s summer travel team, the Sacramento Stingers, so the coach already had developed a unique insight into the players, both personally and on the field.

Christiansen cautions that graduating early for these two doesn’t signal a new trend. He notes that although several prep baseball players from southern California have done it, it’s still rare—and probably will remain so.

“It takes a special kid and special circumstance,” the Hornets’ coach notes. “We’re not out there promoting it, or telling kids to come out early. Both these kids (Long and Hunley) and their families came to us. We had already been recruiting them, and they told us they were coming. So it wasn’t like we were trying to take them away from high school.”

In his fourth year at the Hornets helm (and sixth year with the program), Coach Christiansen stresses he greatly respects area high school coaches and has no plan to lure high school stars before their senior year.

Christian Brothers High head coach Rich Henning admits disappointment at losing his star player to attend Sac State one year early. “It is too bad we are losing one of our better players, for the high school team. But I firmly believe everyone has to do what they feel is best for them. And I assume the family and Brandon felt the best for him was to start his college career early. We wish him the best of luck. And I’m sure he’s going to do well.”

On the flip side, Henning and the CB Falcons won’t have to face Sam Long this year in the Capital Valley Conference.



Long appears to be the trailblazer in this story.

Attending Rosemont High his sophomore season, two events prompted Long to consider graduating early from high school.

A cousin who lives in Indiana was friends with a prep student whose father Tracy Smith is the head coach of the Indiana University baseball program. The younger Smith skipped his senior year to join the Hoosiers baseball squad sooner. Upon learning of it, the seed was planted in Long’s mind.

When Rosemont announced it was considering dropping its baseball team, Long (along with head coach Paul Martinez) looked for other options, and enrolled at Del Campo High, where the block academic schedule would allow him to complete his secondary school requirements by Christmas 2013.

Another factor for choosing the Cougars: they enjoy a long history for being one of the better programs in the area. As it turned out, Coach Martinez was chosen to lead Del Campo, and he took them to the Division II Sac-Joaquin Section title game.

There, Long pitched a 2-0 seven-hit shutout against Benicia for the Section title. Afterward, Long appeared elated and announced he was planning to graduate early to begin play for the Hornets in 2014 (Ironically, Martinez also left Del Campo after that season to take an assistant coaching position with the Sacramento City softball team).

Looking back now, “It was pretty sweet. I’m never going to forget something like that,” Sam says. “It was pretty fun. Hopefully, something similar to that can happen over here (Sac State), too.” 

 Hunley_HR_Sac_State

Brandon Hunley demonstrates the form that leads the Hornets in home runs and RBI.  Above he's just conneted on a solo shot against Nortehrn Colorado.



Hunley, by comparison, came to his decision later last summer and admits that knowing Long was entering Sac State a year sooner may have influenced him. Unlike Long, Hunley was planning to redshirt this season. But an injury to Hornets’ senior second baseman Scott Loper in the second game created an opportunity and when Brandon and his parents consented to have him play this season, Christiansen put him in the starting lineup. “He made the decision to do it, and hasn’t looked back,” the Hornets coach said. “He’s a special player.”

In his first game, Hunley went three-for-four against Utah and has been in the starting lineup ever since (he has moved over to his high school position at shortstop). Nine days later under the lights at Raley Field, Hunley came up in the eighth inning against Nevada with the scored tied 4-4 and hit a three-run homer over the left field wall to win the game.

While Long expected to pitch a few innings out of the bullpen this season, he was surprised when he was named to start in Week Two against national power Fresno State. The southpaw delivered. In five innings of work, he allowed six hits, two runs (one earned), and collected his first collegiate victory in the Hornets 6-4 win. On Saturday against Northern Colorado, Long again pitched five innings, as the Hornets bested the Bears 16-2.

After five starts, three wins and the subterranean ERA, Long admits “I wouldn’t have guessed that I would be doing this well.”

Hunley, too, is humbled at his success and credits his Hornets teammates and coaching staff. “If you make a mistake, someone will call you aside and help you, no matter what. It’s really good.” The 6-foot infielder notes that the speed of the game is the biggest difference in making the jump to college ball. Plus, “Everybody in college is a pitcher, not just a thrower. They know how to spot the ball, and when to throw a curve ball or change up.”

From the moundsman’s perspective, Long says he could compete with one pitch in high school, when the others weren’t working. “In college, you’ve got to compete with two pitches, at least,” he confides. “Just make sure you’re changing your speeds as best you can.” The southpaw changes speeds often, estimating he throws 50-percent fastballs, followed by 25-percent curves and change-ups.

“He’s been one of our best pitchers, right from the beginning,” Christiansen says. “We knew he was going to be able to contribute right away. He’s just a tough kid. He’s pitching on Saturday’s already for us. It’s pretty cool.”

It’s also pretty cool that after 23 games it appears the Hornets’ two “greenshirts” will be part of the baseball program for a long time.

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 Created 3/24/14
All contents © Rick Cabral 2014

 

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