Dylan McPhillips’ sophomore season at Sacramento State University started off slow and ended on a high. First, the low. The catcher/designated hitter was out of commission, having undergone right knee surgery in October 2018. Born and raised in Gilroy, McPhillips missed the first month of the season only to come on strong at the end of the season.
The 2017 Monte Vista Christian graduate played a key role in the Hornets advancing to a NCAA Tournament regional at Stanford. To get there, Sacramento State had to win the Western Athletic Conference Tournament, which it did in spectacular fashion. The Hornets, after losing their opening game in the six-team, double-elimination tournament, ran off six consecutive wins to take home the championship.
It was a historic run, as the Hornets not only became the first team to win six straight elimination games to take home the WAC title, but they also eliminated all five of the other teams in the field. The championship round featured Sacramento State and Grand Canyon, which the Hornets would have to defeat twice after advancing out of the losers side of the bracket.
In the first game, with one out in the bottom of the 11th inning, McPhillips hit a double down the left-field line to seal a 4-3 victory to set up a winner-take-all game, which the Hornets won, 5-4. In addition to his game-winning double, McPhillips drove in three runs in a 6-4 win over Utah Valley in an earlier elimination game. But it was the game-winning hit that McPhillips will never forget.
“I remember like it was yesterday,” he said. “I was looking for something that I could elevate and the pitcher threw me a couple of curve (balls) before that I didn’t hit very well. I was thinking fastball, fastball, fastball, and I saw the spin out of his hand, got extended and got a little lucky the ball was fair.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise that McPhillips came through in a couple of key situations in the WAC Tournament and in the NCAA Stanford Regional, where the Hornets went 1-2. McPhillips relishes moments where he can be a difference-maker.
“Everyone dreams of hitting a walk-off and wanting to be that guy I think boosts your confidence,” he said. “As soon as I get to the plate, I know I’m better than the pitcher. You have to have that mindset going in or it’s not going to turn out well. Confidence is probably 80 percent of the battle and 20 percent is reacting and using your physical ability. But if you don’t have a positive mentality and think you’re the better player, you’re defeated even before you go up to the plate.”
The 5-foot-6, 167-pound McPhillips was one of the team’s top players in the Stanford Regional, finishing 4 for 8 over three games. McPhillips made an immediate impact at Sacramento State in his freshman year, starting 38 out of 45 games, all at catcher. This past season McPhillips played some games as a designated hitter, which was nice because catchers are susceptible to getting worn down as the physical demands are high.
McPhillips, who is playing this summer for the Wenatchee AppleSox in Washington of the West Coast League, was able to make a smooth transition to the college game because of a solid mental approach.
“On the ball field, a lot of freshmen tend to speed the game up,” he said. “Being able to stay calm and collected is the biggest thing that give freshmen success.”
McPhillips plans on attacking his goals during the summer season, including being more aggressive as a catcher. For example, McPhillips didn’t do a whole lot of backpicking this past season, but he said that is “an easy way to get an out. I’m working on staying through the baseball and trying to hit a hard line drive to the middle of the field as well. … Summer ball is always fun. I’m coming in to work on some of the things I struggled with during the season so when I come back to Sac I would have made the improvements.”
It’s been a dream ride for McPhillips, who signed his letter of intent to play at Sacramento State in November of his senior year at MVC. It was the lone scholarship offer for McPhillips, but one must wonder why more four-year programs didn’t offer him a scholarship. McPhillips was playing in the Perfect Game World Series—a prestigious showcase tournament—in the summer before his senior year when the Sacramento State coaching staff noticed him. They eventually offered him a scholarship, proving to be a milestone moment.
“They gave me a call after the tournament, and the next weekend I was at Sac State for a visit,” he said. “I went into their office and they offered, and it was a surreal experience. It’s what I dreamed of as a little kid, and to be able to get that opportunity to play on scholarship is something I’ll never forget. It’s definitely one of the best memories I’ve ever had.”