The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

Sports

January 1, 2008

No. 1: Baseball is back at SHSU

Bearkats sweep through Southland Tournament, keep winning at Oxford Regional

For years, baseball was Sam Houston State’s pride and joy.

The Bearkats won 1,127 games and lost only 579 from 1957 to 1994. With four ties thrown in, that’s a winning percentage of .659.

During that lengthy 38-season stretch, SHSU won an NAIA national championship (1963), two Lone Star Conference titles (1981 and ’82), three Gulf Star Conference championships (1985, ’86 and ’87) and one Southland Conference crown (’89).

The Bearkats took nine trips to the NAIA World Series and three visits to the NCAA Division II Regionals. After making the move up to Division I, they earned their way to three NCAA Regionals, winning a combined three games at Austin’s Disch-Falk Field in 1987 and ’96.

Hard times hit the SHSU program after the Bearkats beat Miami in the ’96 regional in Austin. A school that had played 38 straight seasons of .500 or better baseball turned in eight losing records in a row, starting in 1999.

Down on their luck and looking for answers, the Bearkats turned to a veteran college baseball coach for help. In July of 2006, SHSU director of athletics Bobby Williams announced the hiring of Mark Johnson, the longtime Texas A&M; head baseball coach. Johnson had been out of coaching for a year, but charged up and ready, he eagerly accepted the challenge that came with the job at Sam Houston.

No one expected immediate results, but Johnson sure produced some.

The Bearkats went out this spring and won 34 games in the regular season, which was good enough to get them into the Southland Conference Tournament for the first time in seven years.

Then they got hot.

Led offensively by Bobby Verbick, Heath Pugh, Clint Mann and Keith Stein, the Bearkats and pitchers Jacob Howard, Jessie Marshall, Tim Gray, Matt Fry and Luke Prihoda ripped off four wins in a row at the conference tournament in Natchitoches, La.

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