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May 17, 2014

SHSU BASEBALL — Bearkats three-peat as Southland Conference champions

Sam Houston State posts first 40-win regular-season campaign since 1987

HUNTSVILLE — For the third straight year, the Bearkats baseball team reigned supreme in Southland Conference.

Thanks to an overwhelming 9-1 victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the series and regular-season finale on Saturday at Don Sanders Stadium, 26th-ranked Sam Houston State completed its fourth consecutive series sweep.

More importantly, the Kats won the outright Southland baseball title for a third straight time as well as its 40th victory in the regular season for the first time since 1987.

The Bearkats now head into this week’s conference tournament in Conway, Arkansas as the top overall seed and will play eighth-seeded Lamar in Wednesday’s opening round at noon.

“It’s absolutely incredible,” Sam Houston senior left fielder Luke Plucheck said. “About a month ago, we knew the race was going to be tight and we said we wanted to win this, so let’s win the last 12 and that’s what we did. I couldn’t be more proud of this team and coaching staff. To be a part of it is just incredible. We had our minds made up that we weren’t going to lose this championship and we weren’t going to not win it outright.”

“For what these guys have done in the last four weeks is just really impressive,” Sam Houston head coach David Pierce said. “To able to take the last four weekends and sweep, that’s about as good as it gets. This year was different because there were so many good teams in the hunt. This weekend, there was still the opportunity of four teams still winning it. We have four great seniors who are great contributors and great leaders. For them to experience this again and the young guys to be a part, I’m just so proud of this team.”

Just like on Friday night, the Islanders took a 1-0 lead in the second inning off a solo home run over the left-field wall. Right fielder Kyle Danford got a hold of a 2-1 pitch off Kats starting pitcher Sam Odom and just cleared the wall.

The Bearkats, who finished the regular season 22-8 in conference action and 40-15 overall, took advantage of an A&M-Corpus Christi error in the third and knotted the game at 1.

With two outs, Kats right fielder Travis Lee hit a grounder to the left side of the infield. Third baseman Brett Burner scooped the ball, but the throw sailed over the head of first baseman Tyler Ware and Lee advanced to second.

Sam Houston took advantage and center fielder Colt Atwood sent the ball to right field to bring in the game-tying run.

“That was a great opportunity. Everybody loves to be in that situation,” Atwood said. “You’re not always able to get it done, but it’s really nice when you do.”

In the home half of the fifth, the Kats took the lead for good.

Lee drew a walk, then stole second to give Sam Houston a prime scoring opportunity. Then with two outs, designated hitter Hayden Simerly roped a single to right field and Lee scored to push the Kats ahead 2-1.

The sixth inning is where the Bearkats ran away with the game after stretching the lead to 7-1.

Sam Houston got another break to kick off the rally.

With one out, Kats first baseman Ryan O’Hearn hit a grounder toward the right side of the infield. Islanders second baseman Cody Stephens went to his right to field the ball, but the throw nearly brought Ware to the infield grass.

Later in the inning with two outs, Bearkats shortstop Corey Toups appeared to hit an inning-ending fly out to center field. After the ball was caught, A&M-Corpus Christi starting pitcher Devin Skapura was called for a balk. That kept Toups’ at-bat alive and moved O’Hearn into scoring position.

That was the opening the Kats needed to pull away.

Toups drew a walk and then second baseman Shea Pierce walked to load the bases.

Wanting to make the most out of Senior Day, Plucheck drove a pitch through the left side of the infield and two runs scored.

“My first two at-bats, I felt like I just wasn’t looking for the pitch I can hit,” Plucheck said. “On my third one, I just went up there and said that this wasn’t going to happen again. I just wanted one good pitch that I could hit hard on the ground and hit it hard somewhere to score at least one run. (Skapura) left a curveball up and I was able to drive it and ignite the inning.

“I’m going to miss the Don,” Plucheck added about playing in possibly his last home game. “At the same time, winning a championship three years in a row, it doesn’t get much better.”

After a pitching change, Lee hit an RBI single to center field to stretch the lead to 5-1.

Following another pitching change due to an abdominal injury to Islanders reliever Kaleb Keith, Lee stole second to give the Kats a pair of runners in scoring position. With another run-scoring opportunity, Atwood hit a liner to right field that drove in two more runs.

“It’s one of those things where the defense gets down when you walk two guys and Luke gets the big hit and you just get rolling after that,”  Atwood said. “It’s amazing what happens when you stay up and stay confident.”

Odom pitched another scoreless inning in the seventh to finish off his day.

The freshman righthander gave up just five hits and allowed one run with a pair of strikeouts and a pair of walks in seven innings of work.

“It’s amazing that (head coach David Pierce) has faith in me,” Odom said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more. He put complete faith in me. He believed I could do it. It was great. This is such a great feeling.”

The Bearkats added two more runs in the bottom of the seventh, taking advantage of another error by A&M-Corpus Christi (19-11 in conference action, 30-24 overall) to extend the lead to 9-1.

Sam Houston junior lefthander Andrew Godail threw a scoreless, hitless eighth. In the ninth, sophomore righthander Ryan Brinley polished off the victory and the third consecutive outright conference title with a scoreless inning, capped by a swinging strikeout.

The Kats now shift their attention to the Southland tournament that will be held at Bear Stadium on the campus of Central Arkansas. In the first round, Sam Houston will face a Cardinals squad that won weekend series in each of the last two seasons and also eliminated the Bearkats from the 2013 conference tournament.

“Now it’s time for us to go and figure out how to win a tournament,” the Kats coach said. “Normally, we’ve gone to the tournament Monday, two days out. We’re actually going to take tomorrow off, come back Monday and have a light workout here and then we’ll leave early Tuesday morning.”

The Kats will face Lamar at noon on Wednesday and will then play Thursday in either the losers’ bracket at 9 a.m. or in the winners’ bracket at 4 p.m. against Northwestern State or Southeastern Louisiana.

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Bacchus, center, played by Sam Houston State student Albert Donze, attempts to lead the cast of “Orpheus in the Underworld” through a slippery Italian drinking song during the Saturday evening show at the Gaertner Performing Arts Center.

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