The Bearkats are certainly no stranger to the NCAA Regionals.
An eight-time participant, Sam Houston State has made it as far as being one of the final two teams in the 2007 Oxford (Mississippi) Regional, hosted by Ole Miss, and the 2012 Houston Regional at Rice.
With plenty of momentum on their side, the Kats say they feel their ninth appearance is going to be different.
The Bearkats kick off action in the Fort Worth Regional today and will look to best No. 7 national seed TCU, Dallas Baptist and Siena (Loudonville, New York) for one of 16 spots in next week’s super regionals.
“This is a big opportunity for us,” Kats shortstop Corey Toups said. “The past two years we’ve come up short in these regionals. I think this is our year.”
In the double-elimination regional, which will be held at Lupton Stadium in Fort Worth, 25th-ranked Sam Houston (41-17 overall) will get things going against 28th-ranked Dallas Baptist (40-19) today at 2:30 p.m. Then in the nightcap, 16th-ranked TCU (42-15) will square off against Siena (26-31) at 7.
In the second weekend of the regular season, the Bearkats hosted Dallas Baptist and took two out of three against the Patriots. The Kats look to notch another victory against DBU to get into the winners’ bracket.
“Our attention is definitely on Dallas Baptist,” Sam Houston head coach David Pierce said. “They’re a very good team and we played them very early in the year. Both teams are somewhat different, but the same type of coaching philosophies remain. We’ve seen their pitching and they’ve seen ours, so I think it’s going to come down to who executes and who pounds the strike zone.
“Usually at this time of the year, it’s a clutch hit here or there. It’s going to be a very good ball game, then we’ll attack the other two teams. We’ll get an opportunity to see TCU and Siena play and we have information on both. We’re excited to get going to Fort Worth.”
Junior righthander Tyler Eppler (8-6 record, 3.33 earned run average) gets the nod as the Bearkats starting pitcher and will duel against Patriots junior righthander Cy Sneed (8-3, 3.67).
In the previous meeting between Sam Houston and Dallas Baptist, Eppler was dealt a 5-1 loss in the series opener, while Sneed fell short in a 4-1 loss in the series finale.
“I’m ready for it. It’s Dallas Baptist at 2:30,” Eppler said. “I’m itching and ready to get going and warming up and toeing that rubber against Dallas Baptist to give my team a chance to win.
“Dallas Baptist is a good hitting team. They’ve gotten a lot of home runs and they have a good slugging percentage as a team. As far as it goes for me, I’ll just try to keep the ball down and let my defense work behind me, making them hit my pitches and not theirs. I’m ready for it. It sets the tone for the whole weekend.”
Sam Houston is coming off an early exit from last week’s Southland Conference tournament in which the Kats were eliminated with a 4-1 loss by Northwestern State and no-hit through 7 1/3 innings. That loss was on the heels of a 1-0 loss to Southeastern Louisiana, which won the conference tournament and will play No. 8 national seed LSU to open the Baton Rouge Regional this afternoon.
The Bearkats say they’re not worried too much about last week and that they can easily bounce back.
“We just say that’s baseball. Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way,” Toups said. “You’ve just got to forget about it. The good thing about baseball is that you get another chance, whether it’s the next day or for us this next week. We’ve got a chance in this regional to come back strong hopefully with some hits and have some other things go our way this weekend.”
The Bearkats as well as the Horned Frogs are two of the hottest teams in the regional coming in. Sam Houston won 15 of its last 18 contests, which included four consecutive conference series sweeps. TCU, on the other hand, has won 27 of its last 30 games.
“What’s interesting is that all of the other three teams (in the regional) won their conference tournament and we’re the only team that won our league,” Pierce said. “Dallas Baptist has been hot of late, TCU has been hot and Siena won their tournament. We feel very good about where we are and we’re excited about the opportunity to win a regional.”
This will be the third consecutive season that the Kats have competed in the NCAA Regionals, having played at Rice in 2012 and at LSU in 2013.
Just as it was last season, Sam Houston will have to go into the ballpark of one of the eight national seeds. From beating TCU 9-4 on the first day of the Houston College Classic at Minute Maid Park early this season, the Kats say they’re not fazed about the task of possibly having to take down a national seed in order to win a regional.
“Last year going to LSU, that was a tough environment out there to play in front of all those people and a tough team to go against, too,” Toups said. “I think playing against TCU earlier this year, we’ve seen them so we know what they have and we know we can beat them. Going in there, we’re not too intimidated at all.”
Having to survive for three or four days and needing to win between three or four games to win the regional, Pierce knows the importance of winning the first game especially if his team can even go 2-0 the first two days.
“In a regional setting, game one and two are so critical because you can put yourself in a position where both teams have to come through the losers’ bracket and play additional games, use additional pitching and have to beat you twice,” the Bearkats coach said. “We’re not going to get too caught up into that. It is what it is. Our job is just to go out there and try to play game one, each inning, each pitch and give it our all. We’re a very confident, mature group and the expectations are to win.
“I think, first of all, it starts on the mound. We have to continue to pound the strike zone and make the opponent earn whatever they get. The short game comes into play much more so in the postseason, so we’re going to have to execute the short game and make the routine plays. I would like to see our players play aggressive and be in an attack mode. I think that’s the right mentality and I think that’s the mentality our team will have.”
The Bearkats are certainly no stranger to the NCAA Regionals.
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