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April 27, 2014

SHSU BASEBALL — Offense comes alive in fifth inning as Bearkats again rally to beat Southeastern Louisiana

HUNTSVILLE — For the second straight day, the Bearkats came back from behind and held on to beat Southeastern Louisiana, thanks in large part to some improbable sources.

Sam Houston State fought back to retake the lead midway through Saturday’s game and held on to defeat the Lions 5-3, which also secured the series victory.

“Last night was fantastic. Tonight we fell behind early again. The thing is, even though we’ve struggled through the season, one run is not going to beat us,” said Kats senior left fielder Luke Plucheck. “That’s our offensive mentality.”

Just like it was in the series opener on Friday, offense was at a premium and Southeastern struck first.

In the top of the fifth inning, the Lions got into scoring position with two outs when center fielder Jacob Seward singled through the right side of the infield, then stole second base. Shortstop Kennon Menard then drew a walk to keep the inning alive.

That was when catcher Jameson Fisher ripped a liner up the middle that allowed Seward to score and put the Lions up 1-0.

Even though they hadn’t produced much offense in the first four innings, the Bearkats (12-8 in Southland Conference action, 29-14 overall) came alive and responded almost immediately.

Kats second baseman Shea Pierce, who hit a walk-off single in Friday’s 2-1 victory, drew a one-out walk to jump-start the rally.

With one swing, Kats left fielder Luke Plucheck changed the momentum completely around and blasted a two-run homer over the left-center-field gap, his first home run of the season.

“I was just looking for a ball to get another runner on base. I was just looking for a ball I could drive and advance Shea into scoring position there,” Plucheck said. “Thank God (Southeastern starting pitcher Tate Scioneaux) threw one into my slot and I put a good swing on it.

“I’ll be completely honest, that’s a ginormous monkey off my back. I’ve been waiting all season for that (home run) after having nine last year. I’ve got a flair for the dramatic, so I guess I waited until there’s 13 games left to hit No. 1.”

Right fielder Travis Lee and center fielder Colt Atwood then hit a pair of infield singles and catcher Anthony Azar followed that up with a big blast to dead center field.

The ball went all the way to the wall for a double and allowed two runs to score to give Sam Houston a 4-1 advantage.

“The outfield was playing shallow and Anthony is a very powerful hitter. He burned the center fielder and we scored two runs there,” Bearkats head coach David Pierce said. “We were scratching and clawing against good arms. It’s one of those deals where you can either score four in an inning or spread them out and we’ll take it.”

In the sixth, Sam Houston ran into trouble on the mound, unable to throw many balls for strikes and the pitching staff struggled to stop the bleeding.

Southeastern third baseman Brett Hoffman kicked off the inning with a walk off reliever Dirk Masters, who replaced starting pitcher Jason Simms in the fifth. After Masters was replaced by freshman righthander Seth Holbert, the Lions (12-8, 27-16) eventually loaded the bases.

Then Seward drilled the ball down the left-field line, which drove in two runs and cut the deficit to 4-3.

Kats reliever Austin Ray issued a walk and the bases were loaded again.

“We had some guys in there who weren’t successful, but they’re going to be good,” the Bearkats coach said.

David Pierce then turned to junior righthander Nolan Riggs to get Sam Houston out of the jam.

After Fisher worked the count full, Riggs struck him out with a changeup to end the threat and kept the Kats out in front.

“I just kept thinking don’t walk the hitter,” Riggs said. “That almost cost me a run, but I got him out. I like those situations where you get the blood flowing and the adrenaline is pumping.”

Again, the Bearkats countered to create a little breathing room. Shortstop Corey Toups led off the sixth with a walk, then Shea Pierce singled through the right side of the infield to put runners on the corners.

Plucheck delivered again, reaching first on a grounder and beat out the throw for a potential double play that allowed a run to score and give the Kats a 5-3 advantage.

Riggs did the rest, striking out six in the final three innings and stranding runners on base.

“Nolan’s been good now three times in a row out of the bullpen,” David Pierce said. “The biggest pitch of the game was the full count (in the sixth) and he threw a changeup to Fisher, their best hitter. He made a great pitch at the moment of truth when we needed him to.”

Tied for fourth and two games out of first place behind Nicholls and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, the Bearkats are going for a sweep today.

The series finale against Southeastern is set to begin at 1 p.m.

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