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March 8, 2014

SAM HOUSTON STATE BASEBALL — Just enough to win

First-inning homer, strong pitching leads Bearkats to victory over Cal State Northridge

HUNTSVILLE — The Bearkats got just enough offense and plenty of sharp pitching on Saturday.

That was enough to top Cal State Northridge 2-1 and also clinch the weekend series.

“It feels good. We just need to stay hungry and stay at it,” said Sam Houston State catcher Anthony Azar.

Following a quick top of the first, the 28th-ranked Bearkats got to work.

The Kats leadoff hitter, center fielder Colt Atwood, kicked the inning off for Sam Houston State (11-3 overall) with a sharply hit infield double.

Matadors first baseman William Colantono dove to keep the ball from going into the outfield, but instead kicked it into foul territory and to the wall by the visitors dugout near the bullpen.

Following a pop out by first baseman Ryan O’Hearn and with Atwood in scoring position, Azar towered a breaking ball over the wall near the left-field foul pole for his first home run of the season and the Bearkats’ first at Don Sanders Stadium this season.

“I’ve kind of struggled and been a little overanxious,” Azar said. “Me and Coach (Sean) Allen have worked on me staying back with the barrel in my hands. I just got a hanging curveball and I put a good swing on it.”

Through the next few innings, the Matadors (6-9) were kept at bay by Bearkats freshman starting pitcher Sam Odom.

Odom, who now has a 3-0 record with one save and a 0.47 earned run average, skirted out of danger in the fifth. He gave up a single and a walk with two outs to load the bases before getting Cal State Northridge shortstop Brett Balkan to pop out to end the inning.

“I thought Sam Odom was really, really outstanding,” Bearkats coach David Pierce said.

The Matadors were threatening again in the sixth after left fielder Nick Blaser singled to left field, designated hitter Michael Livingston reached on an error by Kats second baseman Ryan Farney and catcher Alexis Mercado singled to left.

That’s when Pierce signaled for senior reliever Alan Scott to come in to put a lid on Cal State Northridge’s momentum.

Scott got third baseman Nicolas Osuna to pop out. Then the Matadors scored their first run of the series on an infield grounder hit by center fielder Ranny Lowe. Scott coaxed Colantono to ground out to third to end the inning and the threat.

“Alan did his thing,” Pierce said. “To come into that situation, he managed that and to only give up one run was big for our team. That’s really what won the game for us today.”

After a scoreless seventh, Cal State Northridge put pressure on Scott in the eighth with back-to-back one-out singles by Mercado and Osuna.

With another pressure-packed scenario, senior reliever Jason Simms got his chance to keep the Matadors off the board.

Pinch hitter Tanner Pollack was hitting for Lowe, who was hit with a pitch but was called back to the plate for not making an effort to get out of the way and was unable to continue.

With two runners on and one out with a 2-2 count, Simms struck out Pollack on one pitch. Simms then got Colantono to strike out swinging to end the inning.

“I came in and I figured just pound the zone,” Simms said. “They really seemed like they had a tough time hitting last game. They seemed like they were having a tough time hitting today. I figured I’d pound the zone and go right after them, get ahead in the count and see what happens.”

Still holding onto a 2-1 advantage in the ninth, Simms got the first two outs of the ninth with a line out in foul territory by second baseman Ryan Raslowsky, followed by Chester Pak flying out for the second out.

Simms hit Balkan with a pitch, but didn’t fret and got Balkan to ground into a fielder’s choice to secure the victory.

“They were crowding the plate a lot. His toes were pretty much on the plate,” Simms said. “I think they were trying to get me riled up or something. It really didn’t work. After he got on base, I just went back to what I was doing.”

The Bearkats were limited to seven hits by Matadors starting pitcher Brycen Rutherford and stranded eight runners aboard the bases.

“Rutherford’s an interesting pitcher because he’s not a hard thrower or a big velocity guy, but he can absolutely pitch. His numbers show that,” Pierce said. “It’s like he’s throwing a wiffle ball out there. I credit him as well. He did his job and kept us off-balance. I don’t know if he threw us a strike in the middle of the plate all day.

“It was just a good baseball game and fortunately, we came out on top.”

Sam Houston looks to finish the weekend with a sweep in today’s series finale, which is set to begin at 1 p.m.

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All proceeds from the Team Big George Wiffleball Tournament will go to George Ancira, above, to support him in his battle with cancer.

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