The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

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February 27, 2014

SHSU BASEBALL — Bearkats eager for chance to make a name for themselves

HOUSTON — As young baseball players living in the Houston area, Colt Atwood and Luke Plucheck idolized Astros greats like Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt.

Ever since they learned how to swing a bat and throw a baseball, Atwood and Plucheck are one of many Bearkats who have dreamed of one day stepping on the same field as their childhood heroes and playing in a big-league ballpark.

That’s precisely what they get to do this weekend at the Houston College Classic at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

“For me personally, it’s a dream come true,” Plucheck said. “I grew up a Houston boy and a giant Astros fan and still am to this day. I’ve seen countless games of the Killer B’s doing their thing.”

“It’s awesome,” Atwood said. “When you’re a kid growing up in Houston like I was, you come here all the time watching the Astros play and it’s just awesome to get the opportunity to play out here.”

Sam Houston State (8-1 overall), along with 10th-ranked Rice (6-3), No. 16 TCU (6-2), 26th-ranked Texas Tech (8-1), 27th-ranked Texas (6-3) and Houston (7-0), will take part in the annual tournament.

The Bearkats is just the fourth team (Louisiana-Lafayette in 2002 and 2003, Tulane in 2006 and UC-Irvine in 2009) that will play in the annual invitational that doesn’t preside in one of the six major conferences.

“To play the caliber of teams we’re going to play, it feels like a six-team regional,” Plucheck said. “Every team in this tournament has been to a regional. Everybody but us and Texas Tech, I think, have been to the College World Series. It really shows the amount of talent in Texas. It’s a testament to the hard work that we’ve put in over the last two years.

“It’s a dream come true. I’ve devoted four years to this program. What Coach Pierce and my teammates have been able to do over the last three years, this is a testament to that. To end up being invited to a tournament of this caliber really shows what you’ve done. We’ve finally proved that we deserve to be here. This weekend, we can show lots of people that we really do.”

In advance of the tournament, the Bearkats, like Houston, Rice, Texas and TCU, got the opportunity to step on the same field as the Astros as well as other Major League Baseball teams to take part in batting practice on Thursday.

“It’s awesome. It’s something that not a lot of kids can say they’ve gone out and taken BP and field balls in center field at Minute Maid Park,” Atwood said. “It’s something I’ll always remember. Just to get the opportunity is so amazing. So many guys I’ve watched play stood right where I stood. It’s cool to know that we have that in common.

“It was a chance to kill the nerves. Obviously you’re going to have some nerves playing good teams in a big atmosphere like this, so it’s cool to get the nerves out of the way early. Tomorrow, we can wake up and go through our normal routine like it’s any other game.”

The Bearkats head into the tournament with as much momentum as they could’ve hoped for. After taking two of three games from Dallas Baptist last weekend and upsetting the Owls 3-1 at Reckling Park on Tuesday, the Kats boast a three-game winning streak.

Sam Houston gets to put that mark to the test against a field of talented squads.

“The competition’s awesome,” Atwood said. “There’s nothing better than before conference to play good teams. That’s how you know how your team stands going in. It’s just good to get into a postseason-type tournament to where you can really see where you stand and what you need to work on.

“One of our goals obviously is to be an elite team. Getting a chance to get our name out there and play some good teams that have already had their name out there in the past is awesome. There’s nobody you’d rather play than one of the top-30 teams in the nation so you can see where you stand.”

The tournament begins today for the Kats with a 3:35 p.m., meeting with the Horned Frogs. Sam Houston will follow that up with a contest against Texas Tech on Saturday and concluding the tournament against Texas on Sunday morning.

“The talent is there,” Plucheck said. “I like to think of us as the TCU of now. Five years ago, people really didn’t know who TCU was. All of a sudden, they made a couple of super regionals and made it to Omaha a few years ago.

“I’d like to see us become that team that comes out of the shadows and make their mark. I think this weekend is really going to do that for us. I think the city of Houston, the state of Texas and also the nation are really going to find out what Sam Houston baseball is.”

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