Leave it to the most unlikely of suspects to pull through in the game’s biggest moment.
After trailing for most of the game, the Bearkats brought the game back even at 1 in the bottom of the ninth.
That’s when Kats second baseman Shea Pierce pulled through to hit the game-winner to right field and Sam Houston State rallied to beat Southeastern Louisiana 2-1 in the series opener Friday night.
“It’s pretty amazing. I think that’s my first walk-off hit probably since I’ve been playing baseball,” Pierce said. “I haven’t really had a big-time hit like that since I can remember.”
Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth, the Bearkats (11-8 in Southland Conference action, 28-14 overall) were down to their final at-bats.
Catcher Anthony Azar kicked off the rally with a big hopper over Lions third baseman Brett Hoffman’s head. Southeastern shortstop Kennon Menard dove for the ball, attempting to keep it in the infield, but instead deflected the ball to the padding in foul territory. That allowed Azar to advance to second.
With pinch runner Wyatt Powell, who replaced Azar, in scoring position at second base with one out and the Southeastern infield playing shallow, Kats third baseman Carter Burgess ripped a liner up the middle that allowed Powell to score the tying run.
“Azar led us off with the single after their guy kicked it and made it to second,” Sam Houston head coach David Pierce said. “Carter just hung in there and fought. He was so determined and got it done.”
A wild pitch by Lions reliever Mason Klotz, who replaced starting pitcher Andro Cutura, allowed Burgess to move into scoring position.
After shortstop Corey Toups struck out, that set up the game-winning opportunity for Shea Pierce.
The Kats’ second baseman, who made several solid defensive plays but has struggled offensively this season, took a slider and pulled it into right field.
Burgess was waved around to go home by third-base coach Sean Allen and he beat the throw from Southeastern right fielder Andrew Godbold for the winning run.
“It was a guy out of the pen, who we haven’t seen a lot,” Shea Pierce said. “He threw me a fastball right down the middle on the first pitch. I was just kind of waiting to see one. He hung me a slider. I just saw it and reacted.
“We had the confidence in Corey Toups right ahead of me. I thought he was going to get it done. He had a good at-bat. He swung and missed, which gave me an opportunity.”
The victory rewarded Bearkats starting pitcher Tyler Eppler, who prevailed in a pitching duel with Cutura.
The Lions (12-7, 27-15) had several slow-rolling singles find paths through the infield early on.
Southeastern Louisiana took advantage of those base hits in the second inning.
Lions third baseman Brett Hoffman and shortstop Kennon Menard kicked off the inning with a pair of seeing-eye singles.
Then designated hitter Daniel Midyett attempted to lay down a sacrifice bunt, but the ball stayed inside of the third-base line and Midyett was safe at first to load the bases with no outs.
The Lions took a 1-0 lead when left fielder Kyle Cedotal roped a liner to right field.
Bearkats right fielder Tyler Lee ran down the ball to make the catch, then launched to ball to home plate. The throw made it in time, but Azar was unable to corral the ball in time to tag out Hoffman at the plate.
That was all Southeastern could get as Eppler limited the Lions to just four hits in the final seven innings with just two runners getting into scoring position.
“The beginning of the game, I started out real slow. I was leaving the ball up,” Eppler said. “Once I started establishing the fastball down, it all started working for me. It felt great.”
The Bearkats were also able to waste a strong performance by Cutura, who held the Bearkats to just one hit through the first seven innings.
“That was a typical Friday night game. That’s how it’s supposed to be with two very good pitchers,” the Kats’ coach said. “It was a tough fight all night with (Cutura). Eppler matched him and got pitches when he needed them. That’s all you expect from your starter, to give you nine innings in the front end of a weekend series.
"That was perfect. We’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”
Sam Houston and Southeastern continue the Southland Conference series today with the contest set to start at 4 p.m.