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April 13, 2014

SHSU BASEBALL — Bearkats sweep Abilene Christian in doubleheader, weekend series

HUNTSVILLE — The Bearkats are one step closer to being back in first place.

Playing a doubleheader on Saturday due to an ominous weather forecast for today, Sam Houston State twice defeated Abilene Christian 3-2 in 11 innings and 7-0 to secure the series sweep.

The Kats are now within 1 1/2 games from being atop the Southland Conference standings.

“That was good for us, getting the sweep,” said shortstop Corey Toups. “It’s always fun when you win, especially in a doubleheader. It’s definitely worth it.”

Following an 11-inning victory thanks to a walk-off home run in Saturday’s first game, Sam Houston (9-6 in conference play, 25-11 overall) found more long-ball power as well as strong starting pitching in the nightcap.

In the bottom of the first inning of the series finale, Bearkats designated hitter Anthony Azar launched an offering from Wildcats starting pitcher Garrett Demeyere over the left-field wall for his eighth home run of the season.

Immediately following Azar’s homer, right fielder Hayden Simerly stepped up and drilled one of his own over the right-field wall to give Sam Houston a 2-0 lead.

“It was really big for us. We couldn’t scratch a run until the walk-off in the first game,” Simerly said. “Getting two runs in the first inning was really big for us. It helped jump-start the offense.”

With the two-run advantage, Bearkats starting pitcher Sam Odom settled in and kept Abilene Christian (2-7, 12-20) at bay.

In seven innings, Odom allowed just four hits with five strikeouts and one walk.

Midway through the game, the Bearkats turned it on and pulled away.

Sam Houston scored three runs in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by second baseman Jake MacWilliam, an error by Wildcats shortstop Aaron Draper that catcher Hunter Courson scored on and an RBI single by Azar.

The Bearkats stretched their lead to 7-0 when Azar drove in a pair of runs on a double.

Lefthander Andrew Godail and righthander Andrew Brinley closed out the final two innings, preserving the combined shutout.

“Fortunately, we really pitched well and played defense all day,” Sam Houston head coach David Pierce said.

“When you play 20 innings and commit just one error all day with very little mental lapses, that’s a great sign. I think it starts on the mound. You’re making quality pitches, guys are alert and you have good tempo. When you’re able to go the whole day, 20 innings, and walk two guys, that’s a good sign.”

The Bearkats kicked off Saturday’s first game in strong fashion.

Kats center fielder Colt Atwood got a rally started in the first inning with a single to left field. Azar then roped a one-out pitch to the right-center-field gap for a double that allowed Atwood to score and give Sam Houston the lead.

With Azar still on second with two outs, third baseman Carter Burgess singled to left field to extend the advantage to 2-0.

Abilene Christian clawed back into the game, though, and eventually pulled even with the Bearkats.

With a runner on third base and two outs, Draper connected for a single to cut the deficit in half.

Then in the fifth, Abilene Christian tied up the contest on an RBI single by center fielder Tyler Eager.

Neither squad could take advantage in the late innings and the game went to extra innings.

Bearkats reliever Alan Scott, who pitched the final 2 1/3 innings giving up just one hit, retired the Wildcats in order in both the 10th and 11th innings.

“That was great for us,” said Toups of Scott’s relief appearance. “He’s a great pitcher and he’s done a lot of great things for us. I’m proud of him, too.”

That’s when Toups, who blasted two home runs in Friday’s 8-3 victory, got a hold of another one on Saturday evening.

With two outs and the bases empty, Toups powered a pitch from reliever Kevin Sheets over the left-field wall to give Sam Houston State a 3-2 walk-off victory.

“I’ve never done that before,” Toups said. “That’s one of the greatest feelings, honestly. Just to win like that when we’ve played 11 innings and we were ready to get it over with, I’m glad it ended like that.

“I faced (Sheets) the inning before and he pitched me pretty well. I think that helped me going into that next at-bat. He had great stuff, but I was just able to get a fastball and drove it over the fence.”

Junior righthander Tyler Eppler scattered four hits over the first 6 2/3 innings, allowing just one earned run.

The series victory was the second straight for the Bearkats and it was the first time they’ve swept a weekend since winning all three games at New Orleans to start conference play.

“It is a long conference season,” Pierce said. “We didn’t start conference the way we expected to. We were on the road three out of four weekends; That’s no excuse, that’s just what happened. We’ve had to really get back to work and clear some minds and kids have responded.”

The Bearkats, who have taken down four nationally ranked teams this season, get another shot at an upset when 11th-ranked Houston comes to town on Tuesday night.

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