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May 3, 2014

SHSU BASEBALL — Bearkats open series with 5-4 win against rival Stephen F. Austin

HUNTSVILLE — Sam Houston State got off to the start it was looking for with a 5-4 victory in the series opener against Stephen F. Austin on Friday night.

It was the sixth straight victory for the Bearkats, who received three RBIs from an unlikely source. Right fielder Travis Lee, known more for his defense, made just his 10th start of the season but came up big at the plate for Sam Houston (3-for-4, 3 RBIs).

Tyler Eppler picked up the win, giving up seven hits, three runs and logging eight strikeouts in seven innings on the mound. Ryan Brinley got his seventh save of the season and his fifth straight after pitching the final inning.

“We’re just trying to go out and play every game as hard as we can,” Sam Houston head coach David Pierce said. “None of them are easy, if it’s in conference or out of conference. There are a lot of tough ballgames. (SFA) has struggled but they’ve been playing well of late so it’s a good Friday night win for us.”

Sam Houston struggled in March, but has gone 13-4 since the start of April. The difference for the Bearkats is fairly simple: solid outings from starting pitchers, a far more reliable bullpen and consistent, timely hitting.

Lee, batting in the 9-hole, set the best example on offense. He hit an RBI single past the outstretched glove of SFA second baseman Conner Fikes to give Sam Houston an early 1-0 lead in the second inning.

“I haven’t been hitting that hot lately and finally I came through and got some base knocks to help the team out,” Lee said. “It was really important. It’s big time and it always helps to keep winning some games.”

The run was set up beautifully with Shea Pierce bunting Corey Toups, who walked, over to second base before Luke Plucheck bunted Pierce over to third. The Kats stranded a pair of runners in that inning and fell behind 2-1 in the third after a two-run blast by SFA right fielder Ricardo Sanchez.

The homer put a damper on a brilliant defense play by Kats center fielder Colt Atwood, who robbed the Lumberjacks of a run by throwing out Fikes at home plate after Matthew Dickey hit a slow-rolling single to center field.

“Big play,” Pierce said. “Great assist from Colt from center. Actually, I didn’t think he had a shot at him and just threw such a perfect throw and a great tag (by catcher Anthony Azar). We played great defense tonight. The defense and timely hitting, you go out the last two games and don’t walk a  guy, you make the team earn it.”

Stephen F. Austin certainly had its moments Friday night. The Kats held a 5-2 lead going into the seventh inning when the Lumberjacks’ bats came alive. Catcher Zach Marberry led off the inning with a double deep to left field. Brett Thornell brought him in with a bloop to center.

A run scored in the eighth inning on a bizarre error from reliever Andrew Godail, who fielded a high chopper straight to the mound with a runner on second base. Godail misfired on the throw to first, which allowed Fikes to round home.

Nolan Riggs got the Bearkats out of the inning.

Ryan Brinley pitched the ninth inning and registered his seventh save of the season. The sophomore transfer has recorded the save in each of the Kats last four games. Brinley extended his scoreless innings streak to 9 2/3 innings.

“It was a good team win tonight and we had guys come up big in the lineup,” said Brinley. “Travis had a good night and had a couple RBIs for us. Everyone was battling and doing their part. It’s been my job lately to come in and close out and I just go out there and throw strikes and try to get outs.”

 

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