The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX


May 3, 2014

SHSU BASEBALL — Bearkats cruise to seventh straight victory

HUNTSVILLE — The way the Bearkats are playing right now, opposing squads are finding it awfully difficult to get the upper hand.

With a strong pitching performance from Jason Simms and series of offensive outbursts in the first, third, sixth and eighth innings, Sam Houston State run-ruled Stephen F. Austin 12-1 for its seventh straight victory.

“We were just trying to stay hot with the bats, keep throwing strikes, play good defense and keep this winning streak going as long as we can,” said Kats first baseman Ryan O’Hearn. “It felt great. It was a lot of fun.”

Stephen F. Austin jumped in front in the first inning. After the Lumberjacks loaded the bases with one out, left fielder Brett Thornell hit a fly ball to deep center field for a sacrifice fly that drove in right fielder Ricardo Sanchez from third.

The Bearkats (15-8 in Southland Conference play, 33-14 overall) struck back in the home half of the inning.

Designated hitter Hayden Simerly kicked off the rally with a one-out double to the wall in right-center. Catcher Anthony Azar walked to give the Kats a pair of runners on base.

Sam Houston first baseman Ryan O’Hearn, who has been held to just one RBI in the last 17 games, turned the game around. With the count in his favor at 3-1, he got a hold of a pitch and sent it flying over the right-field wall for a three-run home run, which was his first since March 21.

“It definitely felt great to get the home run going again. It’s been a while,” said O’Hearn, who finished with six RBIs. “I don’t think that defines how I’ve been playing, but it definitely felt good.

“It felt really good. Lately, I feel like I’ve been hitting balls right at people. Guys have been making plays. Just not a lot of baseballs have been dropping in for me. The wind was blowing so that helped, but it was definitely good to get some RBIs today.”

Sam Houston added three more runs in the third inning.

O’Hearn drew a walk with one out and third baseman Carter Burgess singled to right with O’Hearn then advancing to third on a hit-and-run.

With runners on the corners, shortstop Corey Toups singled through the left side of the infield and O’Hearn scored.

Later in the inning, the Bearkats had a pair of runners in scoring position with two outs when left fielder Luke Plucheck, the No. 7 hitter, ripped a pitch up the middle for a two-run single. Burgess and Toups scored on the play to extend Sam Houston’s lead to 6-1.

“We’ve been doing a good job of getting (hitter Nos.) 7, 8 and 9 on or manufacturing runs from them,” Bearkats head coach David Pierce said. “I see a lot of guys excited about being in this (Southland Conference title) race and excited about playing baseball. They’ve put their time in and they’re relaxed and confident. That’s good to see.”

While the Kats were building on their lead, Simms was taking care of business on the mound.

After giving up an unearned run and two hits in the first, the senior righthander was dominant.

Including the second inning, which was led off with a single by first baseman Dan O’Neill, Simms tossed five consecutive three-up, three-down innings.

“After that inning, I started making my pitches,” Simms said. “I noticed they were really rolling and reaching out on everything. I just let my ball work for the most part. I just let the defense work and they’ve been great and made some spectacular plays today.”

The Kats kept on connecting and put up another three-run inning in the sixth.

Second baseman Shea Pierce reached first safely thanks to an error by shortstop Nick Ramos and Sam Houston loaded the bases after right fielder Travis Lee walked and center fielder Colt Atwood singled to right field.

With the bases loaded and one out, Simerly roped a single to right field and two runs scored.

The Bearkats added another run when Azar singled to center field.

“(Hitting coach Sean) Allen has been talking to us about keeping the throttle on as long as we can, no matter how many runs we score,” Simerly said. “In that inning, we had a lot of confidence.”

The Lumberjacks (8-15, 17-29) led off the seventh with a single to center field by outfielder Brett Thornell, but Simms shut the door and retired the final six batters in order.

Simms finished the day scattering four hits with two strikeouts and one walk over eight innings.

“I thought Jason pitched really well,” the Bearkats coach said. “They went out and stacked seven left-handed hitters against him. He really responded well. They were aggressive and he gave them some enticing pitches to go for, but he didn’t really pitch a lot in the middle of the plate.”

Sam Houston put the finishing touches on the Lumberjacks with a three-run eighth to put the mercy rule into effect.

With one out, Atwood and Simerly both singled. Then with two outs, O’Hearn launched another three-run homer over the right-field wall to end the game.

“You can’t hit without confidence,” David Pierce said. “Guys are doing good at staying on the ball and looking for pitches they can really drive. That’s what offense is about.”

With the series victory already secured, the Kats are going for their second consecutive series sweep. Today’s series finale is scheduled to start at 1 p.m.

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