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May 23, 2014

2014 SOUTHLAND CONFERENCE BASEBALL TOURNAMENT — Bearkats shut out in 1-0 loss to Southeastern Louisiana

Top-seed Sam Houston State falls 1-0 to Lions, despite Eppler gem

CONWAY, Ark. — Throughout the regular season, the Bearkats have had these kinds of games before.

With a strong pitching performance, Sam Houston State put plenty of runners on base but couldn’t get the key hit to produce on the scoreboard.

It happened a little more than a week ago against Texas A&M in College Station and again at Bear Stadium against Southeastern Louisiana on Thursday in a winners’ bracket game in the Southland Conference tournament. Now the Bearkats will have to win twice today in order to stay alive.

One hit could’ve made a big difference as the 23rd-ranked Kats fell to the Lions 1-0.

“We know they’re a great team,” said Sam Houston first baseman Ryan O’Hearn, who connected for two of the team’s six hits. “They pitch well. They hit well and play good defense.

“They just had balls fall in today and we didn’t. That’s the bottom line.”

In total, the Bearkats (41-16 overall) had six hits, drew three walks and two were hit by pitches. They couldn’t take advantage and left 11 runners on base, including seven in scoring position.

“They pitched well, but we just couldn’t get the hit in the moment of truth when we needed it,” Sam Houston head coach David Pierce said. “I thought both teams played well. I thought both teams pitched well. We didn’t get a clutch hit and they got one.”

Southeastern (35-23) got everything it needed in the fifth inning.

Center fielder Jacob Seward kicked off the rally with a two-out single up the middle. That hit was followed with an infield single by catcher Jameson Fisher in which O’Hearn made a diving stop but didn’t have a play at either first or second base.

Right fielder Andrew Godbold looped a pitch to right field to drive in what proved to be the game-winning run. Sam Houston right fielder Travis Lee scooped the ball off the bounce and threw home, but couldn’t get the ball home in time as Seward slid for the run.

“I know I’ve got two outs and I just can’t finish a guy off,” Bearkats starting pitcher Tyler Eppler said. “He ends up hitting a jam shot to the outfield that scores a run. It’s just really frustrating.”

The Kats got a golden opportunity the next inning to potentially tie the game or to go ahead after getting back-to-back singles by catcher Anthony Azar and O’Hearn to lead off the inning.

Third baseman Carter Burgess attempted a sacrifice bunt to move both runners into scoring position, but instead popped the ball up into foul territory and it was caught by Fisher. Shortstop Corey Toups hit a high-flying pop-up to center field for the second out. Then after second baseman Shea Pierce was hit by a pitch to load the bases, left fielder Luke Plucheck struck out swinging to end the inning and the scoring threat.

The Kats had another prime chance with a pair of runners in scoring positions and just one out in the eighth.

Again, Sam Houston couldn’t get the key hit it was looking for as Toups struck out looking and Shea Pierce flew out to left field to end the inning.

After drawing a one-out walk in the ninth, center fielder Colt Atwood lined out to second baseman Jacob Williams and designated hitter Hayden Simerly struck out looking to end the game.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” O’Hearn said. “Obviously, that’s where you need guys to drive in runs. Today, we had the bases loaded in a few places, but it just didn’t happen for us.”

The loss squandered a gem of a performance from Eppler. In 7 1/3 innings, the junior righthander gave up just one run off nine hits and three strikeouts.

“I thought I pitched really well. I mean I let a few guys get some hits, but I don’t think they hit me very hard,” Eppler said. “I was just making a lot of pitches down in the zone. I didn’t have my  best offspeed today, but I did my best with my fastball and changeup.

“I guess the biggest thing for me is I slipped up one inning and they scored one run and that happened to be the winning run.”

After giving up a lead-off single in the eighth, Eppler was relieved by Alan Scott, who retired three straight batters.

Countering Eppler was Lions starting pitcher Tate Scioneaux, who pitched 5 2/3 innings and gave up five hits with four strikeouts to get the win. Reliever Mason Klotz pitched the final 1 2/3 innings and picked up the save.

Thursday’s loss was also the first time since March 29 of last season that Sam Houston was shut out, ending a streak of 91 games.

The Bearkats’ long road of staving off elimination begins today when they face Northwestern State at 9 a.m.

Jason Simms (5-2, 2.74 ERA) will take the mound for the Bearkats.

If Sam Houston can defeat and eliminate the Demons, the Kats will face Southeastern again at 4 p.m.

“We have some depth on our bench that I think can help in that scenario,” the Bearkats coach said. “That gives us an opportunity to play and win more games. We’re looking forward to it.”

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