By Gene Schallenberg
The Bearkats continued their winning streak in impressive fashion Friday night.
A stellar outing from converted reliever Jason Simms as well as a big inning at the plate was enough to overtake Abilene Christian 8-3 in the series opener at Don Sanders Stadium as Sam Houston State won its fourth in a row.
“Coming off that Baylor win, that’s given us some motivation,” said Sam Houston State shortstop Corey Toups. “I think we’re playing great as a team right now. We just need to keep it going.”
Starting for just the fourth time in his career and the third time in Southland Conference action, Jason Simms turned in another dominant performance.
Using momentum from last Saturday’s pitching effort in which he tossed eight shutout innings in a 2-1 victory over Oral Roberts, Simms put up nothing but zeros through eight innings and stretched his scoreless inning streak to 16 before Abilene Christian got on board in the ninth.
“I felt good,” Simms said. “The plan from the get-go was to establish the fastball early and see what they would do with it. They just kept hitting the ball into the ground today. We played phenomenal on defense; the sticks picked up and we scored a lot of runs today.”
Leaning on Simms, the Bearkats offense took care of the rest.
After squandering scoring opportunities in the first two innings, Sam Houston State (7-6 in Southland play, 23-11) started piling up runs and took a big lead.
In the third inning, the Kats loaded the bases with no outs. Following a force out at home plate and a strike out, Sam Houston was on its way to letting another golden scoring chance slip by. Wildcats starting pitcher Nate Cole balked, allowing center fielder Colt Atwood to score the first run of the game.
The Bearkats then took complete control with an offensive surge in the fourth.
Senior left fielder Luke Plucheck kicked off the rally with a one-out single to left field. Then second baseman Shea Pierce ripped a double deep to the right-center-field gap to drive in Plucheck. That’s when Toups, who was held without a hit in three of his previous four contests, broke the game open.
With a 1-1 count, Toups towered the ball over the left-field wall for a two-run homer.
The Kats scored twice more in the inning on an RBI triple by first baseman Ryan O’Hearn and a wild pitch to take a 6-0 advantage.
“The thing I was impressed with is that we didn’t get so down and start pressing,” Bearkats head coach David Pierce said. “We kept having opportunities and we finally took advantage of it.”
Sam Houston broke through again in the sixth and seventh innings.
In the sixth, right fielder Hayden Simerly drove in catcher Anthony Azar, who doubled to lead off the inning, on a double to right field that Abilene Christian right fielder Colton Hall misjudged.
Toups then blasted another round-tripper that stayed just fair inside of the left-field foul pole.
“I was just looking for something to hit,” Toups said. “I’ve been struggling lately and I went out there relaxed. I got some fastballs up and I barrelled them and hit them out.”