James Brown sings it every time this guy steps to the plate at the new Bearkat Baseball Complex. Sam Houston State center fielder Jeremy Holzbach has paid the cost to be the boss.

Back in 2004, an angry groundball took a bad hop and broke Holzbach’s jaw. Somehow, he kept playing.

The Bearkats created a funny-looking helmet complete with a football facemask so Holzbach could stay in the lineup. He sipped breakfast, lunch and supper through a straw, yet he still played shortstop and was voted the team’s most valuable player.

Last year, Holzbach sat out the entire season with a bum elbow. He could not make the throw from short to first, so he bided his time on the bench and became the Bearkats’ best cheerleader.

A broken jaw and aching elbow only made the hard-working junior from Clear Brook High School more determined. He took extra batting practice, got his body back in shape and made a move to the outfield with one idea in mind.

“I want to do anything and everything to help my team,” Holzbach said Thursday afternoon following a 4-for-5 performance against No. 3 Rice, in which he drove in the game-winning run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. “Whether that’s getting down a bunt or showing up early to practice, it’s the little things that make the difference.”

On Thursday afternoon as the Kats prepared for their weekend series at Northwestern State, Holzbach talked about choosing a James Brown original from the 1973 movie, “Black Caesar,” as his “walk-out” song.

“I wanted something that was meaningful in my life,” Holzbach said. “Most guys like songs that get them pumped up, maybe some heavy metal. I like this song because it’s got a nice little beat and it’s a classic.

“The words say it all — you’ve got to pay the cost to be the boss. That makes me remember that the hard work is coming.”

Having the hardest-working man in show business on his side worked Wednesday night. Holzbach and his four hits helped the Bearkats overcome eight walks, two hit batters and four errors — against one of the country’s top teams.

“That proves to our fans, and to Rice, and to ourselves that we were the better team that night,” Holzbach said.

Dustin Martin, who went 2-for-5 with a double and an RBI, said he can’t remember playing in a stranger game.

Rice rallied from an early 4-0 deficit and took an 8-6 lead into the bottom of the ninth. But the Bearkats capitalized on three walks, a hit batter, a sacrifice fly and Holzbach’s single to center to push across three runs in the bottom half of the inning and send the Owls unhappily back to Houston.

“We gave the game away, and they gave it right back,” Martin said. “We got one against a big team and that gives us a lot of confidence heading into this weekend’s series. Everyone was playing a little tight early in the season, but when our whole lineup is clicking, we can put up eight to 10 runs every time out.”

Bearkats coach Chris Rupp has been impressed with his team’s play of late. Wednesday’s win gave him more reason for optimism.

“We came back and battled. That’s got to be a positive,” the coach said. “Everybody looks at the bottom line, and we came back last night and got a win. We did everything we could to lose that game, and then we did everything possible to win it.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.”

Wednesday’s win was fun, Rupp said, and Bearkats should enjoy the moment. But this weekend’s series with the Demons is more important, the coach stressed, so the players need to build off the Rice victory and keep the momentum going.

“I’m excited, but I don’t want to get too excited. I don’t want that to be a huge highlight of our season,” Rupp said. “We should expect to win that game, not be surprised by it.

“Conference games are bigger than any weekday game, and Northwestern’s going to be tough. They got swept last weekend by UTA, but this is a whole new series. They’re going to want to come back and get a few wins, so we’re going to have to go up there and take care of business.”

Holzbach said the Kats, winners of four of their last five, are starting to believe they can win every time they come to the park, no matter the opponent. That has some of the veterans re-evaluating the team’s goals for 2006.

The Bearkats are still shooting for a spot in the Southland tournament, but they’re beginning to raise the bar a bit.

“I was telling Dustin this morning, ‘Let’s win a conference championship, let’s get a ring,’ Holzbach said.

“There’s no reason we can’t do it.”





Bearkat baseball notes and quotes



Whoops! Owls win in Chronicle — Thursday’s edition of the Houston Chronicle — the one that made it to Huntsville, anway — reported an 8-7 victory ... by Rice.

“Rice used five pitchers to rally against Sam Houston State, and the Owls escaped the Bearkats 8-7 Wednesday night,” the paper said.

On Thursday afternoon, Bearkats coach Chris Rupp was fired up about the mistake.

“They need to run a retraction. That was a good win for us and it was a good win for our conference,” he said. “That win can help us in recruiting.”

Sam Houston State sports information director Paul Ridings Jr. said Thursday he had no idea how the Chronicle got its information on Wednesday’s long game that ended just before 11 p.m.

“I have no earthly idea how that happened. We didn’t send them anything until the game was over,” Ridings said.

Changes to weekend rotation — Rupp said he’s going to shake things up a bit with his weekend pitching rotation.

Junior Tim Gray, the Bearkats’ No. 1 starter, will get the ball tonight for the series opener at Northwestern State. Gray (3-0) pitched to four batters in Wednesday’s wild win over Rice, striking out Jordan Dodson with the bases loaded in the eighth.

Rupp believes Gray will be ready tonight.

“Timmy likes to throw in the pen two days before a game, so I asked him if he could throw about 25 pitches in the game,” Rupp said. “That could be the bullpen session. Timmy got us out of one jam, and I’m not worried about Timmy. He’s been throwing good.”

On Saturday, instead of left-hander Jesse Marshall, the Kats are going with righty Casey Springer. Springer (2-3) was knocked around Sunday in an 8-5 loss to McNeese State, but Rupp has elected to use him and skip Marshall this week.

“We’re undecided on a Sunday starter,” the coach said. “We may go with Zach (Adkisson).”



Battle of big hitters — When the Bearkats and Demons meet starting tonight, two of the Southland’s best hitters will clash in an important three-game series. SHSU right fielder Dustin Martin leads the conference with a .415 batting average, while Demons second baseman Brandon Morgan ranks second at .397.

Like Rupp, Northwestern State coach Mitch Gaspard is going to change his pitching rotation and put Dereck Cloeren back to work.

“We need a win,” Gaspard said in a released statement. “We’re going to shuffle things around a little bit to see if we can get something working for us.”

Cloeren (1-1, 7.36 ERA) is scheduled to start Saturday’s game.

A sophomore from Little Cypress-Mauriceville, Cloeren was a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American last season, posting a 7-3 record with a 3.63 ERA. In SLC games, the tall right-hander went 5-1 with a 2.51 ERA.

Tonight, the Demons will give the ball to lefty Fraser Robinson (2-1, 1.46). Right-hander Kyle Broughton (2-2, 3.56) will start Sunday’s game.

Gaspard said he’s going to move Marty Dewees from center field to catcher, Michael Flower from catcher to designated hitter, Miles Durham from third base to center field and Wesley Turner to third base.

“We just need something good to happen,” the Demons coach said. “Something to get our confidence up.”