After receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Baseball Tournament, the Bearkats are ready for their first opponent, the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns. First pitch is scheduled for Friday at 7:05 p.m. and the game will air on ESPN3.

Sam Houston (37-20) has hopes of building on last season’s success at the Houston Regional where the Kats made to the finals and fell to eventual College World Series participant Arkansas.

Louisiana-Lafayette (41-18) is making its first regional appearance since 2010 where the Ragin’ Cajuns won their opening game, 1-0, over Rice before getting eliminated with losses to Texas and Rice.

PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUP:
LHP Cody Dickson (Jr., 9-5, 4.33 ERA, 89.1 IP, 87 K)
vs. LHP Ryan Wilson (Jr., 6-4, 3.35 ERA, 78 IP, 59 K)

Most people point to the Bearkats strong starting pitching but the team is out to prove they are a balanced ball club that can hit and play defense, as well as pitch.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge but we’re looking forward to it,” said Bearkat coach David Pierce. “I think we get recognized more so for our arms than our offense. But we’re a pretty solid ball club throughout and we do have some arms that we feel can compete in this regional.”

Third baseman Kevin Miller leads the club with a .338 batting average while driving in 37 runs and scoring 36. Catcher Anthony Azar is the team’s leading run producer with 45 RBI on 20 doubles and five homers.

Cody Dickson will get the ball for game one of the regional and feels good about the team’s chance.

“It just comes down to how we play,” said Dickson. “You know it’s all about us really, we have to stay within ourselves, not try to be too big. We’re going to come out here and show everyone what we’ve got.”

Out of the bullpen, righty Jason Simms has recorded nine saves with a 2.98 ERA in 42 1/3 innings. Lefty Alan Scott sports the lowest ERA on the team, at 0.68, in 26 2/3 innings over 18 appearances.

Each game the Kats play in the Baton Rouge Regional will be broadcast on ESPN3.com.

SHSU BASEBALL NOTES

NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY
In eight NCAA postseason appearances, Sam Houston State has made it to two regional finals. Until last season, SHSU’s best regional performance came at Ole Miss in 2007. The Bearkats bounced back to defeat Troy, 5-4, and Southern Mississippi, 12-11 (11 innings), to meet host Mississippi in the finals. In 2012 the Kats again bounced back from an opening round loss to eliminate Prairie View A&M, 4-2, and Rice, 4-1, to meet Arkansas in the finals.

Twice, SHSU has knocked off the No. 1 seed in the first round of the playoffs, defeating Oklahoma, 5-1, in Austin in 1987 and knocking off Miami (the No. 2 team in the country), 5-4, in Austin in 1996. Sam Houston also held leads late against host Texas and UCLA before losing in the 1996 regional.

The win over Miami in 1996 is the Kats last opening round win in a regional. The ‘Canes went on to play in the 1996 College World Series and lost in the national championship game.

KATS VERSUS TOURNAMENT TEAMS
Sam Houston State put up an impressive 8-3 record against tournament teams in 2013. The Bearkats knocked off Conference-USA regular season and tournament champion, Rice, twice this season before splitting two games with Texas A&M and winning a single game at Texas-San Antonio. The Kats swept three games against UCA. The only tourney team to hold an advantage over SHSU is Connecticut who took two-of-three in March.

SOUTHLAND CHAMPIONS AGAIN
The Bearkats swept Central Arkansas in the final conference series of the season to claim their second consecutive regular-season championship and its third overall. No. 28 Sam Houston won the Southland by three games, finishing league play with a 20-7 record. The Kats dropped only two league series all year while picking up seven series wins and four sweeps. Third baseman Kevin Miller hit over .400 in conference games while driving in 20 runs and scoring 21. Catcher Anthony Azar batted .379 and drove in a team-high 29 runs. Azar and leftfielder Luke Plucheck each hit four homers in league play.

BEARKATS NO. 28 IN COLLEGIATE BASEBALL POLL
Sam Houston State dropped a spot to No. 28, in the latest Collegiate Baseball poll after being ranked at No. 27 a week ago. The Kats and the Rice Owls (No. 23) are the only teams from the state of Texas to currently be ranked. Three teams fell out of the top 30 this week in Seton Hall (1-2 last week), Campbell (3-1) and Western Carolina (1-2). New to the poll is Virginia Tech., Oklahoma, and San Diego. SHSU is also receiving votes in the USA Today Coaches polls.

NINE BEARKATS ALL-SOUTHLAND
For the second consecutive season, third baseman Kevin Miller and catcher Anthony Azar have been voted to the All-Southland Conference first team. They top a list of nine Sam Houston players who have been voted to the 2013 All-Southland Conference baseball squad. Second baseman Jessie Plumlee, outfielder Luke Plucheck, and pitcher Caleb Smith are members of the second team. Honorable mention selections for the Bearkats are shortstop Carter Burgess, outfielder Colt Atwood, designated hitter Hayden Simerly, and pitcher Cody Dickson.

PIERCE COACH OF THE YEAR
After guiding the Bearkats to a second consecutive regular-season title, Sam Houston’s David Pierce repeated as the Southland coach of the year. Sam Houston finished 20-7 in conference play and heads to the NCAA Regionals for the second straight year. The Kats picked up big non-conference wins over Baylor, Houston, Rice, Texas, and Texas A&M. Pierce is the first Southland coach to win consecutive honors since Texas-San Antonio’s Sherman Corbett (2007-08).

SECOND-LONGEST DIVISION I WIN STREAK IN PROGRAM HISTORY
The Bearkats 11-game winning streak from April 21 to May 12 was the second-longest in school history at the Division I level. Last season’s 13 consecutive wins ranks as the team’s longest. During the streak the Kats batted .305 as a team while smashing 21 doubles and 10 home runs. The pitching staff combined for a 1.95 ERA with 84 strikeouts while teams were batting just .206 off of them. Sam Houston finished the regular season with wins in 14 of their final 15 games, capped off by a sweep of Central Arkansas.

DICKSON ON A ROLL
Junior lefthander Cody Dickson finished the regular season on a roll. In his five outings leading up to the Southland Tournament, Dickson tossed 26 consecutive scoreless innings while allowing just eight hits over that stretch. The Mansfield, Texas, product was outstanding in his final regular-season start, throwing a four-hit, complete-game shutout against the UCA Bears. He struck out ten and didn’t issue any free passes. His only start in the conference tournament was marred by one bad inning. Dickson battled through 6 2/3 innings of work but gave up five runs in the third as the Kats lost 5-3 to Southeastern Louisiana.

SENIOR JESSIE PLUMLEE DEFINES UTILITY PLAYER
Senior Jessie Plumlee has been the ultimate utility man in his Sam Houston career. This season he has started at second, catcher, and most recently first base. Plumlee has led off and played first base in the Bearkats last eight games. The senior from Rowlett, Texas, has played six different positions in his four-year Sam Houston career. Plumlee is one of the team’s leading hitters with a .313 batting average that includes 51 total hits, nine doubles, two home runs and 26 runs batted in.

EMERGENCE OF EPPLER
Tyler Eppler was a big part of the Kats midweek success, picking up wins over Texas, Rice and Houston. The sophomore from Navasota, Texas, was at his best against the ranked opponents. Eppler is 5-2 with a 3.41 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 13 starts. “There have been some unusual things with this year’s team,” Pierce said. “Tyler Eppler has been one of those good, unusual things. It’s great to be able to have the same starting pitcher for the midweek games. Tyler is a young pitcher but he’s been able to step up and has helped build the team’s confidence going into big games.” Eppler has made three weekend starts, in wins over Northwestern State, Nicholls, and Central Arkansas. He also pitched the Bearkats to an 8-3 win over McNeese State in the team’s Southland Tournament opener.

MIDWEEK WARRIORS
Sam Houston has played arguably the toughest midweek schedule in the Southland Conference this season and faired pretty well, with a 9-3 record. The Bearkats picked up a pair of wins over nationally ranked Rice and split series with Houston, Baylor, and Texas A&M. SHSU also knocked off No. 22 Texas on the road early in the season. The Kats picked up wins over Texas-Arlington and Texas-San Antonio in the final two midweeks.

BURGESS QUARTERFINALIST FOR BROOKS WALLACE
Sam Houston State shortstop Carter Burgess was named as a quarterfinalist for the Brooks Wallace Shortstop of the Year Award. Burgess is one of the Bearkats offensive leaders, with a .318 average in 57 games this season. The sophomore is just one of two Kats to have started every game in 2013. The Brooks Wallace Award, sponsored by Mizuno, recognizes the nation’s top shortstop and will be presented during the College Baseball Hall of Fame’s Night of Champions on June 29 in Lubbock, Texas.

BURCHETT ON STOPPER OF THE YEAR WATCHLIST
Bearkat senior relief pitcher Michael Burchett was among 75 players named to the NCBWA Preseason Stopper of the Year Watch List. Primarily the closer in 2012, Burchett led the Bearkats with 10 saves and struck out 27 batters in 48.1 innings. This season he has produced a 3.49 ERA in 21 appearances and has recorded four saves.

BEARKATS PICKED NO. 1 IN SLC PRESEASON POLL
The Bearkats were the overwhelming favorites in the 2013 Southland Conference preseason head coaches’ poll.

Sam Houston returned 17 letter winners, six starters and four pitchers from a 40-22 Bearkat squad.

DEFENDING SOUTHLAND CONFERENCE CHAMPS
Sam Houston State produced its first Southland Conference regular season championship since 1989 last year. The Bearkats rolled up a 40-22 overall record, only the third time in SHSU’s 26 seasons at the NCAA Division I level for the squad to compile 40 or more victories. Sam Houston earned the 2012 conference title by a margin of four games.

The 24 Southland victories tied the league record for most conference wins in a season. For the first time in their 12 trips to the Southland post-season tournament, the Kats were the No. 1 seed. After a Southland tournament semifinals loss, the Kats earned an at-large berth in the Houston regional for SHSU’s first at-large Division I berth.

In their seventh NCAA Division I baseball regional appearance, the Bearkats defeated No. 1 seed Rice and reached the finals against World Series participant Arkansas to equal the program’s best NCAA post-season performance ever.

BATON ROUGE REGIONAL TEAM CAPSULES

NO. 1-SEED LOUISIANA STATE
The LSU Tigers (52-9, 23-7 SEC) enter the regional on a roll after winning four of five games in the SEC Tournament, including a victory over No. 1-ranked Vanderbilt in the championship game. The Tigers earned the No. 4 overall seed after a 52-9 regular season. In his seventh season at LSU, head coach Paul Mainieri has continued LSU’s dominance in college baseball. They have reached the NCAA postseason five times including trips to the College World Series in 2008 and 2009, winning the title that year. On the diamond, the Tigers are led by SEC pitcher of the year Aaron Nola. The right-handed pitcher boasts a 10-0 record and a 1.98 ERA. The Tigers placed a total of six players on the All-SEC team including five first-team picks. As a team, LSU is hitting .308 with 42 home runs. Mason Klotz leads the club in homers (14) and RBI (64), while his .377 average is just a point below team leader and SEC Freshman of the Year Alex Bergman (.378). The LSU pitching staff has an ERA of 2.48 and a 3-to-1 strike out to walk ratio. Closer Chris Cotton is 11th in the country with 15 saves and a 4-1 record.

NO. 2-SEED LOUSIANA-LAFAYETTE
The Kats first round opponent, Louisiana-Lafayette (41-18, 19-11 Sun Belt) is set to appear in the NCAA Baseball Championship for the 13th time and first since 2010. For head coach Tony Robichaux, it will be his ninth time leading the Ragin’ Cajuns into the NCAA Championship. The Cajuns bring one of the nation’s top offensive units into the Baton Rouge regional with top-10 rankings nationally in batting average, runs, hits, doubles, home runs and slugging percentage. The team is hitting .352 and slugging .587 since May 1, scoring five-plus runs each game during the timeframe. ULL has won 15 of its last 20 contests to secure the program’s first 40-win season since 2007. Louisiana-Lafayette’s all-time NCAA Baseball Championship record is 20-25 and includes Super Regional appearances in 1999 and 2000 and a College World Series berth in 2000. Dex Kjerstad is the team’s hottest hitter with a 13-game hitting streak intact and a team and Sun Belt-best .398 average. He has accrued 94 base hits which leaves him seven hits shy of the school record.

NO. 4-SEED JACKSON STATE
Jackson State (34-20, 19-5) enters the regional as the champions of the SWAC Conference. They posted a 34-20 record under head coach Omar Johnson. In eight years guiding the Jackson State program, Johnson has posted a record of 237-146, earning his first trip to the postseason. The Tigers rolled off a 19-5 record in league play and have won 13 of their last 15 games including seven straight. As a team the Tigers hit .285 with Charles Tilery leading the way with a .344 average. The team doesn’t have a lot of power, hitting just 12 homers, led by Ethan Bright with 4. When the Tigers get on base, expect them to run. They are 125-of-156 on stolen base attempts and have six players with double-digit swipes including Aneko Knowles (26) and Tilery (25). The pitching staff has an ERA of 4.66. Juday Alexander has the best stats among starters with a 3.14 ERA, 7-4 record and a team-best 60 strikeouts.