HAMMOND, La. – With two of the best arms in the Southland Conference going head-to-head, Friday night's billing lived up to the hype. Unfortunately for Sam Houston State, a play-at-the-plate tilted the game in Southeastern Louisiana's favor.
The Lions' Drew Avans sent a first-pitch, two-out, 11th inning single into center, plating Brennan Breaud, who was called safe after a charging throw from Bryce Johnson beat the runner, leading to a 2-1 Southeastern Louisiana victory in the opener.
The loss spoiled a dazzling performance from Sam Houston starter Heath Donica, who tossed 10 innings, striking out nine while scattering six hits. The only blemish on the right-handers' resume was a first-inning, two-out single from Carson Crites.
The Bearkats were held in check by Southeastern starter Mac Sceroler, who went nine-plus innings, striking out 13 while walking two and scattering six hits. It was not until the ninth that Sam Houston was able to break through, using three-straight singles including a game-tying knock from Clayton Harp.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Donica and Sceroler entered the night owning two of the league's top-three ERAs and the results showed. Southeastern Louisiana and Sam Houston exchanged zeroes for seven-straight frames between the second and eighth, helping by some tenacious Bearkat defense.
Robie Rojas caught two runners stealing and Johnson cut down another at the plate in the seventh after the Lions sent Avans on a Derrick Mount single. The throw, similar to that in the 11th inning, was fielded on one hop from Rojas, who applied the tag for the out.
With three outs from its first shutout since Feb. 24 against Louisiana, Sam Houston answered the bell in the ninth. Johnson sent a 1-0 single into right and with the hit-and-run on, Taylor Beene, lined a first-pitch single into left, moving Johnson to third.
Sceroler induced a pop out from Lance Miles for the first out, but Harp continued his clutch hitting, one week after delivering the ninth-inning game-winning hit against McNeese, driving a 0-1 pitch through the right side to tie the game at 1-1.
The Kats could not cash in on further chances, however, stranding two in the ninth on consecutive strikeouts. Sam Houston stranded a pair in scoring position in the 10th, chasing Sceroler from the game on a leadoff walk from Hunter Hearn, but a groundout ended the threat.
In the 11th, Harp and Andrew Fregia connected on one-out singles and Mac Odom, who entered to pinch run two innings earlier, used his speed to load the bases, beating the throw from an infield single. A groundout terminated the bases-loaded threat as the Kats came up empty, despite three hits.
Head coach Matt Deggs on the play at the plate…
“It was a pretty hard-hit ball up the middle to Bryce. He made a beautiful one-hop throw. It looked like we got him. They called it safe. There is nothing we can do about it now. We had our opportunities throughout the course of the game to score. We weren't able to come up with the big hit. That's baseball.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on the performance from Heath Donica…
“It was one of the gutsiest performances I have ever seen. He had a really sharp breaking ball. He showed just enough fastball to get them sped up. It was working from the word go. He pitched his heart out. He deserved to win … don't take anything away from their guy. He pitched very well. It was a Friday night tilt.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on the night from Robie Rojas…
“Robie played his heart out. He is a weapon behind the plate. He shuts that stuff down. Teams will think twice before doing that. He played his heart all. They all played their hearts out. It was two good arms going at it. All the fans got their money's worth tonight.”