SUGAR LAND – For a third-straight season, Sam Houston State is heading back to the Southland Conference Tournament championship game.
The three-seed Bearkats' back-half of the order continued their surge and the pitching staff never gave New Orleans a chance, leading to a 7-1 semifinals victory on Friday afternoon at Constellation Field.
Sam Houston (39-20) will seek its sixth conference tournament title against the winner of four-seed Houston Baptist and five-seed Central Arkansas. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. as Sam Houston looks to win its second-straight tournament title for the first time since 2008-09.
Five Sam Houston pitchers combined to limit the Privateers (30-28-1) to six hits including starter Seth Ballew who permitted just one hit and a pair of walks while fanning four in as many innings. Riley Cooper (1-3) picked up the win, scattering three hits in 2 2-3 innings and striking out three.
Catcher Robie Rojas continued his outburst at the tournament, turning on a solo homer in the sixth. The senior is 8-for-12 (.667), plating six runs while adding a team-best six RBIs in three games at the event. Blake Chisolm added a 3-for-4 performance, two RBIs and three runs against the Privateers.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Sam Houston's middle of the order continued its tear in the tournament as the Bearkats loaded the bases in the second on a Rojas hit by pitch and consecutive singles from Chisolm and Hunter Hearn.
Patience at the plate paid off for Jaxxon Grisham, who fouled off three straight before working a nine-pitch bases-loaded free pass. Taylor Beene followed, lifting a sacrifice fly into right, plating Chisolm and providing Sam Houston the 2-0 lead.
Things got wacky in the fifth as Bryce Johnson put down a bunt with runners on first and second but was called out on a play that did not appear close. Fregia followed lifting a ball to deep left, only to see UNO left fielder Tristan Clarke climb the wall and reel in the catch.
The umpires judged that Beene left early from third and called the runner out on the play, resulting in an inning-ending double play. UNO appeared poised to strike back in the bottom half, putting runners on the corners on consecutive singles but the hidden-ball-trick worked to perfection as Beene tagged the runner off third for the second out before a fly out ended it.
Rojas restored order in the sixth, drilling a solo homer over the wall in left, boosting the Sam Houston lead to 3-0 on his second long ball of the tournament. After Chisolm was hit by the pitch, pinch-hitter Josh Biles made the Privateers pay with two outs, looping a fly into shallow left, scoring Chisolm from first for a four-run advantage.
Competing as the visiting team for the first time at the tournament, Sam Houston tacked on three more runs in the ninth as Chisolm tagged a two-out triple into right, scoring Mac Odom and Fregia. An errant throw to third as Chisolm slid in allowed the junior to come home.
Head coach Matt Deggs on the semifinals victory…
“We had a few things go against us but we staved it off with good pitching and defense. We were really able to capture the momentum. The hitters kept grinding and we were able to break through. That's been our staple all year (the two-out production). We've been extremely good at that. We've gone in spurts with it but those are demoralizers. We've been on both sides of it. We were able to extend some innings. I thought our hitters were tenacious all night long.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on the pitching staff…
“I can't say enough about the start from Ballew. He got it to Coop who was outstanding. Dakota handed it off to Backhus and Miko. It was a really well-pitched game on our end.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on the hidden-ball trick…
“We're always looking for an edge. The name of the game is how quick you can get to 27 outs. Nobody tells you how you have to get them. We're always looking for a way to win. We have some heady older guys. That's a play we have pulled off several times.”
Catcher Robie Rojas on his solo homer and getting back to the title game…
“It was a big swing. Our bats all week have been deadly. The pitch before that I got my swing off but I was a little on top of it. I knew he wouldn't throw me another changeup. We came in this tournament knowing when we're playing our best baseball nobody can play with us. It's a good feeling to be in the championship again and one win from getting to a regional.”
First baseman Blake Chisolm on overcoming adversity…
“We all know there are going to be highs and lows during the game. The big thing for us is that we kept coming and stuff just started to go our way.”
Reliever Riley Cooper on coming in and picking up the win…
“As pitchers, our job is to come in and set the tone. It's all about pitching … as many arms as you can save, it's the best thing for us. Seth did a great job of that. He set the tone for the day. Coach Sirianni gets us going throughout the fall and spring. Even if we're at 60 percent, we're going to give you all we have.”
Starting pitcher Seth Ballew on his outing…
“I was feeling good. Coach texted me around noon and said I was getting the ball. I just wanted to give my all for the team. I felt pretty good early on. I knew we had a game plan. Our hitters have been doing a great job. I just focused on my job and letting them do the rest.”