The Sam Houston baseball team begins its 2013 campaign Friday as the Bearkats take on Tulane at 6 p.m. in this weekend's Bobcat Invitational in San Marcos.
The Kats will play two more contests in the tournament, facing Missouri State Saturday and Texas State Sunday.
Sam Houston opens its home schedule at Don Sanders Stadium next Tuesday, Feb. 19 against Houston at 6:30 p.m.
The Bearkats return 16-of-21 letter winners that rolled up a Southland record-tying 24 conference victories on their way to the school's first regular season title since 1989. After receiving an at-large selection to the NCAA tournament, the Kats knocked off Rice before falling to Arkansas in the regional final.
Sam Houston is the favorite to win the 2013 Southland baseball title after receiving 11-of-12 first place votes in the annual preseason poll of the league's head coaches.
Head coach David Pierce is heading into his second season leading the Bearkats. Pierce coached the Kats to just their third 40-win season in the program's 26 years playing at the Division I level.
"We've played about 20 intrasquad games and we're ready to play somebody else," head coach David Pierce said. "You can tell our guys are ready to go and are excited to start the season."
WEEKEND PITCHING MATCHUPS
- Friday, Feb. 15: Caleb Smith (SHSU) vs. Tony Rizzotti (Tulane)
- Saturday, Feb. 16: Cody Dickson (SHSU) vs. Cody Schumacher (Missouri State)
- Sunday, Feb. 17: Andrew Godail (SHSU) vs. Scott Grist (Texas State)
Key returners for the Bearkats are starting pitchers Caleb Smith and Cody Dickson; reliever Michael Burchett; infielders Anthony Azar, Kevin Miller, Ryan O'Hearn, Jessie Plumlee, and Corey Toups; and outfielders Colt Atwood and Luke Plucheck.
The pitching staff should be one of the strengths for the Kats in 2013.
Smith started 16 games for the Bearkats in 2012 with a 3.23 ERA and a team-high 82 strikeouts. The junior from Huntsville tossed complete games against Nicholls (1-hitter) and UTSA (7-innings 2-hitter).
Dickson had 14 starts last season and compiled a 3.25 ERA in 72 innings. The junior from Mansfield had starts of at least seven innings against UC-Riverside, SFA, Nicholls, and Texas State with wins in three of the four games.
"Caleb and Cody have power arms," said Pierce. "If we get quality strikes and if we can stay healthy, we've got a chance to get a lot of wins."
Burchett, who is on the NCBWA preseason Stopper of the Year watch list, had ten saves with a 3.35 ERA in 48.1 innings.
The Kats return several starters in the field and have some newcomers that should provide depth.
"We are as deep as we've probably been in the last few years. We're definitely deeper than we were last year," said Pierce. "It doesn't necessarily mean we'll win more games because you can only play nine guys at a time but it definitely gives us more options and more combinations."
Returning first-team All-Southland members Anthony Azar and Kevin Miller will lead the Bearkat offense. Azar was primarily the designated hitter in 2012 but could get more playing time at catcher in 2013. Miller mans the hot corner where he committed only ten errors in 164 chances while batting .315 and driving in 33 runs.
Colt Atwood, Ryan O'Hearn and Corey Toups were major contributors as true freshman in 2012. Atwood batted .315 and led the team in hits with 77. O'Hearn batted .304 with 69 hits and he drove in 30 runs. Toups batted .262 with 51 hits and scored 38 runs.
Jessie Plumlee is another player who could pick up starts behind the plate for the Kats. Plumlee started 53 games at second base in 2012.
After the opening-season tournament the Kats will have matchups against several big programs out-of-conference.
"We play a great and tough non-conference schedule this season," Pierce said. "It's going to be very challenging and we're very excited to get going."
Sam Houston plays home-and-homes with Baylor, Houston, Rice, and Texas A&M, series against Arkansas State, Connecticut, Dallas Baptist, and Louisiana-Monroe, and a game at Texas.
The Kats' home opener is against Houston Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 6:30 p.m.
Purchase your 2013 Bearkat Baseball Season Tickets for all 30 home games by calling 936-294-1729 or by visiting www.gobearkats.com. Single game tickets to each exciting home contest at Don Sanders Stadium are also available for purchase.