Friday, Feb. 17 – Sunday, Feb. 19 • Huntsville, Texas • Don Sanders Stadium
#23 Sam Houston State (0-0) vs. Nevada (0-0)
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HUNTSVILLE – Twenty-third ranked Sam Houston opens its highly-anticipated 2017 season on Friday at 6:30 p.m., hosting Nevada for the first of a three-game set from Don Sanders Stadium.
The Bearkats, who are preseason picks to win the Southland Conference according to the league's head coaches and sports information directors, return 18 letterwinners and welcome 12 newcomers to a squad that garnered its first top-25 preseason ranking in team history.
Sam Houston’s opening day is Friday Night Family Night with $10 reserve seats available which includes a hot dog, popcorn and a drink. Sunday’s finale will mark Kids Free Day. Fans who purchase one adult ticket will receive admittance for up to four kids at no cost.
STRONG OPENING MATCHUP OUT OF THE GATE
Sam Houston will not have to wait long to test itself against national powers, a practice which has become common under third-year head coach Matt Deggs. Nevada was picked third in the Mountain West and received votes in Collegiate Baseball newspaper’s national poll.
The weekend test will be just the first in what includes a midweek visit from No. 17 Texas and three-game home series against a No. 13 Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns squad that returns a bulk of its talent from a team that hosted Sam Houston in the NCAA Regionals a season ago.
For now, the focus remains centered on a Nevada program that ranked third in triples per game (0.52), ninth in batting average (.319) and 10th in doubles per game (2.28) a season ago.
“We’re very blessed and fortunate to have the schedule that coach (Jay) Sirianni put together,” Deggs said. “It will be trial by fire. Nevada is a very good program. Coach (T.J.) Bruce came over from UCLA and is doing a great job. We look at it like a great opportunity for us to face an opponent of that caliber.”
The Bearkats counter with Friday night starter Heath Donica, who posted a 10-4 record and 3.42 ERA. While the starters have received much of the attention among the staff, the new-look bullpen has caught equally as many eyes for their efforts in the preseason.
ROLES TO BE FILLED THIS SPRING
Ten Sam Houston pitchers, including six lefties are expected to make debuts this spring. Right-hander Jordan Cannon, who converted to pitcher from catcher a season ago, is one of two returning pieces out of the ‘pen expected to make considerable contributions.
“Ultimately, I started learning some things that have helped me thanks to coach (Jay) Sirianni,” Cannon said. “Each day we work to get better as a staff. These guys in the bullpen work hard. They have good stuff and show up every day with a good attitude willing to get better.”
A majority of Sam Houston’s positional players will likely consist of veterans. Projected starting catcher Robie Rojas threw out a national-best 30 runners while third baseman Andrew Fregia, shortstop Taylor Beene and second baseman Lance Miles each started 50-plus games last year.
The outfield, with the exception of center fielder Bryce Johnson, who ranked 20th nationally with 90 hits in 2016, is up for grabs. Among several contenders includes a pair of sophomores in Clayton Harp and Mac Odom as well as incoming freshman Mike Williams.
“Everyone has a shot to play and you have to go out there and earn it,” Odom said. “You have to prove you deserve that spot. It’s going to be exciting this weekend. We’ve been waiting for this a long time. We’re thankful we get to play a great opponent in Nevada opening up at The Don.”
HOME COOKING EVEN SWEETER FOR KATS
Sam Houston enters Friday’s matchup riding a 10-game home winning streak after stringing together 19 wins in its final 20 matchups at Don Sanders Stadium during 2016. In fact, the Kats have not lost a 3-game series at home since March 28-30, 2014, when the squad dropped 2-of-3 against Northwestern State.
The Kats hit .285 at the venue a season ago and held opponents to a .223 batting average while breaking in their first-year AstroTurf with a .971 fielding percentage. Sam Houston’s 22 regular-season home wins trailed only Dallas Baptist (24), TCU (23) and Houston (23) among Division I programs in Texas.
“We have a definitive advantage sleeping in our beds and playing in front of the best atmosphere in the league and one of the best in the state,” Deggs said. “There is a lot of excitement around the program and the place will be rocking this weekend.”