HUNTSVILLE – Sam Houston State has been tough to beat at home. It is even more of a challenge on Friday nights with Heath Donica on the mound.
The Bearkats pounced on Nicholls for five runs in the first, racing to an 8-3 victory in the first of a three-game set at Don Sanders Stadium. The win was the 15th-consecutive in Southland Conference action dating to May 8, 2016 and continued the team’s best league start in program history at 10-0.
Meanwhile, Donica (6-1) notched his fifth-straight victory, tossing six frames, scattering seven hits while allowing one run. The right-hander fanned three without allowing a walk and continued his undefeated home streak in conference games, moving to 7-0 for his career.
Sam Houston (21-9) was led at the plate and behind it by Robie Rojas. The catcher drove in three runs, recording his third three-hit game of the season and provided a major boost in the second, gunning down a runner leading off second with two men aboard and one out.
The back pick was just one of several highlight-reel plays defensively. Sam Houston turned in an 8-6-2 relay throw to cut down leadoff hitter Chet Niehaus at the plate in the first and Andrew Fregia tracked down a ball in foul territory, making an over-the-shoulder grab with a runner on second in the fourth.
The loss dropped Nicholls to 18-14 and 5-5 in the conference. The squads return for the middle game on Saturday at 3 p.m. as Sam Houston seeks its 13th-straight league series victory.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Sam Houston made Nicholls starter Cole Stapler work in the first. The right-hander threw 35 pitches and was tagged for four hits, all singles, alongside five runs. The Bearkats batted around, loading the bases to begin the frame as Bryce Johnson and Andrew Fregia led off with singles and Clayton Harp reached.
The Bearkats got on the board when Hunter Hearn was hit by the pitch and two hitters later took the lead as Rojas shot an RBI single through the left side. Lance Miles followed suit, driving a run-scoring single into left. Taylor Beene hit a chopper to third that was misplayed, plating the fourth run.
Then, with the bases still loaded, Rojas came home to score as Stapler’s pitch deflected off the glove of catcher Alex Tucker for a 5-1 advantage. The four-plus run inning was the 10th in as many Southland Conference games for Sam Houston.
Sam Houston used three-straight hits to tack on another in the third. Blake Chisolm led off with his team-leading 11th double, a rifle down the right field line and came around to score one hitter later as Rojas, who cut down a runner leading off second in the second, collected his second hit, a single up the middle.
Beene drew a five-pitch walk, loading the bases, and Riley McKnight grounded into a double play, plating the seventh run. It also marked the fifth-straight outing that the Bearkats had provided seven or more runs for Donica, picking up victories in the previous four.
Nicholls matched Sam Houston with seven hits through the first four frames but the Kats showed their athleticism defensively. With a runner on second and one out in the fourth, Quade Smith popped a ball in foul territory towards the clubhouse. Frega tracked the ball down, making an over-the-shoulder grab.
Stapler settled down in the middle frames, keeping Sam Houston off the board until the seventh. Clayton Harp fought off a 0-2 pitch for a single into right center and Hunter Hearn extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a single into left center, moving Harp to third.
Rojas produced his third RBI, lining a single into center field for an 8-1 advantage. The Colonels added a pair of runs in the eighth but could muster nothing more off four Sam Houston relievers including Nick Mikolajchak, who recorded the final two outs, stranding a pair of Colonels runners.
Head coach Matt Deggs on being 10-0 in the Southland Conference…
“It’s all three phases of the game … being able to go out and get quality starts, pitch it efficiently, dominate routine plays, be very tough outs at the plate, execute the offense and get big two-out knocks. That has been the recipe.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on the outing from Heath Donica…
“He went out and gave us a really solid start. He was very efficient. He gives up one through six. His pitch count got up there a little bit because they’re scrappy. They will fight you. He did a good job of handling their push and being able to settle us in the game.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on the five-run first inning…
“He (Cole Stapler) is a good arm. He’s got life to his fastball and a nice, tight slider. We were able to work our way on base with a couple infield hits, walks and a hit by pitch. That’s the way you create a big inning. Some of that was created for us and we were opportunistic. That’s what good teams do. They cash in when someone gives something to them.”
Starting pitcher Heath Donica on maneuvering around runners on the base paths…
“To be honest, our guys made plays and bailed me out when they needed to. We threw a guy out at home, Robie makes a great tag on the relay. That was a big play. The inning after that, Robie back picks a guy off second to end the inning. I thought really Robie and the way our defense played tonight helped me. I think I settled in and started commanding my fastball better. I got the ball on the ground and Beene made a few really good plays. Our defense was huge.”
Robie Rojas on throwing the runner out at second and his performance at the plate…
“Even with that boost, having Heater on the hill, he’s got your back. That gives us defensively the freedom for me to back pick. I’m seeing the ball really well. We all are seeing the ball really well.”