HUNTSVILLE – Saturday afternoon at Don Sanders Stadium featured a little bit of everything for Sam Houston State. Fortunately, it also featured a victory.
The Bearkats, who struck for five runs in the fifth to overcome a two-run deficit, held off a fierce Nicholls rally late, defeating the Colonels, 6-5, to clinch their 13th-consecutive Southland Conference series. The victory moved Sam Houston to 22-9 overall as the team maintained league perfection at 11-0.
Sam Houston starter Seth Ballew (4-1) posted his fourth-straight victory, striking out a season-high eight hitters in 5 1-3 innings. The left-hander permitted eight hits and four runs alongside one walk making way for a trio of relievers including Nick Mikolajchak who picked up his fifth save.
The two squads return on Sunday at 1 p.m. for the series finale. The Bearkats, who have yet to announce a starter, will face the Colonels’ Mike Hancher (2-2, 2.82 ERA). Tickets are available by visiting GoBearkats.com and can also be heard on the website courtesy of Bearkat Sports Network.
KEY MOMENTS IN THE WIN
Trailing by one, the Colonels (18-15, 5-6 SLC) put the first two hitters aboard in the ninth and had runners on the corners with one down as Mikolajchak entered. The closer allowed a walk to pinch-hitter Nick Lee, but Robie Rojas picked off the junior at first and after another free pass, Mikolajchak fanned Kyle Knauth.
Andrew Fregia erased the 3-1 deficit as part of the five-run Sam Houston fifth, driving a stand-up triple off the wall in center field to plate pinch-hitter Jaxxon Grisham, who singled, and Bryce Johnson, who was hit by a pitch. The three-bagger was the 11th career for Fregia, moving him into a four-way tie for fourth in team lore. The sophomore is just three shy of matching the program record.
After working a 3-1 count, Clayton Harp deposited a line-drive two-run home run over the wall in left center, providing Sam Houston a 5-3 lead. The homer was the sophomore’s third in the last 13 games after not connecting with the long ball during his first 50 games.
NOT A COMMON OCCURRENCE
Nicholls loaded the bases in the sixth inning after an RBI single from Joey Morales and pair of singles on three pitches to Alex Tucker and nine-hole hitter Quade Smith. Sam Houston turned to reliever Dominic Robinson, who fanned leadoff hitter Chet Niehaus. Then, things got crazy.
With Ethan Valdez at the plate and a 1-0 count, Morales broke for home. Rojas, stepped in front of the plate to receive the pitch, tagging out Morales. The catcher avoided contact with Valdez and blocked Morales from reaching the plate; however, Rojas was called for a catcher’s balk. To see the play, click here.
Per Rule 7.07, it is pronounced a dead ball as soon as Rojas stepped in front of the plate without possession of the ball, as the runners went station-to-station for the run. The Kats avoided further damage as Robinson induced a flyout to right from Juan Givan to strand the bases loaded in a 6-5 game.
MORE FROM THE GAME…
The two teams exchanged zeroes in the first three innings as Sam Houston continued to showcase its defensive prominence. After leadoff single and walk in the second, the Bearkats turned a 2-5-3 double play, as Rojas fielded the bunt, cut down the runner at third and Fregia rifled the ball down to first.
Nicholls produced the game’s first run in the fourth as Valdez fought off a 0-2 pitch for a leadoff single. The sophomore moved to second on a sac bunt and stole third before taking home as the throw sailed wide.
The Kats responded immediately in the bottom half. Rojas blooped a two-out pitch into shallow left, reaching second on the double as three players converged, coming up empty. The senior came home one hitter later as Lance Miles lined a double into left center.
In the fifth, Morales took advantage of steady winds to left, sending a 2-0 pitch over the outstretch glove of left fielder Mike Williams for a leadoff homer. After Smith doubled with one down, Niehaus delivered a run-scoring double on the first pitch into left for a 3-1, Colonels advantage.
STREAKS STAND THE TEST IN THE WIN
With a seventh-inning one-out single in his final at-bat of the game, Hunter Hearn extended his team-best season-long hitting streak to 14 games. Andrew Fregia also stayed hot, moving his hit streak to seven straight with his fifth-inning triple.
Clayton Harp did not take long to extend his reached base streak to 19 games, sending a two-out double into left center during the first inning. Taylor Beene also moved his reached base streak to 15 consecutive, fighting off a 0-2 pitch for a single to deep third in the fourth.
Head coach Matt Deggs on finding a way to win in a scrappy game…
“That’s this league. The Southland is an absolutely dogfight. That was a good ole fashion, back-alley scarp right there. That Nicholls State team has a lot of fight to them and so does this group. I knew we would have to come out and fight, scratch, claw and do whatever it took to win. That’s exactly what we did. That right there is how you compete and get after it with the expectation to win.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on producing eight extra-base hits…
“It was great day to hit. The wind was blowing out and it was warm out here. They had a quality arm on the mound. I thought we had a bunch more balls that were hit hard and were caught. We did a good job grinding and sticking with the game plan, hunting the middle of the ballpark and getting our swings off.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on the team’s composure and the ninth inning…
“These dudes have no flinch in them. They aren’t going to back up. A lesser team could have found some excuses today starting with the play at the plate. I’ve never seen a catcher’s balk before. There were several things that didn’t go our way where we never backed up and made an excuse. This team has a lot of mental tenacity and they love to compete.”
Outfielder Clayton Harp on his third home run and the offense overall…
“It was a good hitters’ count and I was looking for a fastball over the dish. I was able to get one and put a good swing on it. I didn’t think it went over until I got to first and I heard the crowd yell so I knew it was over. We’re up there getting our swings off and getting good pitches.”
Closer Nick Mikolajchak on the ninth inning and the play from Rojas in the ninth…
“It was an adrenaline rush. Coach, thankfully, he trusts me to come into those situations. I know what I have to do. That was fun. It’s huge whenever I mess up and I know somebody else has my back and is picking me up. Robie is the best catcher in the nation.”