LUBBOCK – It was not easy, but the Sam Houston State Bearkats held on for 9-8 win over Texas Tech on Sunday night at Dan Law Field at Rip Griffin Park to set up a winner-take-all game on Monday in the Lubbock Regional for a trip to the Super Regional.
The Kats (43-21) stayed alive earlier in the day, eliminating Arizona, to set up Sunday's matchup with the Red Raiders (45-16) and advanced to Monday after not trailing in either game.
Sam Houston took the lead for good with a 3-run fourth inning and added four more runs in the seventh and eighth to hold off Texas Tech, the No. 5 national seed, despite the Red Raiders scoring in each of the final four frames.
AT THE PLATE
Clayton Harp led a Bearkat offensive attack that was relentless from the get-go, totaling 14 hits and taking advantage of five walks and three Texas Tech errors. Harp finished the night 2-for-5 with four RBI, becoming the first Bearkat to drive in four runs in an NCAA Tournament game. Five Kats finished with multiple hits, including Hunter Hearn who went 3-for-3 with a run scored.
Bryce Johnson also drove in a pair on two hits, stealing a base and scoring twice, while Taylor Beene had a pair of RBI. Jaxxon Grisham had a pair of hits and reached safely in four of his five plate appearances, while Lance Miles also had two hits and an RBI.
The Kats needed all of that offense to hold off the Red Raiders, who finished with 15 hits, but left 11 runners on base. Brian Klein and Josh Jung each had three hits, with Jung and Tanner Gardner launching home runs.
ON THE BUMP
The teams combined to use 10 pitchers on the night, with six coming from the Bearkats. Dakota Mills got the start and went 2.1 innings before giving way to Riley Cooper who got his second win of the regional with 3.2 innings of stellar work.
The lefty went 3.2 innings, allowing just one run to go with four strikeouts, his longest effort since going 4 innings against Bradley on March 4.
Kyle Backhus, Dominic Robinson and Nick Mikolajchak all got an inning apiece in the final frames with Backhus working out of a big jam in the seventh that saw the bases loaded with nobody out. Robinson struck out a pair in his inning of work, while Mikolajchak earned his 12th save of the year and second of the regional despite allowing a pair of runs in the ninth.
For Texas Tech, starter Ryan Shetter took the loss, falling to 4-1 on the season, after allowing five runs in just 3.1 innings. The Kats also got to middle reliever Ty Harpenau for three runs on six hits in his 3 innings on the hill.
HOW IT HAPPENED
The teams traded single runs apiece in both the first and second innings with Clayton Harp giving Sam Houston an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first, bringing home Bryce Johnson with a fielder's choice. The Red Raiders got the run back on Tanner Gardner's third homer of the regional, a solo shot with two outs in the opening inning off of Mills.
Another RBI fielder's choice, this one from Beene in the second, put the Kats back in front 2-1 but Sam Houston left a pair of runners on base again Texas Tech had an answer in the bottom half of the frame. A leadoff double from Ryan Long and a wild pitch had him on third base with nobody out. One batter later Orlando Garcia got him home with a grounder to second, but a Bearkat error allowed Garcia to reach. Mills would get each of the next two hitters before Brian Klein singled to left field, but the Kats ended the threat right there, nailing Garcia at third base for the final out to keep it tied 2-2.
Both teams would leave a man on in the third, and it would be the Bearkats who broke through for a big inning in the top of the fourth. Consecutive singles by Hunter Hearn and Lance Miles put runners on the corners with nobody out, setting Beene up for another RBI which he picked up on a grounder to shortstop; however, a Red Raider misplay on the grounder allowed Beene to reach and prompted Texas Tech to go to the pen for John McMillon with the Kats up 3-2.
The first man he faced was Johnson, who fell behind 0-2 before shooting an RBI single to left field. Two batters later Harp picked up his second RBI of the game, lining the first pitch he saw into left field to score Beene and make it a 5-2 game going to the bottom of the inning.
But Sam Houston reliever Riley Cooper, who had worked the Kats out of a jam an inning before, found himself quickly in trouble after an error, hit batter and a balk had runners on second and third with nobody out. The lefty got out of it, though, starting with a strikeout of Michael Berglund. He then got pinch hitter Clay Koelzer to pop out harmlessly before Klein lofted a fly ball to the warning track in right field that Riley McKnight squeezed to hold the score at a 5-2 Bearkat advantage.
Cooper would pitch around a leadoff single in the fifth, but could not do the same in the sixth after Garcia doubled with one away. After the double, Cooper was able to get Berglund on strikes but Koelzer smacked a 1-0 pitch off the left-center field wall to bring one home and cut the lead to 5-3 before Klein struck out.
Sam Houston got another run on the board in the top of the seventh, upping the lead to 6-3. Robie Rojas got it started with a one-out single, but caught a bad break one batter later when he was hit by Grisham's line drive bound for right field on an attempted hit-and-run. That left Grisham on first and he got into scoring position with a steal of second and came around to score on an infield hit by Hearn that was compounded by a throwing error on the Red Raider shortstop.
The Red Raiders were not done, though, loading the bases with the top third of the lineup to start the seventh. A wild pitch from Backhus pushed across the fourth Texas Tech run, but the Kats were able to record their first out of Josh Jung on a rundown between home and third after a grounder by Hunter Hargrove. A walk to Ryan Long reloaded the bases, but Backhus responded with a strikeout of Garcia before getting Berglund to fly out to center field to leave the bases loaded.
An inning later the Bearkats had a response of their own. A leadoff single by Miles and an error put a runner in scoring position, and Johnson delivered an RBI single with two away to push the lead back to 7-4. Fregia followed with a walk and Harp delivered the big blow of the inning, one-hopping a double to left-center to plate a pair and open the lead to 9-4.
Jung blasted a 2-run home run to right-center field, making it a 9-6 game, but reliever Robinson was able to get Gardner on strikes to prevent any further damage.
That homer made things interesting in the ninth as the Red Raiders would not go quietly. Two singles and a walk loaded the sacks with nobody out against Mikolajchak, but the Bearkat stopper would bear down from there. He followed with consecutive strikeouts of Berglund and Koelzer before Klein brought Texas Tech to within one with a 2-run single to right.
But Mikolajchak was able to get the Red Raider leadoff man, Grant Little, to pop out to Fregia in shallow left field for the final out, leaving the tying run on third base.
- Clayton Harp finished with four RBI in the game, including a clutch two-run double in the top of the eighth. The four RBI is the most ever by a Bearkat in an NCAA Tournament game, surpassing the previous record of three that had been reached seven times, including twice in the Lubbock Regional.
- The victory gives the Bearkats their third win of the Lubbock Regional, marking the first time Sam Houston has won three games in an NCAA Tournament. With one more victory the Kats would advance to the Super Regional round for the first time.
- Bryce Johnson entered the game with 87 hits to his season ledger, and added two more to that total against the Red Raiders. His 89 hits in 2017 is the eighth most in a single season in Bearkat history, and one shy of the seventh spot, which Johnson also owns with his 90 hits in 2016.
Head coach Matt Deggs on the victory…
“We're David competing against a bunch of Goliaths. To get beat up like we did last night and to have enough fire to sweep a doubleheader between Arizona and Texas Tech … if you told anyone that, they'd tell you it's highly improbable. We made some big plays and came up with some timely hits. That's our formula.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on the offensive output…
“We're an offense that likes to create. We can really run. The same way Tech can drive the ball out of the ballpark, we have to use our legs to create. When you're facing a really good ballclub like Tech, you have to force the issue a little bit. I thought we did a great job with that today starting with Arizona.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on the performance from Mikolajchak…
“That kid has ice water in his veins. For a freshman, he has a lot of poise and attack. He has a lot of arrogance on the mound. That's his 12th save as a freshman. He pounds the strike zone. You'll have to beat him by stringing together three or four hits and they nearly did it.”
Kyle Backhus on his outing…
“The crowd was great tonight. I came in trusting my defense. They told me to take it slow. Fortunately, I was able to get it done. Every game, that's our focus right in front of us. We think about it pitch by pitch and it helps us focus better.”
Riley Cooper on getting the victory in a must-win game...
“I feel like it was great momentum. We talk about it all the time. We're just going to play one game at a time. We came out and threw the first lick against Arizona. I think it set the tone for the rest of the day. I really don't know the game plan. I just do what Coach Sirianni tells me what to do. I trust the guys behind me, Robie behind the plate and coach Sirianni.”
Clayton Harp on the offensive production…
“That's what we do is two-out knocks. Our entire offense was clicking. We got in good counts. We saw some good pitching tonight. We got our swings off. We've been hitting the ball really well lately.”