LUBBOCK – The Sam Houston State Bearkats rallied from a two-run deficit for a 4-3 win on Monday over No. 5 Texas Tech at Dan Law Field at Rip Griffin Park to claim the NCAA Lubbock Regional, advancing to the first Super Regional in program history.
The Kats (44-21) found themselves down 3-1 to the No. 5 Red Raiders (45-17) in the bottom of the fifth, but answered with three runs in the next two innings to retake the lead. Meanwhile, Lubbock Regional MVP Riley Cooper picked up his third win of the tournament with 4.2 innings of relief.
That came less than 24 hours after Cooper picked up the win with 3.2 innings of relief in the first game of the regional final on Sunday. The win pushes Sam Houston into the Super Regional, making the Kats the first team out of the Southland Conference to ever advance past the regional round.
Hunter Hearn crossed home with the winning run as part of a 2-run sixth inning, scoring from first on the second Texas Tech error of the day after a check swing from Lance Miles was unable to be fielded successfully by Red Raider second baseman Brian Klein.
Sam Houston will face the winner of the Tallahassee Regional. That final is being played Monday between Florida State and Auburn.
AT THE PLATE
For the third-straight game the Bearkats were out-hit on the scoreboard, but Sam Houston made the most of its opportunities. Hearn led the way with a 2-for-4 day on his way to being named to the all-regional team, scoring twice – including the winning run in the bottom of the sixth – and drove in a pair. He was the only Bearkat with a multi-hit game, but six others picked up a hit, including Taylor Beene's RBI double in the fifth, an inning after the Red Raiders had taken the lead.
For the Red Raiders, they pounded out a dozen hits, including a 3-for-5 day from Hunter Hargrove, but once again struggled to hit with men on base. They were hitless in their first 10 tries with men in scoring position and finished the day just 2-for-15 in that category.
ON THE BUMP
Once again Sam Houston went with a staff-by-committee, which worked to near perfection. Seth Ballew got the nod for the start and put up a pair of scoreless innings before Dakota Mills came into help out in the third.
But it was Cooper who once again carried the bulk of the load, going 4.2 innings with three strikeouts while throwing 55 pitches just hours after throwing a season-high 60 pitches in Sunday's win over the Red Raiders.
Heath Donica also made his first relief appearance of the year, and the third of his career, striking out one and leaving a pair of runners stranded in the eighth. Meanwhile, freshman Nick Mikolajchak earned his 13th save of the year and third of the regional with a scoreless ninth, leaving the tying run on second base when he struck out Hunter Hargrove swinging for the game's final out.
The Red Raiders gave the start to Davis Martin who punched out six in 4.1 innings, allowing a pair of runs; however, it was Parker Muchinkski who took the loss, falling to 3-2 on the year after allowing a pair of runs in 1.2 frames.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Texas Tech left a pair of runners on base in the second and the Kats jumped out in front in the bottom half of the inning. Rojas rocketed a leadoff double into the left field corner off of Martin to start the inning and two batters later Hearn shot the first pitch he saw into right field for a single that put Sam Houston up 1-0.
Mills would enter in relief of Ballew after a leadoff single by Michael Berglund in the third, giving way to Cooper with two runners on base. The lefty then went to work, striking out Tanner Gardner before inducing a fly ball to left field by Hargrove to leave the runners stranded. From there Martin would go to work for the Red Raiders, striking out five in a row over the next two innings, and Texas Tech rewarded the righty with the lead after a 3-run fifth.
The Red Raiders had the tying run on second after a 1-out double from Grant Little in the inning, but it took an RBI single from Gardner on a 1-2 pitch that found a hole through the right side of a shifted Bearkat defense to tie the game. Hargrove followed with a single to left field and after a wild pitch advanced each runner 90 feet, Garcia shot a single that fell in front of Clayton Harp in left field to score both runners and put Texas Tech ahead for the first time at 3-1.
Sam Houston would answer back in its half of the frame when Beene looped an RBI double into shallow right field that scored Hearn who opened the inning with his second single of the day. That put the tying run on second base, but Muchinski was able to sandwich strikeouts of both Chisolm and Andrew Fregia around a walk to Bryce Johnson to keep the Red Raiders in front.
Cooper worked a clean sixth and the Kats' went back to work in the bottom half. A 1-out walk to Rojas started things off and after a single from Grisham put runners on first and third, Hearn put the ball in play and beat out a double play to score Rojas and knot things up at 3-3. That brought up Miles with two away and the senior put a check-swing dribbler into play toward second base, but Klein's throw to first was wide and caromed down the right field line allowing Hearn to come all the way around with the go-ahead score.
Texas Tech had a golden scoring opportunity in the next half inning, but Josh Jung overslid third base trying to get an extra base after a double into the right field corner and Beene stayed with the tag for what was a key second out before Cooper got Gardner to ground out.
The Kats could not take advantage of a leadoff double from Chisolm in the bottom half and Donica managed to work out of a first-and-third situation with just one out in the eighth, getting Brian Klein to pop out on a bunt attempt and Cody Farhat to fly out to right field.
That set things up in the ninth, which was anything but easy. Mikolajchak quickly got the first two outs before Jung legged out a double to put the tying run in scoring position with two away. The Kats elected to intentionally walk Gardner, putting the potential winning run on the basepaths to face Hargrove, who already had three hits on the day.
But Mikolajchak dialed up his best stuff, running the count to 1-2 before blowing a high fastball past Hargrove for his only strikeout of the day to send Sam Houston into a victory frenzy.
2017 NCAA Lubbock All-Regional Team
C – Cesar Salazar (Arizona)
C – Robie Rojas (Sam Houston State)
INF – Hunter Hargrove (Texas Tech)
INF – Hunter Hearn (Sam Houston State)
INF – Josh Jung (Texas Tech)
INF – Nick Patten (Delaware)
OF – Tanner Gardner (Texas Tech)
OF – Clayton Harp (Sam Houston State)
OF – Bryce Johnson (Sam Houston State)
P – Steven Gingery (Texas Tech)
P – Riley Cooper (Sam Houston State)
P – Nick Mikolajchak (Sam Houston State)
Most Outstanding Player – Riley Cooper (Sam Houston State)
- With the victory the Bearkats advance to their first Super Regional in program history. Additionally, they are the first Southland Conference program to advance to a Super Regional.
- The Bearkats now have 44 wins on the season, their most since 1987, the program's first season at the Division I level. It is one win shy of the program record of 45 set in 1986.
Opening thoughts from head coach Matt Deggs…
“We came into Sam Houston State, I was hired by Dr. Hoyt, coach Bobby Williams … I am very thankful for that opportunity. We have an incredible administration, incredible support and a great location. The vision when we came in was top-25 RPI, 40-plus wins, conference champs and ultimately a chance as a program, community, team and university to have a chance to walk through the gates of Omaha. Now we have that chance. I am so thankful to our administration for giving me that opportunity. This is for all the former players. There have been a ton of great players who have come through this program that deserved a chance to continue playing. There were teams on the verge and maybe something didn't go their way. There have been a ton of great players to come through here. Right now I can tell you this, what we have done now is for all of those guys who gave their blood, sweat and tears.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on reaching a super regional…
“It really hasn't hit me yet. This is a program that works, lives and talks about us being a David in a land full of Goliaths … they deserve this moment. I am so thankful to the Lord that he carried us through this thing. Four weeks ago, we were getting on a bus after getting swept by Houston Baptist. This group is very tough and resilient. We talked this week that it's only impossible until somebody does it.”
Robie Rojas on the team mindset and mentality…
“We played this whole week like we weren't afraid to lose. We weren't afraid to go home. No matter what we love each other. We had a great run. When you play without a fear of losing or crashing and burning, you can do things like this.”
Riley Cooper on the number of pitches and getting the job done…
“We talk about all the time that if you show up to the field and you're only 40 percent, you give 100 percent of that 40 percent. Coach Deggs told me he just needed one inning and that he didn't care if the ball couldn't reach the plate. I just wanted to do it for the guys behind me and the guys in the dugout. That's what we all do it for -- each other.”
Hunter Hearn on being the first Sam Houston team to reach a super regional…
“This team is by far the biggest thing I've been a part of. We stayed climbing. We're all ready to go practice tomorrow. I am extremely thankful for everything and to be part of this team.”