HUNTSVILLE – If there was any lingering effect for Sam Houston State following last summer’s deep run into the NCAA Tournament, it may not be for the reason expected.
The Bearkats, who opened up fall practice on Monday at Don Sanders Stadium, are not reflecting on reaching the program’s first NCAA Super Regional but instead, what happened six days later when host Florida State walloped the underdogs, 19-0.
“It was a long three months,” head coach Matt Deggs said. “Going down the way we went down, that will stick with you all summer. It is great to see the boys back out here. They are working and grinding. That’s one thing about this group is that they will punch the card and work.”
Sam Houston went through its second official fall practice on Tuesday afternoon, working through the enduring summertime weather. Despite the 90-plus degree heat, the program’s goals are likened to that of a much cooler environment. The team refers to its first few days of practice as ‘out of base camp,’ the initial stages of climbing a mountain that they hope leads to the top.
The squad returns a bulk of talent from last year’s team that finished the season ranked as high as No. 14 but is also tasked with replacing five starters in Taylor Beene (shortstop), Heath Donica (pitcher), Bryce Johnson (center field), Lance Miles (second base) and Robie Rojas (catcher).
“We’re working to master our routine,” Deggs said. “We do have about 12 new guys so there is going to be a learning curve there. We lost some alpha dogs in five guys who meant a lot to the program. We return 23. I like where we’re at but we have a long way to go to be where we want to be.”
For the first time since Deggs came to Sam Houston in 2015, the Bearkats will boast a strong upper-classmen group including a whopping 10 juniors alongside redshirt sophomore Riley Gossett, who have spent the last three years with the program.
“It’s a different group,” Deggs said. “Obviously, all these freshmen we brought in three years ago are now juniors. I am expecting huge things out of them. This is a group that works. They play for each other and there is a quiet confidence about them. We’re just going to stay humble, keep working and see where that gets us.”
While the team has returned together for the first time since last season, many fine-tuned their skills over the summer including sophomore reliever Gabriel Sequeira who was named Texas Collegiate League Pitcher of the Year and junior transfer outfielder Darien Simms who was named First-Team All-TCL.
Shortstop Andrew Fregia also shined, taking part in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League, where he was tabbed the No. 127 prospect by D1Baseball.com. All-in-all, Deggs like the physical and mental shape his team has returned in.
“One thing about this group is they are self-motivated,” Deggs said. “They understand where we’re headed and how we’re going to get there. From a shear physicality standpoint, they are in great condition. There is a lot of mental tenacity out here as well but we’ve got to master our routine and become very good at it. If we do that, we can start to make an impact.”
The Bearkats will take part in 30 practices through October over the course of the NCAA mandated 45-day window, using the time to prep for what is expected to be another challenging schedule beginning in mid-February.
“Every day is one day at a time and working to get better,” Deggs said. “To build a culture is one thing but to maintain a culture is completely another thing. It takes a lot of work.”