The 2019 Sam Houston State baseball season is nearly upon us, with Matt Deggs' team to open up the season on Feb. 15 in in DeLand, Fla. vs Manhattan.
This is the first of a five-part preview, position by position, of this year’s squad, leading up to the 2019 opener.
HUNTSVILLE - As the Bearkats head into the 2019 season, the expectations are high. Coming off a year where the Sam Houston baseball team missed out on the regionals for the first time in three years, there is a sense of unfinished business for a program that is just two years removed from a Super Regional appearance.
To get back to where Matt Deggs believes his program deserves to be, he will rely on an experienced infield that has some senior leadership.
Deggs got a big boost in the off-season when Hunter Hearn decided to return for his senior season. Hearn is a career .299 hitter who was a third-team all-Southland selection last season.
“We caught a break when Hunter Hearn and Clayton Harp (starting outfielder) decided to come back to school,” Deggs said. “That was huge because both of them have been in about any spot you can think of, minus playing in Omaha, they’ve been as close as you can get. Hunter is a guy that is just a worker and you know what you’re going to get out of him every day. He is a big physical kid that can run, throw, play him at first, play him in right, and he is going to hit in the middle of the order.”
Also, Riley McKnight returns for his senior season with 173 games of experience for the Bearkats including 113 starts.
“Riley McKnight is the same way, he is a super athlete, multi-purpose guy that we are trying to settle in at second base with,” Deggs said. “The thing about all the seniors this year is that they have the opportunity to continue to play after this and it all depends on the success of the team.”
Chase Cryer is also a returner to this year’s squad who will provide some senior leadership. In his first season with the Kats in 2018, Cryer started 43 games and played in 11 more. He hit .279 with a team leading 12 doubles.
“Chase Cryer came in as a JuCo guy but he’s a senior and he is full of potential,” Deggs said. “He is a strong physical guy that can run, play three spots on the infield and can drive the ball out of the ballpark.”
In addition to the returners, the Kats will welcome five newcomers to the infield, including Reese Johnson who was part of the program last season as a redshirt.
“We have seen a different RJ this year and he is ready to play,” Deggs said. “He is a utility guy, where he excels you can’t really measure and that is in his heart and in his toughness. He has a lot of grit, and in a few years he is going to be an all-conference player, so I am glad we red-shirted him.”
Joining Johnson as new to the infield unit are a quartet of freshmen, including two Diego Davila and Jackson Loftin who were teammates at Klein Collins High School. Davila was a Perfect Game/Rawlings Sports All-Texas region team selection. He helped lead Klein Collins to 26-9 record and berth in the Class 6A, Region II quarterfinals as a first team all-District 15-6A selection in 2018. Like his high school teammate, Loftin was also a Perfect Game/Rawlings Sports All-Texas region team selection and a first team all-District 15-6A selection in 2018.
"Davila is a natural hitter who can defend, and I think you are going to see him on the infield a bunch, Deggs said. "It is the same with Jackson Loftin. He is a really good defender. He's got a chance to make his way into the starting lineup, but if he doesn’t, then you are going to see him late in the game."
Luke Repka and Zach Poe also join the Kats this season, Repka from College Park High School in The Woodlands and Poe from Madisonville. Repka was a Perfect Game/Rawlings Sports All-Texas region team selection and helped lead College Park to the Class 6A, Region II semifinals in 2018. Poe led Madisonville to Class 4A, Region III quarterfinals as a senior in 2018. He helped the Mustangs finish with 26-9 overall record, including District 18-4A title. Poe was a 2017 THSBCA honorable mention all-state selection and played in THSBCA all-star game in 2018.
"Repka is a hard-nosed kid out who battled some injuries in the fall and he will be a guy that will play a bunch in this program," Deggs said. "Poe is a big kid out of Madisonville who works extremely hard and handles his business. We brought him up as a two-way guy who can hit, but he could make an impat out of our bullpen right away too."
The season opens on Friday, February 15 against Manhattan, as part of a three-day tournament in DeLand, Fla., hosted by Stetson. The home opener will be Feb. 19 against Texas Southern. Tickets to the home opener are available now.
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