From The Huntsville Item
By Tom Waddill
Bearkats coach Mark Johnson couldn’t have written a better script for the first two days, and the first three games, of the 2009 baseball season.
A day after opening a new campaign with an exciting 8-6 victory over Creighton, Sam Houston State notched two more wins Saturday on a cool and windy day at Don Sanders Stadium. The Kats beat the Bluejays 4-3 in 10 innings in the first game of a doubleheader, then Johnson’s team outslugged Ed Servais’ Creighton squad in a 7-5 late-game win.
“Three games and it’s been great so far,” Johnson said. “We haven’t had a lot of errors. We threw to two wrong bags today from the outfield, but we played fairly error-free. We also pitched well again and we swung the bats fairly well.”
The Bearkats got solid pitching from Ryan Tepera and Sean Weatherford (1-0) in Saturday’s first game, then after left fielder Tyler Knight drove in the winning run with a bloop single in Saturday’s opener, senior Jacob Howard relieved junior Jordan Westra in the nightcap and picked up his first win in nearly a year.
Once the Bearkats’ ace, Howard was sidelined early last season with a serious shoulder injury. He looked good as new Saturday, throwing five strong innings and striking out six. Howard allowed six hits and one walk, but after Creighton pushed a pair of runs across the plate in the top of the eighth, the wily veteran from West Columbia dominated again in the ninth inning.
Creighton’s T.J. Roemmich singled with one out, but Howard retired Jimmy Swift on a weak groundball to second before Scott Thornburg lined out to right fielder Tyler Lundy to end the game.
“It was nice. It’s been a long time coming,” Howard said of his first outing since March 7, 2008, when he gave up four runs and five walks in 2 1/3 innings against Saint Louis. “It felt good, it really did. I tried to mix up my pitches and keep them off balance. I knew if I threw strikes, my defense would back me up.”
The Kats backed up their pitchers both defensively and offensively. Through the first 27 innings of the new season, SHSU has made only one error, and it was a toughie. Shortstop Jon Reed was given an error trying to backhand a shot off the bat of Creighton leadoff man Robbie Knight in Saturday’s late game.
Offensively, the Bearkats did just enough to get the job done in the first game. Knight went 3-for-5 and drove in the winning run after Reed and senior Nick Zaleski drew two-out walks in the bottom of the 10th. Zaleski added a pair of hits, including a double. Lundy tripled in the fifth inning off Creighton starter Mike Nihsen and scored on a passed ball.
In the late game, Zaleski ripped two doubles and drove in three runs, while Reed, a transfer from Iowa Western Community College by way of Omaha, Neb., collected three more hits, a day after going 4-for-4 in his Bearkat debut.
“I wasn’t expecting to bat cleanup,” said Reed, who played high school and junior college baseball with a number of the Bluejays. “I hit second and fifth all through the fall. I’m not in the lineup to hit home runs. I’m there to put the ball in play, and that’s what I tried to do. I’m seeing the ball really well right now.”
Sam Houston State broke a 3-all tie with two runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. Reed doubled in Seth Hammock and Zaleski laced a double down the right-field line that scored Reed. The Kats added a pair of runs and took a 7-3 lead in the seventh on another double from Zaleski.
After Howard threw three scoreless innings, the Bluejays mounted a two-out rally in the top of the eighth. Knight singled to left and Elliot Soto bounced a single past second baseman Braeden Riley. Senior Darin Ruf followed with a long triple to center field that made it 7-5.
Howard struck out Creighton cleanup man Nick Becker to end the eighth, then he had little trouble shutting the door in the ninth.
“I’m a little partial, but it was really good to see Jacob Howard out there today,” Johnson said. “He’s fun to watch because he works so hard.”
Johnson said he wasn’t worried, even when Ruf ripped his two-run triple that was almost snagged by a diving Justin Keithley in center.
“Jacob doesn’t lose his poise. Even when he has a bad inning, he doesn’t let it get to him,” the Kats coach said. “He’s so smart and he’s such a competitor. That’s who Jacob Howard is.”
The Bearkats and Bluejays conclude the four-game series with a 1 p.m. game today. Lefty Brent Powers (2-4 last season) will pitch for SHSU against Creighton left-hander Greg Hellhake (3-2 in ’08).
Bearkat baseball notes and quotes
Playing the percentages pays off — The Bearkats made several key plays Saturday that did not show up in the boxscore. Pitchers Ryan Tepera and Sean Weatherford both picked a man off first base, which may have prevented the Bluejays from starting big innings. Tepera caught catcher Scott Thornburg leaning in the top of the fifth inning, then Weatherford, a freshman from Bryan, used his quick move to get Jimmy Swift in the seventh.
Immediately after Weatherford picked off Swift, Thornburg hit a solo homer over the left-field fence to tie the game at 3.
Weatherford wasn’t done making big plays in the field. After walking the first two batters in the eighth, Weatherford charged hard on a two-strike bunt put down by Vicente Cafaro. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound rookie wheeled to third and threw a strike to Seth Hammock to retire the lead runner.
After striking out Nick Becker, Weatherford gave up an infield single to T.J. Roemmich to load the bases. Weatherford dropped Jimmy Swift’s chop back to the mound, but he recovered in time to throw out Swift and end the threat.
“We work on those things a lot,” Bearkats coach Mark Johnson said of the many sticky situations that teams may encounter during a game. “Rundowns may affect 10 out of 56 ballgames, and you may get a pickoff in one or two games during a season. Bunt defense is something you need once every five games. Add those together and that’s 16 games.
“We work on those plays every week. They may not come up until the 45th ballgame, but that’s when it will make a difference.”
Special weekend for Sam Houston’s new shortstop — Jon Reed was born in Alabama, he played Little League and high school baseball in Nebraska, then went to junior college in Iowa. This weekend, he’s starting at shortstop for Sam Houston State against Creighton, the school he grew up watching in Omaha.
Reed hasn’t done badly against the Bluejays, either. He’s 7-for-11 with two doubles, four runs scored and four RBIs. He went 0-for-3 in Saturday’s first game, but he scored the game-winning run after drawing a two-out walk in the bottom of the 10th.
In the late game, Reed peppered the center-field fence with a pair of doubles. He sliced one in the first inning to the wall in right-center, then in the fifth, he pulled one to the left side for another two-bagger.
“I know about nine or 10 of those (Creighton) guys,” Reed said after raking around first base following Saturday’s games. “I played with a couple of them in junior college and a couple in high school.
“This is a good start to the season,” he added. “We’ve been working our tails off all fall. The hitters have been preparing for this every day in practice and our pitchers are looking really good. The camaraderie on this team is also really good.”