Just three days after the Sam Houston State baseball team beat No. 10 Rice, the Bearkats opened the Houston College Classic with a 9-4 win over No. 12 TCU. With back-to-back wins over ranked opponents, the Kats are making their claim to be considered among the top-25 teams in the nation.
Junior Tyler Eppler went head-to-head with TCU’s Brandon Finnegan, who is projected to be a first round MLB draft pick. Eppler had his best start of the season so far, tossing six shutout innings with five strikeouts.
“Tyler’s been working his tail off and he came out tonight when the spotlight was on him and he pitched like we know he can,” Pierce said. “I thought Finnegan was really good tonight too. He got his strikeouts but we’ve got a tough offense and they fought. I just think our guys fought really hard and I’m really proud of them.”
Newcomer Jake MacWilliam started as the designated a hitter and later moved to shortstop but came up with some big hits for the Bearkats. He finished the game 2-for-3 with three RBI and two runs scored.
The first real scoring opportunity for either team came in the top of the third inning.
With one out, Eppler got a double-play ball hit right at the second baseman Ryan Farney who flipped it to shortstop Corey Toups, but Toups bobbled the exchange and the Kats weren’t able to get an out on the play. A two-out walk loaded the bases for TCU.
But Eppler worked out of the jam and got another groundball to second base for the final out of the inning, keeping TCU off the board.
“I feel like I practiced for this all last year, pitching all the Tuesday games against the bigger teams in Texas,” Eppler said. “Hats off to TCU they’re a good team but we just took care of business. Our guys know we didn’t need to try to do too much. We just needed to stick to our plan and do what we do best. We just try to be humble and come out and take care of business.”
The Bearkats opened the scoring with three runs the next half inning. Right fielder Hayden Simerly smashed a triple into the gap in right-center field with one out to get things started. Toups came through with an RBI double to right field to score Simerly from third.
The sophomore shortstop, Toups wasn’t a guarantee to start today’s game while nursing an injury but managed to get a big hit to get the Kats on the board.
Finnegan seemed to get rattled when SHSU loaded the bases with just one out. Farney struck out swinging but the pitch went all the way to the backstop allowing a run to score. The next pitch from Finnegan was also wild, allowing the Kats to take a 3-0 lead.
“I feel like we have good hitters with good approaches. They’re confident and they knew they were going to face tough pitches and they just kept fighting all night and it worked out for us,” Pierce added.
In the fourth inning, left fielder Luke Plucheck made an outstanding diving catch in left field to rob the Horned Frogs of an extra-base hit.
Eppler worked out of another bases loaded jam in the bottom of the sixth inning for his last work of the game.
Again the Bearkats followed up with another run scoring inning. Farney led off with a single up the middle and center fielder Colt Atwood sacrificed Farney to second.
Catcher Anthony Azar came through with a triple into right-center that carried over the right fielder’s head and scored Farney from second base. Shortstop Carter Burgess plated Azar with an infield single to third base, making the SHSU lead 5-0.
After Alan Scott pitched a scoreless bottom of the seventh in relief, designated hitter and shortstop Jake MacWilliam led off the eighth inning by blasting a home run into the Crawford Boxes in left field.
Still in the eighth, Plucheck walked and Farney sacrificed him over but with no one covering third base, Plucheck made a great heads up play and advanced two bases. Plucheck then scored on another wild pitch.
MacWilliam drove in two more runs to make the score 9-0 in the top of the ninth when he hit a two-out single with Burgess and defensive replacement Travis Lee at second and third.
“To come in and get a hit and score some runs for my team was a big thing for me,” MacWilliam said. “I’ve never seen anybody with a slider like that (Finnegan’s)and when he was locating it was good but he left some balls up and some pitches to hit and we took advantage. Right now we’ve got two more games and we’re not looking too far ahead.”
TCU was able to get four runs in the bottom of the ninth off of Scott before Seth Holbert came out of the bullpen to close out the game.
Sam Houston State will play Texas Tech at 12:05 p.m. Saturday in the Kats’ second game of the Houston College Classic.