Sam Houston State continued its dominance at home plate Sunday with a 16-7 win to sweep the weekend series against Stephen F. Austin.
The Bearkats had 18 hits, including a two-run homer by second baseman Shea Pierce, and multi-RBI performances by catcher Anthony Azar and designated hitter Hayden Simerly.
First baseman Ryan O’Hearn also went 4-for-5, building on his two home runs in Saturday’s win.
Sam Houston compiled 40 hits in the three games against the Lumberjacks.
“There’s a sense of urgency lately, knowing we only have a couple of weeks left before the conference tournament and regionals,” O’Hearn said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do as far as our RPI and the chance to get an at-large bid. That’s the ultimate goal, to get in the tournament. So I think that’s what’s really happened, guys have done well. We’re starting to come around and play together well as a team.”
O’Hearn, who went 8-for-13 with seven RBIs in the three games against SFA, had struggled lately. He was held to just one hit in the Kats’ series sweep against Southeastern Louisiana a week ago and hadn’t logged a multi-hit game since going 3-for-4 in a win against Lamar on April 17.
“I feel like it’s been a long time coming,” O’Hearn said. “Balls haven’t been bouncing my way lately but this weekend was a lot of fun. Balls were finding holes and it was a good weekend.”
For most of the day, Sam Houston (16-8 Southland, 17-30 overall) overwhelmed its rival as it became obvious which team was competing for a Southland Conference title and which was third from the bottom of the league standings going into the game.
The only downside for the Kats was not completing the run rule when the opportunity was there, with Sam Houston leading 16-3 headed into the seventh inning and a chance to close it out early.
Instead, the Kats gave up four runs with junior reliever Alex Bisacca on the mound.
It was still an impressive defeat by Sam Houston, which recorded its eighth straight victory.
“It’s the confidence,” Shea Pierce said of the Kats’ most recent success. “It’s definitely the confidence. Everyone’s going up to the plate just ready to hit and we’re in competition ready to beat the guy on the mound. That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re having quality at-bats and playing good defense. The pitching’s been great. It’s really all-around good team wins right now.”
Sam Houston led 6-0 after two innings thanks to a balk called on Stephen F. Austin pitcher Tyler Wiedenfeld that plated Corey Toups, then eventually back-to-back hits by Simerly and Azar.
With the bases loaded, Simerly hit to the right field gap. Azar followed up with a deep triple over the head of SFA center fielder Matthew Dickey. Azar scored on a wild pitch.
“It was great just to see the offense keep rolling from earlier this weekend,” O’Hearn said. “We knew they weren’t going to just lay down so we wanted to come out, get some runs up early and jump on them and hopefully just hang on and let the pitching staff do the rest.”
Right-handed reliever Nolan Riggs picked up the win for Sam Houston. Riggs faced seven batters in 2 1/3 innings and didn’t allow a baserunner.
“(Riggs) has been great,” Sam Houston head coach David Pierce said. “He’s just been coming out of the pen and really throwing quality pitches. He’s got such a down angle on his fastball and if he can get strike 1 with that, he’s got a plus change-up and plus breaking ball. I’ve just been really excited and pleased for Nolan moving forward with what he’s doing right now with this team.”
The Kats took a 16-3 lead after a four-run sixth inning. Simerly had an RBI single to right field. Azar plated another run with a line drive up the middle. Two batters later, Ryan Farney subbed in and dropped an RBI single to left-center field before another run scored on an error.
Perhaps the highlight of many for the day was Shea Pierce sizing up a first pitch fastball in the third inning, when he sent a rocket over the Southland Conference logo in right field.
“It was first pitch right down the middle. That’s what I was looking for right there,” Pierce said of his second home run of the season. “I was just ready to hit. He gave me a pitch to hit and I put a good swing on it.”
With Nicholls losing to Southeastern Louisiana and McNeese beating New Orleans on Sunday, the Bearkats win puts them in a three-way tie for second place in the Southland Conference standings going into this week.
Texas A&M Corpus Christi (17-7 Southland, 28-21 overall) holds a one-game lead for the league’s top spot.
Sam Houston travels to Houston Baptist (11-13 Southland, 22-22 overall) this weekend for a three-game series before finishing the season with a road matchup against Texas A&M and back home against Corpus Christi for the final regular season series.
The Bearkats are mindful of how critical each game is as the season winds down.
“We’re lying if we say we don’t look at the standings every night,” Shea Pierce added. “We know what’s going on. We’re right there in it and we’re taking it one game at a time. We know what we’ve got to do. We don’t have to lose another game right now. The way we’re playing, we can just play good baseball and I think we’ll be OK.”