FORT WORTH -- Travis Lee came up with another big two-out hit, as he drove in the game-winning run in the eighth to give Sam Houston a 2-1 win over Dallas Baptist in the opener of the NCAA Regional. The junior transfer has come up big after his insertion into the lineup six weeks ago.
This is the second consecutive NCAA Regional opening win after the Bearkats beat Louisiana-Lafayette 4-2 last season in Baton Rouge, La. Sam Houston moves into the winners bracket and will play either TCU or Siena Saturday at 7 p.m.
"We were fortunate to get one more run than them,” head coach David Pierce said. “It is a very good Dallas Baptist team. It was a well-pitched game by both teams. You deﬁnitely want to be in this position in the winner's bracket after Game 1, but there is a lot of tournament left to be played."
The Bearkats (42-17) and Patriots (40-20) were knotted up, 1-1, after seven innings. Shortstop Corey Toups led off the eighth with a full-count walk and was sacrificed to second by Shea Pierce. After left fielder Luke Plucheck struck out swinging it was left up to Lee with two outs, facing DBU’s shutdown closer Brandon Koch. He delivered a line drive single to center field that scored Toups.
The hit in the eighth inning was his only of the game in his first ever appearance in an NCAA Regional.
"I was trying to clear my head and have fun and not get caught up in the moment and get to tight and try to do too much. I knew it was a slider so I was trying to stay back and hit that pitch up,” Lee said of his game-winning hit.
Sam Houston starting pitcher Tyler Eppler was also making his first NCAA postseason appearance and had to shake of some early nerves. He allowed three singles to start the ballgame before striking out DBU center fielder Austin Listi to end the inning without any damage done.
The junior righty settled in nicely and pitched seven innings and allowed just one run. He struck out six and walked only one. Eppler picked up his fifth win in his last six starts and moved to 9-6 overall.
Senior reliever Alan Scott was dominant in two innings of relief. The tall lefty struck out the side in the eighth inning before striking out two more batters in the ninth. He picked up his fifth save of the season.
"Tyler pitched a heckuva game and I was fortunate to come into the game with a lead and I kept trying to do what I have been doing all year,” Scott said. “I tried to ﬁll the outer third with two-seam (fastballs) and throw strikes."
The Kats opened the scoring after first baseman Ryan O’Hearn and shortstop Corey Toups each singled in the second inning. With two outs Plucheck brought in the opening run with a perfectly-placed bloop single into center field.
The Patriots were able to tie the ballgame 1-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning. Right fielder David Martinelli led off with a double off of the wall in right field and designated hitter KJ Alexander walked. After Eppler struck out third baseman Nash Knight, shortstop Camden Duzenack lined his third hit of the game to load the bases.
Second baseman Drew Turbin reached on a fielder’s choice to drive in Martinelli from third and knot the game up.
In the third inning Duzenack chopped an infield single to third base and moved to second on an errant throw by Carter Burgess. Eppler was able to work out of the jam by picking off Duzenack to end the frame.
Burgess ripped a one-out double down the left field line in the fourth and shortstop Corey Toups legged out an infield single, giving Plucheck another two-out RBI opportunity. The senior was unable to deliver in the fourth as he struck out swinging.
Eppler allowed a single to start the bottom of the fourth inning but he struck out a pair of Patriot hitters to work out of the jam.
In the fifth designated hitter Hayden Simerly and catcher Anthony Azar each singled with two outs and O’Hearn walked to load the bases. DBU starter Cy Sneed was able to strikeout Burgess to end the inning.
Toups was hit by the first pitch of the sixth inning and second baseman Shea Pierce worked a full count walk. Plucheck dropped down a sacrifice bunt to advance both runners. Neither Lee nor Atwood could drive them in and break up the tie in the sixth.