HUNTSVILLE – Sam Houston State showcased its athleticism in a big way on Friday night and Bradley never seemed to find an answer.
The Bearkats laid down six sacrifice bunts, reaching on five of them, defeating Bradley 7-1 in the three-game opener at Don Sanders Stadium. The Bearkats (6-4) speed assisted in three Braves’ (3-4) errors and a season-best 12 hits, backing starter Heath Donica’s (2-1) stellar performance.
The right-hander, who entered the game second nationally in strikeouts, picked up eight more, moving his season total to 33. Donica scattered five hits, allowing just an unearned run without walking a hitter, lowering his ERA to 0.39 through three starts.
The win was the fourth straight for Sam Houston, who tagged Bradley (3-4) starter Allen Beer for seven hits and five runs (three earned) as he fell to 0-2 on the season. Five Bearkats produced two-hit games including Bryce Johnson, who added a pair of RBIs and one run scored.
Hunter Hearn reached base three times including a single and double as did nine-hole hitter Riley McKnight who tallied a pair of hits and a walk. Sam Houston right-handed reliever Mark Hammel permitted just one hit in the final two frames.
The Bearkats close out the series on Saturday, with first pitch of the doubleheader scheduled for 11 a.m. The final game will take place 30 minutes following the conclusion of the opener. Tickets are available through GoBearkats.com.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Sam Houston provided Donica an early lead, jumping ahead with a run in the first inning as Mac Odom fought off a 1-2 pitch for a single into left, coming around to score as an Andrew Fregia ground ball to shortstop could not be handled.
One inning later, Hearn set the tone, drawing a leadoff, 12-pitch hit by pitch. Taylor Beene, who entered the night ranked fifth nationally in sacrifice bunts, set down a successful attempt, moving Hearn to second. Johnson followed with an RBI groundout and another dribbler to shortstop could not be fielded, providing Sam Houston a 3-0 advantage.
Bradley threatened in the fourth, courtesy of back-to-back one-out singles from Luke Mangieri and Jean-Francis Garon but Donica buckled down, inducing a fielder’s choice groundout before setting down Derek Bangert on his sixth strikeout.
In the fourth, Hearn reached base for the second time, shooting a 1-0 pitch down the left-field line for a leadoff double. Beene put down his second sac bunt, beating the throw while moving Hearn to third. Two batters later, Bryce Johnson logged his 10th hit of the season, looping a one-out single into left for a 4-0 advantage.
The Bearkats continued to pour it on in the fifth. Fregia deposited the first pitch he saw into left field and stole second, his fourth of the season in as many tries, with Odom at the dish. Blake Chisolm moved Fregia to third on a deep fly to right and he came home one hitter later on a wild pitch.
Bradley found the scoreboard in the sixth as leadoff hitter Luke Shadid was hit by a pitch and advanced two bags on a stolen base and errant throw. With Mangieri at the dish, the first baseman grounded out, plating the Braves’ run, cutting the Kats lead to 5-1.
Sam Houston answered in the bottom half, manufacturing runs as McKnight walked and moved to second as Johnson singled on the sacrifice bunt. Lance Miles followed with a suicide squeeze and the new pitcher, Mitch Plassmeyer threw the ball high to first, plating two more runs for a 7-1 advantage.
In the eighth, Hunter Southerland logged his first career-hit as a Bearkat, shooting a single into left field to close out a season-best 12 hits for the Bearkats.
Head coach Matt Deggs on the series-opening victory…
“It all revolves around starting pitching and Heath goes out and throws seven, giving up none earned. He set a great tone. I actually thought the tone was set with Greg Belton’s first pitch. The offense got rolling tonight. We defended it great once again. We took free base after free base tonight. I thought we executed our offense tonight really well.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on the successful sacrifice bunts…
“You get into the flow of the game and you see what opportunities are presented. If we can expose something, we’re going to do it. We were able to really shorten the field. This is a big ballpark, especially at night when it’s cold."
Head coach Matt Deggs on the start to the season…
“Water finds its level. To be 6-4 after 10 games, go back and look at the 10 games. That’s a tough schedule. If you’re not clicking on all cylinders it’s going to be a grind. I feel great about where we’re at. Some of those better teams, we got exposed. If we want to play at a national level, like we’re capable of doing, we have to make those adjustments. You’re starting to see some of the fruits of that.”
Starting pitcher Heath Donica on his second win…
“That’s a really good team. I thought they had a great approach all night. They have scored a lot of runs this year. I was trying to get ahead in counts. I had the sinker going early and stuck with it. Our defense has been so incredible and it was that way tonight. It is so easy to pitch to contact when they are making those plays behind me.”
Center fielder Bryce Johnson on the squad’s athleticism…
“We have a lot of fast guys on this team. We have a lot of ex-football players too. All of that athleticism comes into play. We were getting our bunts down and making them make tough plays. We used our speed to our advantage. We work on (the suicide squeeze) every day in practice. Especially when he puts it on, we get excited. It felt good to be able to do that in a game.”