HUNTSVILLE – Sam Houston has been tough to stop in the middle innings. That trend continued in a major way on Friday night at Don Sanders Stadium.
The Bearkats drubbed A&M-Corpus Christi, 12-3, scoring two runs in the fourth, five in the fifth and three more in the sixth, while pounding out a season high in hits with 18. The victory moved the Kats to 13-5 overall and 4-0 in the Southland Conference while the Islanders fell to 6-12 overall and 0-1 in the league.
Two-out production continued to be a major key, with seven runs coming with two down. In the last five games, Sam Houston has hit .390 (25 for 64) with two outs including a 7-for-15 performance on Friday.
The offensive outburst was highlighted by a career-best four RBIs from Riley McKnight while Robie Rojas matched a career high with four hits. Six different Bearkat player finished with multiple hits including Bryce Johnson (2 for 4) and Lance Miles (2 for 5) who each added a pair of RBIs to back another Heath Donica victory.
The right-hander (4-1) rebounded from a difficult opening inning, scattering eight hits and three runs while striking out four and walking one. Riley Cooper was efficient in his third appearance, tossing 2 2-3 scoreless innings including a pair of strikeouts with the bases loaded in the ninth.
The Bearkats look for their 15th-straight Southland Conference home series win on Saturday, hosting the Islanders in the middle game. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. with left-handed redshirt sophomore Seth Ballew taking the mound for Sam Houston.
HOW IT HAPPENED
A&M-Corpus Christi sent eight hitters to the plate in the first, getting to Donica with a pair of singles, as many walks and a hit batter. Nick Anderson provided the first RBI, reaching on the free pass and was followed by Dalton Stark who lined a single through the left side for a 2-0 advantage.
The right-hander would settle down, striking out two straight Islanders hitters before inducing a flyout to center field – all coming with the bases loaded – to eliminate further damage.
The Bearkats knotted things up in the second, using a two-out, two-run double from nine-hole hitter Riley McKnight to score a pair of runners. The sophomore drove a ball to left center, plating Robie Rojas from second, and Taylor Beene from first, each who reached on singles.
The Islanders scratched across another in the fourth as Scott Balfantz and Brett Burner reached on a double and bunt single respectively. With Cam Boudreaux at the plate, a Donica wild pitch brought home Balfantz for a 3-2 advantage. The Kats eliminated further damage, stranding two runners in scoring position as Donica induced a grounder to second.
Sam Houston jumped ahead in the fifth, capitalizing with two down. Bryce Johnson, who reached on a walk, swiped his eighth bag of the season, and used his speed to knot the game up on a single into right field from Lance Miles, who took second on the throw.
The Kats continued to use speed to their advantage as Andrew Fregia hit a chopper to short, forcing Cullen Jozwiak to rush the throw which sailed wide, scoring an alert Miles all the way from second for a 4-3 lead.
One inning later, Sam Houston chased starter Devin Skapura from the game. Blake Chisolm led off with his seventh hit by pitch of the season before Rojas and Hearn each followed with singles into right field, loading the bags with none down for Taylor Beene.
The Bearkats greeted reliever Dustin Lacaze with a barrage of hits. Beene led off, working a six-pitch walk before McKnight and Johnson recorded infield singles, plating one run each. A Clayton Harp double play scored another before Miles singled through the left side, giving the Kats a 9-3 lead.
The damage continued in the sixth as Sam Houston tacked on four more hits for a 12-3 lead including an RBI triple from Johnson and an RBI double from Harp. Rojas led off the frame with his fourth hit, shooting a single up the middle. He took third as Beene doubled down the left-field line.
Head coach Matt Deggs on the performance of Heath Donica…
“The true mark of an ace is a guy that doesn’t need his best stuff to win. I thought that was the tale of the game. We had great damage control. Heath Donica just does not give in. He doesn’t need his best stuff to pitch. So many guys that think they’re an ace need their best stuff and he doesn’t.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on the offensive outpouring vs. the Islanders…
“I thought the middle of our lineup played real well tonight … I mean starting from the six-hole down. Robie had a great night. Once again the story of the game was two-out knocks. They’re just relentless and keep coming wave after wave. These guys are made of heart and guts and that’s what it takes to score with two outs. We had to get back to that.”
Head coach Matt Deggs coming alive in the middle innings…
“That’s the second time through the order and you’re probably getting close to being all the way through it. We talk about it in the dugout that this is our inning (fifth). Once we grabbed the lead it was finish time. We came back out in the sixth and were able to get some hits on balls that didn’t leave the infield. For as many times as you line out, you deserve some of those too.”
Riley McKnight on his career night at the plate…
“I felt like I was seeing the ball well. I was looking to attack early. The swing felt right. I feel like when Heath is on the mound, we are always in the game. All of us are behind him because we know what kind of person he is. For us to get back in there and match that in the second was big for us. We minimized the momentum they had built up. We kept scoring runs.”
Robie Rojas on the key production with two outs…
“That has been the main focus. If you look at the losses we took from Texas, Baylor and UL, they were close games. We were one two-out hit away from putting them out. That’s what we’ve been focused on lately. Coach Deggs challenged us and we have stepped up to that challenge.”