NACOGDOCHES – When Heath Donica takes the mound, the challenge does not get much tougher for opponents. Making his fourth-career start against Stephen F. Austin, the results remained the same.
The right-hander struck out nine hitters and allowed just one extra-base hit, leading Sam Houston to a 3-2 victory against the Lumberjacks on Thursday afternoon at Jaycees Field.
The Bearkats (25-9, 13-0 Southland) scored three runs in the first three innings, and held off SFA (20-16, 9-3 SLC) late, including stranding the tying run on third base with two down in the ninth as Nick Mikolajchak picked up his league-leading seventh save.
For Donica (7-1), the victory was his sixth consecutive and marked the fifth time in eight outings fanning eight-plus hitters. The senior tossed eight innings, scattering six hits while allowing two runs and walking one on 90 pitches.
The victory was the 18th straight for Sam Houston in conference play, extending the longest league winning streak in Southland history. A win on Friday at 2 p.m. would match Lamar’s 1984 team for the best start to a season in conference lore.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Sam Houston got to SFA starter Trevor Kiminski (3-2) early, loading the bases on a leadoff walk from Bryce Johnson, a two-out hit by pitch off the helmet of Hunter Hearn and full-pitch free pass to Blake Chisolm. Robie Rojas put the Bearkats on the board, shooting a 2-2 single through the right side to plate one.
The Kats’ two-out production continued an inning later as Johnson sent a single into center with two down, plating Taylor Beene who reached on a one-out hit by pitch.
In the third, Clayton Harp and Hunter Hearn tagged consecutive singles to begin the frame, extending their reached-base streaks to 22 and 17 respectively. Then, Chisolm hit a chopper on the infield that could not be fielded, putting Sam Houston ahead 3-0.
Stephen F. Austin got on the board in the fifth, trimming its deficit to two runs on a one-out solo home run from Alex Hrinevich, who deposited his fourth long ball of the season over the wall in left.
Sam Houston put the first two aboard in the sixth but a strikeout and pair of lineouts ended the threat. The Lumberjacks carried the momentum into the home half, using a first-pitch hit by pitch and walk to score one on a Conner Fikes roping single into left center. Donica buckled down, inducing the 6-4-3 double play to play to escape the jam without further damage.
Beene reached for the second time on the hit by pitch in the eighth and took second on a bunt single from Riley McKnight, his fifth of the season. Johnson advanced the runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt. Fregia followed, lining a ball to right as the Bearkats tested the arm of Zac Michener, who cut down Beene at the plate, resulting in an inning-ending double play.
After setting down SFA in order during the eighth, Sam Houston turned to Mikolajchak in the ninth. Andrew Cole made the freshman work, reaching on a 10-pitch walk. The left fielder took second on a sac bunt and third on a groundout but was stranded there as the right-hander induced a flyout from pinch-hitter Stephen Stuart to Johnson, who tracked the ball down in right center.
Head coach Matt Deggs on the outing from Heath Donica…
“What a warrior. I don’t know what else to say. That guy can pitch for me anytime, anyplace, anywhere. He’s one of the best in the country. He gets us off to a great start every time and he loves to battle. He loves to compete. He will absolutely fight you to get you out.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on the hard-fought game…
“It was two good teams going at it. They have some veteran players and they can pitch. They are pretty complete in all three phases. We were fortunate to score early and had a chance to set the tone. We had a chance to tack on but really couldn’t break through. It was good to get the first one and have a chance to win this thing tomorrow.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on having Nick Mikolajchak in the closer role…
“That’s real impressive especially with putting the leadoff runner on. What he does is he pounds the strike zone and you’re going to have to get a hit to beat him. It’s worked out for him more times than not.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on the offensive takeaway…
“There are some conditions out here too. There is a wind in your face and they are pitching it well. I thought we had some good at bats and hit some balls hard. We had a couple runners thrown out. Their right fielder has an absolute cannon. Those are spots where we have to push the envelope and we’ll continue to do so. That’s why you play all three phases. We pitched it, played great defense and were able to score early.”