HUNTSVILLE – There was no more fitting way for the 2019 regular season to end for the Sam Houston State Bearkats: with a Southland Conference title, and in walk-off fashion.
The Bearkats (31-23, 20-10 SLC) got a walk-off RBI single from Colton Cowser in the bottom of the ninth inning of the back end of a doubleheader with Northwestern State, securing the program’s seventh SLC crown and third in the last four years.
WALK IT OF ONE MORE TIME FOR THE TITLE!!— Sam Houston Baseball (@BearkatsBSB) May 18, 2019
Cowser singles home McKnight and the Kats have clinched their third SLC title in the last 4 years with a 5-4 win over NSU!!#EatEmUpKats pic.twitter.com/OsQcv4vrfM
SHSU entered the day knowing that one win in their eighth doubleheader of the season would be enough to clinch at least a share of the title, but with the victory, along with losses by both Central Arkansas and Southeastern Louisiana, the Kats will not share the 2019 crown with anyone.
The 5-4 victory in the finale, after the Demons (30-23, 15-15 SLC) secured their own berth in the SLC Tournament, also secured the No. 1 overall seed in next week’s tournament championship at Constellation Field in Sugar Land.
It was the eighth walk-off victory of the season for the Bearkats, sending off its 12-member senior class in style after the group was honored in a ceremony prior to the day’s finale.
Game 1 (Box Score)
Northwestern State 9, Sam Houston State 4
An early deficit was too big of a hole for the Kats to dig out of in the day’s opener as NSU scored six times in the first two frames and held on the rest of the way behind a solid start from lefty Ridge Heisler.
The Demons got four home in the first and two more on an error in the second before Bearkat starter Dominic Robinson settled in, retiring the next 12 straight hitters on his way to a career-high eight strikeouts in 6.0 innings despite falling to 3-1 with the loss.
SHSU finished with 11 hits in the game, but gifted the Demons two errors that led to three runs, helping NSU clinch a berth in next week’s Southland Conference Tournament.
Heisler allowed 10 hits and four runs in 7.1 innings, but left with the lead and picked up the win to move to 4-6 on the year. He handed off the game to reliever Jerry Maddox who struck out three in 1.2 innings of relief to close it out.
Game 2 (Box Score)
Sam Houston State 5, Northwestern State 4
The Bearkats handed the ball off to senior Seth Ballew in the day’s finale and got just what they needed from the lefty who went 5.2 innings with six strikeouts before exiting in the sixth inning with a 3-1 lead.
That lead came on the heels of a 3-run third inning that was started by a 1-out triple from McKnight who came in to score on a grounder from Jordan Cannon. Hearn then highlighted the inning with a 2-run single, scoring both Cowser and Clayton Harp to give the Kats an early 3-0 lead.
Hearn would finish with a pair of hits in the game as part of a top of the order that got eight of its 11 hits from its first four hitters, including two RBI each from Cannon and Hearn.
Bottom 3 | 2 out— Sam Houston Baseball (@BearkatsBSB) May 18, 2019
SHSU 3 | NSU 0
A triple from McKnight gets us started and an RBI grounder from Cannon gets us on the board.
Cowser and Harp then reach and Hearn drives them both in. #EatEmUpKats
🖥 https://t.co/8PzfNyABE4 pic.twitter.com/dhFq3a3a4F
NSU went with a pitcher-by-committee approach in the nightcap with Austin Reich giving up the runs in that inning before Peyton Graham kept the Kats down for 3.1 scoreless frames. That streak came to an end when Cannon connected on the first pitch he saw from reliever Tyler Pigott for a solo homer in the seventh after NSU had gotten a run back to push the lead to 4-1.
End 7— Sam Houston Baseball (@BearkatsBSB) May 18, 2019
SHSU 4 | NSU 1
Jordan Cannon blasts a solo HR out to LF and the Kats get some insurance as we move to the 8th. #EatEmUpKats
🖥 https://t.co/8PzfNyABE4 pic.twitter.com/r38cw85k3K
It looked in control until two outs in the eighth inning when JP Lagreco and Austin Stegall picked up 2-out singles, but it was Lenni Kunert who gave the Demons second life when he connected on a 3-run homer – his second long ball of the year – to tie the game.
The Kats threatened to score in the eighth but left two on base and Cole Wesneski responded from giving up the homer to put up a zero in the top of the ninth.
Diego Davila then got the Kats’ rally going with a leadoff single in the ninth off of reliefer Jose Vasquez. After a fielder’s choice put McKnight on the bases, Cannon singled into left field to push McKnight all the way to third with just one out for Cowser. The freshman fell behind in the count, but then swatted a 1-2 pitch from Vasquez inside the third-base bag to bring home McKnight with the winning run to ignite the Bearkats’ celebratory dogpile.
The Kats will now enter Sugar Land as the No. 1 seed for the second straight season and will play at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday at Constellation Field in the opening round.