HUNTSVILLE – The Bearkats are Austin bound.
The Sam Houston State softball team has been selected to compete in the Austin Regional of the NCAA Tournament and will face host Texas, the ninth national seed, at Charline McCombs Field Friday at 4 p.m. The game will be televised on the Longhorn Network.
Texas A&M and Houston are the other two teams in the double-elimination regional. The Aggies and Cougars will play Friday at 1 p.m. on ESPN3.
The Bearkats (34-21) have faced all three teams in the regional this season. Sam Houston State lost 9-1 in five innings at Texas (41-14) on Feb. 22, fell to Houston (37-17) 2-1 on Feb. 10 and 17-1 in five innings on April 30 and dropped a doubleheader to Texas A&M (28-25) 5-4 and 4-3 on March 27.
“We couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to play at Texas, to open up at their place, a place we have already been this year, so we understand the environment,” head coach Garrett Valis said. “It will be pretty cool. We have some kids from that area and a lot of them have seen those kids, played against them in high school and tournament ball, so there will also be some familiarity with U of H and A&M there as well.”
The Bearkats went 22-5 in league play to capture the program’s first regular-season championship since 1993 and fourth overall. Sam Houston State earned the top seed in the SLC tournament in Natchitoches, Louisiana this past week.
The Kats rolled to a 7-0 victory over Southeastern Louisiana in the opening game thanks to a stellar performance in the circle by SLC Player and Pitcher of the Year Lindsey McLeod (21-8), who struck out 11. Sophomore Bailey White drove in three runs and junior Taylar Fuselier had a two-run single.
Sam Houston State faced second-seeded Nicholls in two instant classics to clinch the SLC tournament championship. McLeod blanked the Colonels for nine innings May 9 before sophomore Brooke Malia launched a two-run, walk-off home run to left field off All-SLC first-team pitcher Megan Landry to advance to the championship round.
Nicholls survived elimination to meet the Bearkats once again Saturday.
McLeod and Landry went toe to toe in another nail-biter. The Colonels struck first with a solo home run in the top of the sixth, but junior Tiffany Thompson and Malia hit back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the inning to put Sam Houston State on top. McLeod shut the door on Nicholls in the seventh to cap the tournament with a perfect 3-0 record.
“We have come so far,” Malia said. “We have just grown together, and we never settle for being just us. We want to be better and better, and I think we have done a great job of that.”
The Bearkats only other regional appearance came in 2007 when Sam Houston State topped Texas State 1-0 in the Southland Conference championship game at Bearkat Softball Complex.
The Bearkats were sent to the College Station Regional and fell to host Texas A&M 9-5 in the opener. Sam Houston stayed alive by beating Louisiana-Lafayette 2-1 before being eliminated by the Aggies 11-0.
NCAA Austin Regional general admission tickets are $7 and 10 and are now on sale. Fans can purchase tickets by calling the Longhorn Ticket Sales and Service at (512) 471-3333 or online at https://bit.ly/2VvoKWu.