Shortstop Corey Toups blasted a towering home run that started a four-run fourth inning, as Sam Houston beat A&M-Corpus Christ 9-2 and got a step closer to a third straight Southland title. The Bearkats (38-15, 20-8 SLC) stand alone at the top of the league standings and need just one more win to guarantee at least a share of the conference championship.
“The only message I gave our guys is that we haven’t accomplished anything yet,” head coach David Pierce said. “We need to make sure we get our rest tonight and come to the ballpark with a chip on our shoulder ready to play tomorrow.”
The Kats and Islanders will play game two Friday at 6:30 p.m. The Islanders, along with Northwestern State and Nicholls each sit one game back of Sam Houston in the conference standings.
Starter Tyler Eppler had another great outing and picked up his fourth consecutive win. The junior tossed eight innings and allowed one run on six hits. Eppler struck out six batters and walked just two.
“That was a big game for us,” Eppler said. “The offense started out slow but they figured that guy out pretty quick and exploded for some runs in the middle innings. That gave me a lot of confidence out there on the mound. I just pitched to my strengths and pitched to my defense.”
A&M-Corpus took the lead in the top of the third inning on a sacrifice fly by third baseman Brandon Tierney. Designated hitter Zach Gibson led off the inning with a single and was erased on a fielder’s choice ground out. Left fielder Jordan Lee doubled to right field to put runners on second and third ahead of Tierney.
SHSU catcher Anthony Azar led off the fourth with a single to left field and it appeared he was destined to be stranded there after a pair of fly outs by first baseman Ryan O’Hearn and third baseman Carter Burgess.
Toups was able to deliver with two outs, driving his seventh homer of the season and keeping the inning alive. Second baseman Shea Pierce and left fielder Luke Plucheck each worked two-out walks and advanced on a wild pitch.
“When they got that first run the momentum was definitely with them,” Toups added. “But we bounced back and stayed with our brand of baseball and got the win. I was looking for something straight and hard and I got it and it happened to go over the fence.”
Right fielder Travis Lee delivered a single up the middle to drive them both in and give the Bearkats a 4-1 lead.
The Kats were back at it again in the fifth and it was a single by Azar that sparked more offense. O’Hearn and Burgess each followed with singles to plate Azar before Toups drove an RBI double to the gap in left center.
Toups finished the game 3-for-3 with three RBI and two runs scored. Azar was 2-for-5 with two runs scored.
Lee delivered another big two RBI hit in the eighth after Toups walked and Plucheck doubled. The junior outfielder finished the game 3-for-3 with a career-high four RBI.
“Travis has been playing great and I’m really happy for him. He’s stepped up big time for us playing in right field. Hopefully he can keep it going for us,” said Toups.
Nolan Riggs came out of the bullpen with the bases loaded and no outs in the ninth inning. The right hander got a strike out, a pop out, and a groundout to strand all three runners.