Huntsville -- Sam Houston State will face the University of Mississippi Friday at 7 p.m. in the first round of the NCAA regionals in Oxford, MS.
Troy State and Southern Mississippi meet at 3 p.m. in the regional's first game Friday.
"The team and our staff are really excited to be going to Oxford and playing an outstanding program in Mississippi State," SHSU head coach Mark Johnson said. "The teams in the Southeastern Conference have a reputation for putting on outstanding baseball events and its going to be a treat for our guys participating in this regional."
This year marks Sam Houston State's four appearance in the NCAA Division I baseball playoffs. The Bearkats last trip to the regionals was in 1996 when they upset No. 2 Miami at Austin.
“This is just a dream come true,” senior pitcher Tim Gray said. “A bunch of us seniors have been here for four years together. We've been through a lot. This year we really started playing as a team, plus we believed this could happen. We were going to be happy where ever they sent us. Going to Oxford is going to be great."
Sam Houston State made NCAA appearances in 1987, 1989, and 1996. In 1987, the Bearkats upset Oklahoma and Indiana State in the regional in Austin before falling to Houston. In 1996, Sam Houston State upset No. 2 Miami in the first game of the Austin regional before falling to Texas and UCLA. The Bearkats held leads in both the final two games.
Senior closer Luke Prihoda, the Southland Conference's 2007 "Pitcher of the Year" and SLC Tournament "Most Valuable Player," is the younger brother of Brad Prihoda, an outfielder on the 1996 team.
“Brad always reminded me that his team made the Southland tournament three of his four years, and they won it in 1996," Prihoda said. "I was there in Austin when they beat Miami, and I remember the dog pile after that game. I wanted to bring back the Prihoda tradition and help get this team to the tournament. It took a team effort to get us to Oxford. After last year we all committed to getting to the Southland tournament, and our coaching staff has been nothing but positive all season. To earn a trip to the NCAA just makes it even better. Now people are going to look back and say this is the team that brought back the once-great baseball tradition at Sam Houston State.”
Johnson, in his first year as Sam Houston State head coach, has directed the Bearkats to one of the top turnaround seasons in NCAA baseball this year. The former Texas A&M skipper helped SHSU to go from a 23-31record in 2006 to a 38-22 mark this season. The 38 victories in the most in one year by a Sam Houston team since the 1987 team won 44 games.
Only Stephen F. Austin (who upped their 7-23 record in 2006 to 31-28) and Texas A&M (who went from 25-30 to 44-16 this year) improved more than SHSU in NCAA Division I baseball.
"What a great regional it's going to be," Johnson said. "Mississippi is an outstanding ball club. I've had friends in the area telling me how good they are. Corky Palmer, the head coach at Southern Mississippi, is an old friend of mine. We used to work baseball camps together at Mississippi State. And Troy really tore up the Sun Belt this year. This will be a quality tournament.
"Our team has traveled well this year. We were 18-9 on the road this season. Louisiana was particularly good to us. We were 10-0 out of state this season. We'll go over on Wednesday and practice there on Thursday. We played some of our best baseball this year at the Southland tournament last week. The team has won 11 of its last 15. They're excited about our opportunity in Oxford."
SHSU’s previous NCAA results:
1987 - Austin, Texas (3rd place)
Defeated Oklahoma 5-1
Lost to Houston 8-4
Defeated Indiana State 10-8
Lost to Houston 4-0
1989 - Austin, Texas (4th place)
Lost to Oklahoma St. 6-5
Lost to New Orleans 8-4
1996 - Austin, Texas (3rd place)
Defeated Miami 5-4
Lost to Texas 4-2
Lost to UCLA 10-8