Opportunity awaits Kats at College Classic

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The Sam Houston State baseball team knows that there’s a big opportunity in front of them as they head into the Houston College Classic to play three nationally-ranked opponents from the state of Texas.

Just three days after taking down No. 10 Rice, 3-1, at Reckling Park in Houston, the Bearkats (8-1) will square off with No. 12 TCU Friday at 3:35 p.m. at Minute Maid Park. SHSU will then face No. 26 Texas Tech Saturday at 12:05 p.m. and close the tournament with No. 15 Texas at 10:05 a.m. Sunday.

“This is going to be a great tournament for our players being at such a great venue and playing such great teams,” head coach David Pierce said. “We have some confidence and momentum we carry into this tournament but the bottom line is we have to catch the ball, get some timely hits and make quality pitches to do well in this tournament.”

The Bearkats and Horned Frogs haven’t faced since the opening weekend of the 2010 season in Fort Worth. TCU swept that series to end a three-game winning streak by the Kats dating back to the 2003-2005 seasons.

Sam Houston and Texas Tech split a two-game series in Lubbock in 2002 in which the Kats took the first game 12-11 and the Red Raiders followed up to win 17-6 the following day.

SHSU will be fresh on the minds of the Longhorns after the Kats went to Austin and won 5-3 last season. Tyler Eppler was the starter that day and Jason Simms picked up his first save as a Bearkat. Hayden Simerly and Ryan O’Hearn each had big extra-base hits in the game.

“TCU is a very creative offense that runs well and has some power in the middle of their lineup. I don’t know a lot about Texas Tech but they’ve played really well early on. Texas has great arms this year and they’re better offensively than people give them credit for. All three teams are going to be a great challenge for us,” Pierce said.

The Kats have gotten offensive production from all over their lineup. Seven different players are batting better than .300 while four regulars are hitting at a .400 clip or better. The team has compiled a .328 overall batting average.

First baseman Ryan O’Hearn has a hit in every game this season, including three against Rice Tuesday. He’s batting .412 with eight runs driven in and six runs scored. Right fielder Hayden Simerly is hitting .441 this season and leads the team in hits.

Second baseman Ryan Farney has the team’s highest batting average (.500) and on base percentage (.600) through nine games. He’s driven in seven runs and scored eight. He’s also 6-for-6 on stolen base attempts.

“When you look at our lineup over the last few years you see balance. We talk a lot about scoring in multiple ways and you see that with this team. We have four guys with seven RBI and two guys with eight. There’s a good deal of balance in our lineup.”

The pitching staff has compiled a 1.78 ERA with six pitchers that have yet to allow an earned run. Tyler Eppler, Andrew Godail and Dirk Masters maintain their spots as the weekend starters and Jason Simms and Alan Scott continue to be shutdown arms in the bullpen.

“This is an exciting tournament. There’s a lot of Houston based fans and media that will come out and watch. There’s also going to be a lot of pro scouts in attendance. It’s good for us to play in these kinds of events because it puts us in a position to build towards playing in NCAA Regional type settings.”

Fans can still get tickets through the Houston Astros at www.astros.com/collegeclassic. Sam Houston State fans should use the offer code “vipshsu” to receive the best deal.

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