HUNTSVILLE Back-to-back Southland Conference Championships and at-large selections to the NCAA Regionals easily place the 2012 and 2013 Sam Houston baseball teams among the most successful ever. The Bearkats have set new standards with one of the best two-year periods in the history of the program.
The combined 78 wins under head coach David Pierce is the second-most in school history behind the 89 wins from 1986 to 1987. After winning the school’s first Southland regular-season title since 1996, the team went back-to-back for the first time ever.
A program that had placed teams in the NCAA Regionals for three consecutive seasons, from 2007-2009, the Kats had never had an at-large selection until 2012. Sam Houston has now had a team in the regionals five of the last seven seasons.
This season’s team played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in recent memory. Two wins over perennial power Rice, a single win over Texas, and two-game splits with Baylor, Houston, and Texas A&M, headlined the schedule.
Two of the program’s longest Division-I winning streaks occurred over this stretch. In 2012 the Bearkats won 13 straight games (longest ever at DI), starting with a conference-opening sweep of Texas State. The 2013 squad won 11 consecutive games and closed the season winning 14-of-15.
2012 marked the first time that all four major college baseball polls had the Kats in their rankings. Collegiate Baseball included the Bearkats in their national rankings in 2013 starting in mid-May and kept them in the poll through the end of the season. The Kats were ranked as high as No. 27 for two weeks.
A young core of Bearkats will return in 2014. Sophomore starters Colt Atwood, Carter Burgess, Ryan Farney, and Ryan O’Hearn will all return for their junior seasons. Anthony Azar and Luke Plucheck will provide senior leadership after playing nearly every game the last two years.
Hayden Simerly, Shea Pierce, and Wyatt Powell were part-time starters and will look to crack the everyday lineup. Corey Toups is also expected to return from injury after missing most of the 2013 season.
Logan Boyd, Tyler Eppler, Andrew Godail, Alan Scott, and Jason Simms played big roles on the pitching staff and will look to do the same in 2014.
There were many memorable moments and records set on the Bearkats run to the Baton Rouge Regional. Led by lefthander Cody Dickson, the pitching staff struck out 438 batters, the second most in school history. Dickson’s 91 strikeouts is the fifth most by a Kat. His 28-inning scoreless streak was the second longest in the SHSU record book.
A Don Sanders Stadium record was set when the Bearkats hit seven doubles in an 11-6 win over Arkansas State on March 3rd. “The Don” also saw an extra-inning, walk-off win over Texas A&M for the first home victory over the Aggies since 2001.
In NCAA Regional play, the Bearkats 4-2 win over Louisiana-Lafayette was the first opening round win since beating No. 1 Miami in Austin in 1996. The Kats then took on LSU in front of the largest crowd (10,752) in the history of Alex Box Stadium, in Baton Rouge, La. SHSU took a 5-4 lead into the eighth inning before falling 8-5 to the No. 1 seeded Tigers.
Ryan Farney was named as the All-Regional team second baseman for his performance in Baton Rouge. The sophomore hit his first career homerun in the Kats final game against Louisiana-Lafayette.
The Kats played in front of some large crowds at home in 2013. Don Sanders Stadium hosted five games with over 1,000 fans in attendance. The largest home crowd of the season, 1,752, witnessed the walk-off win over Texas A&M.
Scheduling games against traditional powers is part of what has gotten the Bearkats into the postseason the last two years. Expect more of the same as SHSU will participate in the 2014 Minute Maid College Classic against hosts Houston and Rice, as well as Texas, Texas Tech, and TCU.
Part of the difference the last two seasons has been the Kats ability to win those games against top-tier opponents. The team now has a wealth of big-game experience and is no longer overwhelmed by any environment.
While it will be tough to top what they did in 2012 and 2013, the return of several key pieces and their experience in big games has the Bearkats poised to pick up where they left off. The task of replacing seniors Michael Burchett, Kevin Miller, Greg Olson, and Jessie Plumlee won’t be easy but coach Pierce and his staff have capable players at the ready.