HUNTSVILLE – Friday night's regular season finale was filled with pre-game festivities for Sam Houston State. The Bearkats ensured when game time rolled around, the fireworks continued.
Sam Houston struck for a pair of runs in the first and showcased its pitching and defensive ability the remainder of the way, defeating Incarnate Word, 3-1, in front of 1,470 fans -- the 10th largest crowd in Don Sanders Stadium history -- to secure the three-game sweep.
The win, which followed a lopsided 10-4 victory earlier in the day, came on a day in which the Bearkats honored their four-member senior class including catcher Robie Rojas, who provided the final pre-game standing ovation with a proposal on the mound.
Seth Ballew (6-3) earned the win, tossing five relief innings while scattering five hits without allowing a run. The redshirt sophomore walked three and struck out as many before making way for Colin Cameron and Nick Mikolajchak, who picked up his 10th save with a flawless ninth.
Sam Houston (36-20, 19-11 SLC) will enter next week's Southland Conference Tournament as the three-seed, helped by a Stephen F. Austin sweep of Houston Baptist. The Bearkats, who will play at 9 a.m. from Constellation Field on Wednesday, wait one more day to see who the opponent will be.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Sam Houston put its first three hitters aboard and capitalized as Clayton Harp sent a sac fly into left center, scoring Riley McKnight, who reached on a throwing error. Rojas followed, sending an RBI groundout to first for a 2-0 lead.
UIW (20-36, 8-22 SLC) clawed back in the second, plating a run on a sacrifice fly after a pair of singles. The Cardinals loaded the bases on another single and hit by pitch with two down but Ballew came on, needing just one pitch to induce a fly out to left.
The Cardinals threatened in the fifth, notching consecutive one-out singles to put runners on first and second. With Garrett Terrell at the plate, the six-hole hitter drove a ball back at Ballew, who stabbed the liner and threw back to second to complete the double play.
Sam Houston continued to showcase the leather in the sixth as Andrew Fregia made a pair of nice plays at shortstop, using a nice pick from Blake Chisolm to end the frame. The Kats carried the momentum into the home half, loading the bases with one out but a strikeout and groundout ended the threat.
After two quick outs in the seventh, UIW loaded the bases on a two-out double and pair of walks – one intentionally – chasing Ballew from the game. After a 2-0 count to Terrell, new reliever Colin Cameron induced a fly out to center, stranding three, while keeping the 2-1 lead intact.
The Bearkats added some insurance in the eighth as senior Taylor Beene sent an RBI single into left field in his final at bat at The Don. Mikolajchak needed just 11 pitches to set down the Cardinals in order in the ninth, picking up his 10th save, moving into a tie for third in program history with Michael Burchett (2012).
Head coach Matt Deggs on finishing the season on a four-game win streak…
“It was a great week. I was real proud of the boys starting with the Tuesday at A&M. We were fortunate to get in there and gain some momentum. Coming out against UIW, already knowing we're going to the tournament with not a lot to play for, I was real proud that we kept it going. I thought we swung the bats tremendous all weekend and got some good pitching. It's good to be clicking on all cylinders.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on coming through in a tight game…
“I was encouraged by that game. Obviously, I'd like to score more runs but once it settled in, I was kind of thankful for it. We needed a look like that and win a tight ballgame. Like I've said before, the name across the jersey doesn't matter. When it's time to play, we have to play good baseball.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on taking the third-seed entering the tournament…
“It was a great day all around. I liked the way we competed. We fell behind early in that first game and never panicked. We had a couple big innings. I thought it was an incredible celebration between games for the seniors. Those four seniors are class acts. To be able to send them off like that and then have Robie propose to his girlfriend was very special. For us to continue to carry that over and stay hooked up … I thought our intensity was great.”
Closer Nick Mikolajchak on his night and recording his 10th career save…
“In the bottom of the eighth, Taylor Beene poked one into left field and got another run across so that gave me a big confidence boost going in. I just came in and tried to pound the strike zone. I was hoping I'd have a role big enough (coming in) to have an impact. I know they lost Blackout (Greg Belton) last year. I am pretty tight with him. I talk to him a lot. It has been nice to fill in his role.”
Third baseman Taylor Beene on senior day…
“It was a great team win today. Coming out and getting those two runs in the first was everything. We got Cannon's back. When Seth came in, we had a one run lead and he just kept it. This is a special place to play. Ending it in my last at bat at The Don with a base hit is something I'll remember for the rest of my life. These fans, coaches and teammates will be at my wedding. I loved it here.”
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