The best in the nation came to Huntsville Tuesday, and the Bearkats sent them home humbled with an 8-1 defeat.
Like the Bearkats have done so many times before they pulled out a big win against the No. 1 nationally ranked Rice Owls, despite being the underdog.
“More than anything, it just shows you that if you compete and hit those strikes against anybody, you’re going to give yourself the chance to win,” Bearkat coach Chris Rupp said after the game. “We executed today, we got guys in scoring position and we did the things that we’ve been trying to teach these guys that’ll win ballgames for you.”
In recent games between the two teams, the Southland Conference school from Huntsville has taken six out of the last seven games from the Rice baseball powerhouse.
“We’ve always played pretty good against Rice,” Bearkat pitcher Ryan Herrera said. “It’s my third year here and we always play them in a pretty good game. We know when we play to our capability, we can play with anybody.”
The Bearkats (15-23, 5-10 SLC) were able to hold Rice to only one run and four hits because of superb performances by pitchers Herrera and Nathan Boyd.
Herrera was credited with the win when the Bearkats defeated Nebraska earlier this year, giving up only five hits and no earned runs, while striking out four in 4 2/3 innings pitched.
Herrera knew what it took to beat a nationally ranked team and he was able to bring it back against Rice.
“He got in trouble in the first inning, but we got out of it,” Rupp said. “And then after that, he was in the zone, throwing strikes, letting the defense play behind him, and good things happen when you do that.
“When you throw strikes, I don’t care who you’re playing, you’re going to give yourself a chance to win. And that’s exactly what he did.”
In 7 2/3 innings pitched, the southpaw from Deer Park gave up only one run off of four hits.
“Coming into any game, you have to expect to have a good outing,” Herrera said. “We started off a little shaky, with bases loaded and nobody out in the first inning, and we ended up getting out of it without giving up a run. After that, I was able to get in a pretty good rhythm.”
After a phenomenal performance by Herrera, Rupp brought in Boyd to close out the game for Sam Houston. The closer dominated the rest of the game pitching a perfect 1 1/3 innings to secure the Bearkat win.
“Boyd came in and threw strikes,” Rupp said. “He’s been coming back and getting better. He had a little tough time in the early going of the season and the last several times he’s been out, boy, he’s been pretty good.”
The Owls were held to only one run because of exceptional pitching, but it was Sam Houston’s equally as good afternoon at the plate that put eight runs on the board.
Leading the charge for the Bearkats was designated hitter Dom Garcia.
Garcia hit a three run shot over the left field fence in the sixth inning to give the Bearkats a comfortable 7-1 lead. Once the game was finished, Garcia had racked up three hits from four at bats, with one run and four RBIs.
“They made an error in that inning and messed up a double play and somebody was going to capitalize on it,” Garcia said. “I went out there just hacking my butt off to make them pay for it and came through big.”
Also impressing from the plate was catcher Andrew Kasparek. In three at bats, he got one hit with two runs and two RBIs.
The victory over Rice gives Rupp and assistant coach Phillip Ghutzman a win in their first game against their former team.
Before being named Sam Houston’s head coach in September, Rupp was Rice’s recruiting coordinator and a bench coach. Ghutzman was a catcher for the Owls until he graduated in 2002 with a degree in sports management.
The Bearkats are currently tied for seventh place in the Southland Conference with Nicholls State and the University of Texas-San Antonio. The three teams are currently one game back from the coveted sixth spot, the last available for the conference tournament.
“We’re still in the hunt for this thing,” Rupp said. “If we go to Southeast (Louisiana) and have a good weekend, we put ourselves right there in the race for that sixth spot.”