Clean sweep on the diamond

After passing the halfway mark in regular season conference play, Jacob Howard is still on fire.

In his first season as a regular starter for the Bearkats, the sophomore right hander from West Columbia currently holds the best pitching record on the team at 8-3 as well as the lowest ERA of all starters at 2.90.

“As a new staff, we didn’t really know who would step up, but Jacob was on our radar after we saw him play in the fall,” Sam Houston State head baseball coach Mark Johnson said.

In the first game of the McNeese series on Friday, Howard took the mound for the Bearkats and pitched six solid innings, allowing one run and three hits for his eighth win of the season. In 11 starts, Howard has struck out 53 batters while giving up just 23 earned runs, including two homers.

“Jacob is doing very well, and he’s thrown some really good ballgames,” Johnson said. “He’s given us several good outings, and he can throw strikes and some good pitches behind the count. We’ve been very pleased with him.

Yet behind most good starters is a reliable reliever, and this season has been no exception.

Currently carrying the lowest ERA overall and the record for most saves in a season, Luke Prihoda (2-2, 1.22 ERA) served his relief position well Friday by pitching two innings and allowing just one hit and no runs.

Prihoda shattered the previous season save record of 11 on March 31 at home against Texas-Arlington and now stands with 14 saves on the season.

“Prihoda really stepped up,” Johnson said. “We’re a pretty good defensive team and I think that made a difference.”

Junior Stephen Price entered the game in the bottom of the ninth and closed the game with no hits and no runs for the Bearkats’ 10-1 win.

Yet for all of their defensive strength, the Sam Houston State team proved its power on offense as well with five batters combining for 10 runs throughout the game.

Karl Krailo, who was named SLC “Hitter of the Week”, led the team with a 2-for-5 performance on Friday that included a homerun in his first at-bat of the game.

Center fielder Keith Stein, who currently boasts a team high .418 batting average, also contributed with a 2-for-5 performance including a pair of singles and an RBI.

On Saturday, the Bearkats struggled yet were able to pull out the win after scoring six runs in the ninth inning for the 10-7 victory.

With the series win in their grasp, the Sam Houston State team sealed the sweep on Sunday as starting pitcher Tim Gray (4-3) allowed just one run on four hits in five innings for the win.

Price took over in the bottom of the sixth and gave up a two-run homer before relinquishing the mound to Prihoda for his third consecutive relief appearance of the series.

With the Bearkats ahead 4-3, Prihoda tossed 3 1/3 innings and allowed two runs on three hits for his fourteenth save of the season.

Krailo again led the Bearkats on offense with a 2-for-3 performance on Sunday, followed by Stein and Bobby Verbick, who each went 2-for-4 on the night.

“Our team played hard,” Johnson said. “We only had two errors and we hit the ball pretty good. But we’ve still got fourteen games left to play. Our games have got to get better and I think that there’s still more to us in hitting.”

With the three-game sweep and Texas State and Texas-San Antonio tied at 14-4, Sam Houston State now sits in second place in the West Division of the Southland Conference with an 11-7 conference record.

The Bearkats currently lead the Southland Conference with a .320 team batting average ahead of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Lamar, who are both batting .317.

The Bearkats are set to play at Rice University today at 7 p.m. and will return home on Friday at 6:30 p.m. for a three-game series against conference-leader Texas-San Antonio.

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