Ninth-inning nailbiter

After going hitless through the ninth inning, Nick Zaleski seemed an unlikely candidate to lift the Bearkats to a win over the No. 13 Rice Owls. Yet the junior first baseman saved his best for last as he knocked in the winning run with a single to right field, handing Sam Houston State the 13-12 upset on Opening Day at Sanders Stadium.

Sam Houston State improved to 6-3 after picking up a victory at Prairie View A&M on Wednesday night.

With the odds heavily stacked in the Owls favor, the Bearkats found themselves in a 5-0 hole by the second inning as starting pitcher Cody Springer, a freshman right hander from Montgomery, gave up five runs on five hits in 1.2 innings.

Sophomore Ryan Tepera took over in the top of the second and tossed three solid innings, giving up just two hits on two runs while striking out four.

Refusing to give up early, center fielder Keith Stein led off the third inning with a triple for the Bearkats’ first hit of the game and scored the first SHSU run on a sacrifice from left fielder Bobby Verbick.

The Bearkats finally found their spot at the plate in the bottom of the fourth as freshman Daniel Nottebart led off with a single, followed by a double from junior Mark Wyatt. With runners at second and third, senior Todd Sebek tripled to bring in two runs and later scored on a single from Stein.

Down by one run in the top of the fifth, a pair of Bearkat errors led to two unearned runs for the Owls, who took the 7-4 lead.

After Rice picked up another run on a single by right fielder Jordan Dodson, the outlook turned grim as the Bearkats found themselves down 8-4 in the bottom of the sixth.

Yet with the pressure on, Sam Houston State rose to the challenge as the Bearkats capitalized on three walks, one error and a wild pitch from the Owls’ Lucas Luetge for five runs and one hit for the 9-8 lead.

Rice answered in the top of the seventh with a pair of runs off of freshman Justin Jackson, who gave up three runs on six hits in two innings.

After scoring two more in the top of the eigth, the Owls took the 12-9 lead as the Bearkats were faced with a do-or-die situation in the bottom of the ninth.

With a majority of the crowd of 1,149 already turned away by the plummeting temperatures, the Bearkats turned up the heat and stunned the Owls with four runs on three hits for the 13-12 victory.

Down by four, Wyatt led off the inning with a single to centerfield and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from freshman second baseman Braeden Riley. With Tyson Mire pinch running for Wyatt, Sebek nailed a single to right field for the RBI. An intentional walk put Verbick on first with Riley on third before Zaleski stepped up to the plate and nailed the game-winning single for the Sam Houston State upset.

Zaleski was 1-for-5 at the plate while Sebek, Stein and Wyatt all went 3-for-5.

Senior Jon Lindenberger earned the win for the Bearkats by giving up no hits and no runs while striking out one in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Sam Houston State returns to Sanders Stadium today to play UT-Pan American at 6:30 p.m. before hosting the Hillcrest Ford Bearkat Classic on March 7-9.

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