Prado blasts sixth home run as No. 3 Bearkats aim for Gulf Coast title

Preston Prado is on a roll and the Sam Houston State club baseball team appears unstoppable.

After capturing three Gulf Coast South Conference “Player of the Week” awards, Prado nailed his sixth home run of the season last Saturday to move to the top spot in the National Club Baseball Association homerun standings. The senior third baseman also leads the nation in RBI with 41 and claims a team-best .424 batting average.

“He’s had a really productive year and he’s really come through for us,” Club baseball president Dennis Shafer said. “He’s the most consistent hitter we have. He hit seven homeruns last year, so obviously we knew he had talent. He’s just come through in a lot of clutch situations with runners on base.”

The Bearkats, who lead the Gulf Coast South conference with a 5-1 record, moved to No. 3 in the NCBA Top 20 poll last week for their best ranking in team history.

If the regular season is any indication of what is to come, the Bearkats are on a fast track to another Gulf Coast regional title and their second consecutive trip to the NCBA World Series.

Sam Houston State opened conference play on March 1 in a three-game series at Texas A&M. After the Aggies blanked Sam Houston State 0-6 in the opening game, the Bearkats went on to win 8-3 and 20-9 in the final two games to begin a five-game conference winning streak.

“Once we lost the first game, we knew our backs were against the wall,” Shafer said. “Based on past seasons we knew that whoever won the series would probably go to the regional tournament and the whole purpose of this season has been to get back to Florida. We just had to hit the ball because we didn’t hit in the first game.”

Last weekend, the Bearkats continued their battle through the Gulf Coast South conference with a three-game sweep of Texas State (1-5) at Holleman Field. The Bearkats’ ace William Hinkie tossed a complete game in the series opener and allowed just one unearned run to claim the win. In the second game of the series, Jacob Whitman started on the mound and gave up one run in six innings as Sam Houston State claimed the 10-2 victory. In the final game of the weekend, Michael Stoglin took the mound and allowed two runs in six innings for the win in the Kats’ landslide 22-8 victory.

“I think the biggest thing about our pitching is that we know once we get past the first game, our pitching is deeper than our conference opponents,” Club baseball vice president Ronnie Jonse said. “I think that’s a big agdvantage that helped against A&M. With Hinkie and Mike, we kind of expected it because they were solid last year. With Nick (Shumard) and Jacob and even Blake (Subinsky) and James (Zaruba), I’d say those guys really contributed a lot. “

With only two more conference opponents left on their schedule, the Bearkats have their sights set on the Gulf Coast Regional championship, which they captured last year with a wins over Texas A&M and the University of Texas. After finishing sixth at the NCBA World Series last season, the team vowed to make a return for another shot at winning it all.

“We have to get there first,” Shafer said. “We’ve just got to take it one game at a time. It’s nice to have a little breathing room, but we have to get to the regional tournament first. We’re confident that we can do it again.”

With Prado leading the nation in home runs and RBI, Sam Houston State is well represented in the NCBA standings across the board. Senior outfielder Vance McDonald is tied for third in the nation with four home runs and seventh with 18 RBI, while senior shortstop Ronnie Jonse and junior outfielder Dennis Shafer are tied for fourth in runs scored with 28 each. Prado is also second in the nation with 8 doubles, followed by Whitman with 7.

“From the A&M game, I think we showed a lot coming out and winning two after we got beat,” Jonse said. “I think that showed a lot about our ball club.”

The Bearkats resume conference action at home this Saturday in a double-header against Tulane (6-11, 3-3) at noon, followed by the final game of the series at 11 a.m. on Sunday.

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