Starters Cody Dickson and Caleb Smith tossed strong outings against Texas A&M Corpus Christi to claim games one (5-0) and three (5-3) to clench Sam Houston State’s conference series opener this weekend.
Dickson pitched his second complete game shutout against the Islanders Friday with 11 strikeouts as Smith set the tone for the Bearkats in game three with 7 strikeouts and 6 2/3 innings Sunday after Saturday’s extra inning 6-5 loss.
The Bearkats (12-11, 2-1 SLC) pitching rotation has struggled early this season establishing strong performances from their pitching rotation and maintaining leads from the bullpen. According to head coach David Pierce, although his pitchers threw strong innings against the Islanders, they’re not where he wants them to be quite yet.
“Caleb has some good stuff but he just got high in his pitch count because he tends to leave the ball up,” Pierce said. “I think the fastball was down in the zone but his slider was very average [Sunday]àHe did struggle early and he was very good at Baylor so back to back good starts. Wasn’t a great start in his mind and he wants to finish the game.”
Smith agreed with Pierce claiming his slider hasn’t been as strong as they’d like and is still struggling to habitually claim the strike zone with first pitch strikes.
Andrew Godail’s strong performance in game two went into the sixth inning, but walks and errors continued to cripple the Bearkats bullpen in late innings.
“What we need to do is to quit worrying about failing and we got to quit worrying about the results instead of freeing our minds up and put the pressure back on the hitter,” Pierce said. “It’s a lot of mental stuff that’s not allowing us to play the game like we’re capable and until we release some of that tension and enjoy the competition, bottom line is we’re going to be a .500 team.”
SHSU held a 5-3 lead into the top of the ninth inning in game two when an Islander rally sparked from a Jordan Lee walk followed by two singles from Dominic Lopez and Cody Stephens to even the board five to close the half inning. The Bearkats were unable to respond with a quick bottom half run and headed into extra innings. Stephens connected in the top of the 11th for a clutch single to score Jason Lee from second to break the tie and close game two with a 6-5 Islander win.
“It’s disappointing we worked hard to get that lead in. To see it vanish in the end is really disappointing,” Romero Cortina said.
Cortina swung .364 against the Islanders with five RBI’s including a fourth inning rally in game three to extend SHSU’s lead 3-0.
“I was just seeing a pitch to drive and he threw me fastballs and I just swung and hit them, it’s that simple,” Cortina said. “See the ball hit the ball just trying to get a good approach and he threw me a pitch I could hit so I drove it.”
Despite struggling in game two, SHSU’s pitching rotation silenced the Islander’s strongest stick, Jonathan Gonzales.
“All weekend we wanted to pound him hard away and get ahead and basically elevate him and get him to chase the breaking ball,” Pierce said. “I just think we attacked him very well. He’s very good against pitchers soft in the zone. He’s very good on hitter’s count with pitches middle/in, we just stayed one pitch ahead of him.”
SHSU’s offense connected for a .275 team average against TAMCC and continues to show strong execution in situational at bats and in small ball.
Third baseman Kevin Miller and first baseman Ryan O’Hearn sparked a seventh inning rally for two insurance runs in game three with a string of singles to score Hayden Simerly and Carter Burgess. Miller rallied the Bearkats in game two with a slash swing to score Burgess from second and crossed home plate form a Shea Pierce single in the eighth inning.
Miller and the latter half of the Bearkat lineup remain the stronghold of SHSU’s offensive attack; accounting for seven of the Bearkats’ 15 runs scored against the Islanders.