Bearkats defeat Rice 9-3 for sweep

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Sam Houston State baseball has found their niche upsetting Top 25 ranked teams early this season.

Starter Tyler Eppler tossed six innings against Rice University allowing only five hits to sweep the Owls with a 9-3 victory Tuesday night at Don Sanders Stadium.

Eppler’s start Tuesday was his second against the Owls after going three and one-third innings earlier in March’s 3-0 victory in Houston.

“Coach [David Pierce] preaches all the time throw strikes and fill the strike zone up and let the defense work behind me and that’s exactly what I did today,” Eppler said. “Minimize the walks and just let them hit it.”

A quick stagnant four innings outing of Eppler and Owl starting pitcher Chase McDowell silenced both line-ups into the fifth inning when Miller connected for his second single on the night. Ryan Farney and Romeo Cortina supported Miller with a single and a fielder’s choice to break the four inning tie with a Bearkat 1-0 lead.

Miller went 3-4 on the night with three singles and one RBI.

Pierce circulated three pitchers after Eppler’s outing to maintain a strong presence on the rubber.

Alan Scott and Juan Cortina held the Owls to two runs between the seventh and eighth inning. Simms relieved for Cortina in top of the eighth inning with no outs and runners on first and second and closed the top half of the eighth allowing two singles for two runs.

Pierce credits the win to coach Sean Allen and his offensive approach to Rice’s pitching rotation.

“We really did a good job in our short game [Tuesday] and that created the two big innings,” Pierce said.

The Bearkats rallied in the sixth and eighth inning for a combined eight runs coming from a string of singles and the squeeze play. Catcher Anthony Azar exploded the inning with a triple into the left center power alley to drive in Jessie Plumlee and Carter Burgess who had a pair of singles. Azar touched home plate off a single from Miller who was brought home from a single from centerfielder Colt Atwood.

Atwood hit 3-4 with a comfortable approach in the batter’s box and aggressive swings at first pitch fastballs to snap an early season hitting slump.

“Hitting is one of those things that goes up and down,” Atwood said. “The more you see the ball the better you hit it. I’m not trying to do too much.”

Atwood, known for his lead-off spot in the lineup, has been switching between the nine hole and the second spot. Pierce said he intends to take pressure off Atwood while he’s struggling to find his stride at the plate.

“We send him to the nine hole to get well,” Pierce said.

The centerfielder showcased his arm and defensive ability, throwing out first basemen Tyler Ewing from shallow center at home plate to keep the Owls from getting on the board early in the game.

“When you’re in outfield you want that play to be hit to you,” Atwood said. “It’s always fun to get the chance to throw someone outàwhenever I get it I take the pride in throwing someone out.”

The Bearkats will travel to Nacogdoches Thursday for a three game series against conference rival Stephen F. Austin.

First pitch is at 6:30 p.m. and will be followed by games Friday at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday at 1 p.m.

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