Sam Houston State has slowly climbed the ranks of the Southland Conference after an uncertain pre-conference season.
Now, sitting atop the SLC standings, the Bearkats are powering through conference rivals with their recent three game series sweep against McNeese State this weekend at Don Sanders Stadium.
A two-run homer from right fielder Romeo Cortina sparked a fourth inning rally for the Bearkats in game one after a stagnant three innings. The Cowboys showed life in the third inning taking the lead 2-1, but Cortina’s momentum from the fourth carried into the fifth inning for another two runs to extend SHSU’s lead 5-2 to close the evening.
“I wouldn’t say he’s a power guy,” Assistant Coach Philip Miller said regarding Cortina. “He’s capable of bunting and running. He’s done a great job for usàhe wasn’t out there to begin with. He’s worked his way into the mix [and] comes up with a big hit that lets you know he’s driving in runs.”
Cody Dickson was on the rubber in SHSU’s late game rally and pitched six complete innings, allowing two runs off four hits. Dickson currently represents the Bearkats’ pitching strength with seven starts and a 5-2 record and 3.06 ERA. Reliever Michael Burchett solidified a Bearkat victory with the save, pitching three complete innings and allowing three hits against 12 batters.
Miller said Dickson remains consistent with his approach on the mound but has improved his mental preparation.
“The main thing is that he’s been a projectable draft body. He throws with good velocity and has a good breaking ball. I think he’s done a better job in his mental preparation,” Miller said.
Centerfielder Colt Atwood headed the Bearkat lineup with three hits in the top of the lineup for a 5-2 game two victory.
Accompanied by catcher Anthony Azar, Atwood set the tone early for the Bearkats to go up on the board with a hit in the first inning to make the score 1-1. Azar broke the three inning standstill with a three-run homer for a 4-1 lead into the sixth inning.
“He’s a worker, he’s a tough kid and likes to compete,” Miller said referring to Azar. “[He] came through big in a crucial time in the game and busted the game open.”
Azar’s homer was the second consecutive long ball to spark a Bearkat rally against the Cowboys.
Pitchers Andrew Godail and Jason Simms silenced McNeese, combining six-and-one-third innings and two earned runs to hold the Cowboys to only two runs.
For the sweep, Azar returned with strong plate appearances driving in three runs to run-rule the Cowboys 12-2 in game three.
Starting pitcher Caleb Smith struggled early, allowing two runs in the first inning. The Bearkats responded quickly in the bottom of the second and piled on runs in the third, fourth, fifth and seventh. Insurance runs from Crotina, Azar and Hayden Simerly knocked off McNeese from the top three in SLC rankings and SHSU replaced the Cowboys in the second spot.
The Bearkats will travel to College Station to face off against Texas A&M Tuesday at Olsen Field. Opening pitch is at 6:35 p.m.
SHSU will square off against Lamar University for their first road conference series this weekend with game one at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Beaumont.