Sam Houston State University became the first regular season champion to go winless in the Southland Conference tournament since 2006. Despite an excellent two days of pitching, the Bearkats offense never got going, scoring just three runs in two games and going 4-29 with runners on base.
Despite the 3-2 upset by the No. 4 University Incarnate Word Cardinals, the Bearkats did draw first blood. With two on and two outs in the top of the first, Hunter Hearn stepped in the box and immediately broke the scoreless tie with an RBI single up the middle.
Junior right-hander Nick Mikolajchak had a lead before he ever hit the mound and worked through a painless first inning, pitching around a one-out base hit to preserve SHSU’s 1-0 advantage. It was a strong start for Mikolajchak who struck out five through his first three innings of work.
The bottom of the fourth inning started bleakly for the Kats when a leadoff single and a catcher’s interference put Cardinals at first and second with nobody out. After the runners advanced 90 feet on a flyout, a wild pitch allowed the tying run to cross the plate. The Cardinals stranded the potential go-ahead run at third base to end the inning, but the damage had been done as UIW and SHSU moved to the fifth inning tied 1-1.
The fifth inning was an early turning point. The Kats echoed their first inning by getting a pair of men on base when Hearn came to the plate with two outs. A fly out to right field ended the frame and kept SHSU off the board. The Cardinals took advantage after working out of a jam as senior outfielder Eddy Gonzalez laced a two-out RBI double into right field to give UIW a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth.
Mikolajchak and the Bearkats escaped a jam in the bottom of the sixth when a groundout to shortstop stranded UIW runners at second and third. SHSU had the top of its lineup due up to begin the seventh inning, and catcher Jordan Cannon set the table with a bunt single. The leadoff hit was immediately erased when a flyout to left field turned into a twin killing after Cannon was doubled-up when he failed to retouch second base in his retreat to first. The frame concluded in disappointing fashion with a groundout to second base, and the Kats trailed 2-1 at the seventh inning stretch.
The eighth inning was a reversal of fortune for SHSU hitting with runners on base. With one out, Hearn doubled to left field and got into scoring position for sophomore Jack Rogers. He and Hearn traded places when Rogers found right field grass for a hustle double that scored Hearn and tied the game 2-2.
Sophomore Cole Wesneski shut the door on the Cardinals in the bottom of the eighth as he hurled a 1-2-3 inning on nine pitches. The Kats opened the ninth inning with a leadoff walk, but a caught stealing wiped the potential go-ahead run off the bases.
The Cardinals started the home half of the ninth with a leadoff single by Shea Gutierrez, who swiped second as the next batter struck out. A bloop single that fell onto the right field chalk line was the back-breaker for the Bearkats as Gutierrez scored to walk it off for the Cardinals.
SHSU’s season came to a close with its first 0-2 performance in the conference tournament since 1994.