NACOGDOCHES, Texas (Press Release)- For the most part, the Stephen F. Austin baseball team held the hard-hitting Sam Houston State lineup in check Thursday afternoon at Jaycees Field. Where the 'Jacks' pitching staff ran into problems, however, was in giving up free bases.
SFA's arms surrendered nine free bases to the Bearkats on seven walks and two hit batters, Sam Houston State took a 3-0 lead after three and the 'Jacks were unable to get a big hit at the right time the as they fell 3-2 to their longtime Piney Woods rivals in the opening game of a three-game Southland Conference set.
Bearkat starter Heath Donica fanned nine SFA batters through eight innings of action to secure his seventh win of the season after SHSU called on Nick Mikolajchak came on to pitch the ninth. After a 10-pitch battle, Andrew Cole led off the 'Jacks' ninth with a walk before advancing to third on a sacrifice bunt and a groundout.
Pinch hitter Stephen Stuart sent a 1-0 offering from Mikolajchak deep to the gap in right-center field, but center fielder Bryce Johnson ran it down to end the game with Cole standing at third.
"The bottom line is, they made the most of their opportunities and we didn't," said SFA head coach Johnny Cardenas. "It just comes down to a few little things for us: getting bunts down with runners on base and keeping the free passes to a minimum. You can't give a team like that a bunch of free passes and expect to stem the tide of any offense they create."
Trevor Kiminski kept the Bearkats' bats quiet for the most part, but through his four innings of work the junior gave up five walks and hit two batters. Two of those free bases turned into two of the three Sam Houston State runs.
Robie Rojas put the visitors up for good when his two-out RBI single scored Bryce Johnson in the first. Zac Michener fired a pinpoint toss to Jarrod Huber at the plate to get Hunter Hearn out and end the inning.
Johnson's two-out single in the second pushed the Bearkats' lead to 2-0 and the eventual game-winning run came on an RBI fielder's choice off the bat of Blake Chisholm in the Bearkats' third. Alex Hrinevich made a diving stop of Chisholm's grounder, but the Bearkat reached first as there was nobody there to cover the bag. Clayton Harp, who started off the inning with a single, scored the Bearkats' third and final run.
Kiminski retired the next three batters he faced to escape the third without and more damage, but the Bearkats' lead held up. Austin Hagy came on in relief of Kiminski in the fourth and tossed two shutout innings to keep the 'Jacks' hopes for victory alive.
Hrinevich broke up the Bearkts' shutout bid in the bottom of the fifth and ended Donica's run of 10-straight SFA batters retired when the senior launched a solo home run to left-center. SFA's only other run of the game game in a sixth inning that began when Josh Campbell reached after getting hit by an offering from Donica.
From there, Tyler Kendrick drew a walk and Conner Fikes cut Sam Houston State's lead to 3-2 with his RBI single before Zac Michener grounded into an inning-ending double play to end SFA's threat.
Seth Campbell and Austin Hearn tossed a scoreless seventh before Will Vest took over for the remainder of the game. The hard-throwing junior received a big-time boost from Michener in right field in the eight when the Kennedale, Texas, product finished off a 9-2 double play by gunning down Taylor Beene at home plate with another accurate throw to Huber.