FORT WORTH, Texas (Press Release) - Each time the Stephen F. Austin baseball team faced off against a big-name baseball team from the state of Texas in 2017, the end result could have been summed up with the following phrase: close, but no cigar.
Tuesday night at Lupton Stadium, however, the only was the word cigar could have been associated with the 'Jacks is if it followed the word victory.
Senior Erik Nouis shut down one of the most powerful lineups in the nation by delivering six shutout frames, Zac Michener started a four-run SFA third with a two-run double before Josh Evans finished it with a two-run homer to right that served as the proverbial knockout punch in the 'Jacks 6-2 statement victory over No. 4-ranked TCU.
Heading into the game, the 'Jacks had flirted with wins over then-nationally ranked Texas A&M and Baylor in 2017 only to lose a grip on a late lead. This time, the lead held and swung a portion of the collegiate baseball spotlight on Stephen F. Austin.
"Tonight was big for this program and for me as a coach," said SFA head coach Johnny Cardenas who played at and graduated from TCU. "Any time you can come back to your alma mater and win a big game like this is special. We played a complete game against one of the nation's best teams."
Evans and Michener each finished with two hits while Andrew Cole and Conner Fikes had one each. The main reason the numbers SFA's offense put up proved to be good enough was the left arm of Nouis. The senior struck out six, walked four and surrendered three hits to move to 2-2 in 2017.
"Erik started as a weekend guy for us and wound up getting moved to a midweek starter," Cardenas said. "Some guys would consider that a demotion, but he was mentally strong enough to embrace that role, work on some things and now he puts us in a position where we have four really good starters. That outing speaks volumes about this."
Singles from Michener and Evans in the SFA second coupled with a seven-pitch walk to Alex Hrinevich loaded the bases with no outs. Andrew Cole grounded into a double play that pushed Michener home and handed the 'Jacks a 1-0 lead.
All four SFA runs in the top of the third came with two outs and it all started when Nick Ramos drew a seen-pitch walk. From there, Fikes sent a sharp single through the infield that signaled the end of TCU starter Charles King's outing. Jake Eissler came in for King and Michener sent an 0-1 pitch past a diving Josh Watson in left to make matters 3-0.
Shortly after Michener's double, Evans turned on a 2-1 pitch from Eissler and deposited it beyond the fence in right to up SFA's lead to 5-0. Nouis ended the TCU fifth by getting Austen Wade to bounce into a double play and pitched around a one-out double in the home sixth.
The 'Jacks put the finishing touches on their six-run night in the seventh. Eric DeJesus drew a one-out walk and Tyler Kendrick reached on the only TCU error of the night. Fikes also drew a walk to load the bases before a balk from TCU reliever Cal Coughlin pushed DeJesus across home plate.
SFA relief arm Seth Campbell struck out the first two batters he faced in the seventh before a walk, a single and a two-run double off the bat of Wade produced TCU's only runs of the night. With that, Cardenas signaled for Will Vest to come out of the bullpen and the junior ended the threat by getting Cam Warner to ground out to shortstop.
Vest struck out a pair in the eighth before handing the ball over to Tyler Starks in the ninth. The sophomore finished off the Horned Frogs with a pair of flyouts and a strikeout to set off a celebration for SFA.
The victory was SFA's first over a top-ten nationally ranked opponent since they defeated seventh-ranked Oklahoma State back on Feb. 19, 2016 in a neutral site bout in Arlington, Texas. When Ramos touched home plate in the top of the third, not only did that win prove to be the eventual game-winner, it was the 133rd in the career of the Plano, Texas, product, making him the program's new leader in career runs scored.