NACOGDOCHES, Texas - In the final home games of their careers, it seemed only fitting that a pair of Stephen F. Austin baseball seniors pushed the 'Jacks into the Southland Conference Tournament field for the second-straight season.
Alex Hrinevich's game-winning sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth scored Conner Fikes and capped an 11-10 comeback win in game two of SFA's doubleheader with Houston Baptist and ensured the 'Jacks would be present at the league's eight-team postseason tournament in 2017.
The win came on the day when SFA's 14-man senior class which included Fikes, Hrinevich, Gavin Gregory, Jarred Greene, Austin Hagy, Chris Hassold, Clark Kahawaii, Tyler Kendrick, Patrick Ledet, Zac Michener, Erik Nouis, Nick Ramos, Stephen Stuart and Ryan Thomas was honored for their contributions to Lumberjack baseball throughout the years.
Game One | Stephen F. Austin 3, Houston Baptist 1
Zac Michener gave the 'Jacks all the offense they needed by going 2-for-4 with three RBI, Nick Ramos added three hits and Patrick Ledet held the Huskies' offense in check through 6.2 innings of work to put SFA one win away from the Southland Conference Tournament.
Once again, two-out hitting was the key to SFA's success on offense as all of Michener's RBI came with two men down.
Ledet made short work of Houston Baptist through his first six innings of action, giving up just a pair of hits and facing 19 total batters in that span while not letting a single runner move past second base.
With two outs in the third, SFA jumped ahead for good by string together a trio of hits. Ramos and Conner Fikes each punched singles to the outfield to put runners on the corners for Michener. The senior outfielder didn't disappoint, launching a 3-2 offering from HBU starter Christian Thames off the right field wall for a two-run double.
That exact same trio was responsible for SFA's final run of the game in the fifth. Ramos started that inning with a four-pitch walk before Fikes sent his senior teammate to third with a single through the right side.
Fikes' hit gave him 228 for his career, meaning that the senior out of Rowlett, Texas, passed former SFA great Hunter Dozier for the most career hits in the history of SFA baseball. Once Fikes' historic base knock was out of the way, that set the table for Michener send a bloop single to straightaway center field, scoring Ramos and making matters 3-0.
Houston Baptist finally got to Ledet in the top of the seventh and put their only run of the game on the board by beginning the frame with a double off the bat of Brandon Brintz. After getting the next two batters to fly out, Ledet gave up an RBI single to Tyler Depreta-Johnson that trimmed the 'Jacks' lead to 3-1 and caused SFA head coach Johnny Cardenas to summon Will Vest out of the bullpen to finish off the Huskies with a groundout.
Vest pitched around a leadoff double in the HBU eighth, but had to really work out of a jam to lock down the win. Houston Baptist started the ninth with back-to-back singles and after SFA's junior registered an out at third base by fielding a bunt and tossing to Erik DeJesus, Austin Zillweger loaded the bases with a one-out single, but Vest ended the threat for good by getting Blake Thomas to ground into a game-ending double play.
Game Two | Stephen F. Austin 11, Houston Baptist 10
A wild back-and-forth game culminated with SFA punching its ticket to the 2017 Southland Conference Tournament by rallying from two down in the ninth when Alex Hrinevich smacked a walk-off sacrifice fly to left field that scored Fikes and set off a raucous celebration around the bases.
Michener tied the game at 10-10 with a two-run single to left field that scored both Kendrick and Ramos before Josh Evans was intentionally walked to load the bases and set the stage for Hrinevich's postseason-sealing sacrifice fly.
SFA tried five different pitchers before finally settling with sophomore Tyler Starks who earned the win by working the final four frames of the tilt. The Mesquite, Texas, product gave up three runs on three hits and three walks, but did just enough to secure the win.
After the Huskies drew first blood with a first-inning run, the 'Jacks took their first of three leads with an RBI single from Fikes followed by a double from Evans that hit off of HBU starting pitcher Daniel Endsley's foot and caromed into shallow right field.
Houston Baptist jumped back in front by putting up a three-spot in the top of the third. Aided by a dropped fly ball, the Huskies moved ahead 4-2 on a sacrifice fly, an RBI double and an RBI single before Austin Hagy struck out Zane Otten to end the Huskies' third.
In the 'Jacks' third, Michener connected on a 1-1 pitch from Endsley and bounced it off the Texas state flagpole in right field for a three-run homer that pushed SFA back in front 5-4.
SFA's lead did not last long, however, as the Huskies scored four unanswered runs to take an 8-5 lead heading to the bottom of the eighth. Zillweger pushed the Huskies in front with a two-run double in the fourth, Spencer Halloran added a one-out RBI single in the fifth and Jake Pulcheon led off the HBU eighth with a solo homer to left field which necessitated a comeback try from the 'Jacks.
Instead of swinging the bat in the eighth, the 'Jacks made the Houston Baptist pitchers try and hit their spots. They did not do so. Five SFA batters reached on walks including Evans and pinch-hitter Josh Campbell who both drew bases-loaded walks to tie things at eight.
Brintz gave HBU its final lead of the frame in the ninth when his two-run double put the Huskies up 10-8 before Starks ended the inning with a pair of strikeouts.
Ramos collected five hits and drove in a run while Michener finished the second game with two hits and five RBI.