SUGAR LAND, Texas (Press Release) - Playing in the opening game of the Southland Conference Tournament, the sixth-seeded Stephen F. Austin baseball team had no answer for the offensive firepower of third-seeded Sam Houston State as the ‘Jacks fell to the Bearkats 13-1 in seven innings Wednesday morning at Constellation Field.
Making their second-straight appearance in the Southland Conference Tournament, the ‘Jacks fell into a hole almost immediately as starting pitcher Tony Grabowske was tagged for six runs on five hits in just two-thirds of an inning. On offense, all SFA could muster off of 2017 Southland Conference Pitcher of the Year and Sam Houston State ace Heath Donica were singles from Tyler Kendrick, Nick Ramos and Zac Michener.
The earliest chance the ‘Jacks had to get some runs off of Donica came in the first when Kendrick started the game with a single to left field. Ramos followed up with a four-pitch walk to put a pair of runners on but Conner Fikes’ sacrifice bunt attempt wound up in the hands of Donica who tossed to third for the force out. Michener lined out to second and 2017 Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year Josh Evans grounded out to third base to end SFA’s threat.
Sam Houston State got the better of Grabowske right out of the gates as the Bearkats chased SFA’s starter out of the game in the first with a pair of home runs and an RBI double. Robie Rojas launched a three-run homer to left-center, Hunter Hearn added his RBI two-bagger and Jaxxon Grisham finished off the Bearkats’ six-run first inning with a two-run shot that signaled the end of Grabowske’s day.
Austin Hearn came on to record the final out of the first, but ran into more trouble in the second. A dropped fly ball in foul ground by first baseman Alex Hrinevich extended the Bearkats’ chances in the second and the designated home team made the ‘Jacks pay by striking for three more runs on three RBI singles to push their lead to 9-0.
Senior Ryan Thomas tried to quiet Sam Houston State’s bats in the third only to see the Bearkats tack on their final four runs on a trio of hits.
Eric DeJesus broke up the Bearkats’ shutout bid in the top of the fourth by drawing a bases-loaded walk that scored Michener who got drilled by an offering from Donica to start the frame. By the time Cole Ridgely was able to shut down the Bearkats’ bats by delivering a pair of scoreless frames in the fourth and fifth SFA’s deficit proved to be too much to come back from.
Eight of the Bearkats’ 14 hits came off the bats of Rojas and Bryce Johnson who racked up four hits apiece. Rojas drove in five runs and scored two of his own while Johnson touched home plate three times and finished with one RBI.
Donica tossed all seven frames, struck out nine batters and let up only a trio of hits to improve to 9-1 on the year. SFA had its chances, however, as Donica issued five walks during his complete-game effort.
Facing elimination from the postseason, the ‘Jacks return to Constellation Field Thursday morning to do battle with either Southeastern Louisiana or New Orleans in the fifth game of the Southland Conference Tournament. First pitch is scheduled for 9:00 a.m.
Postgame Quotes | SFA head coach Johnny Cardenas
On the game | “That’s just an old-fashioned butt-whooping, that’s all there is to that. Tournament play is a different animal, though. You can’t get too high on a win and you can’t get too low on a loss. You just have to keep plugging away and hope you get on a little bit of a run and see if the ball bounces your way. We understand we got our butts whooped and now we get on the bus, get back to the hotel and regroup for tomorrow morning's game.”
On Heath Donica/SHSU defense | "For the most part our hitters did a good just laying off of balls that were out of the zone. We hit some balls hard but they made the defensive plays they needed to when they needed to make them."
On SFA’s relief pitching effort | "Cole Ridgely did a great job coming out of the bullpen and giving up a couple innings we needed just in order to stem the tide of their powerful offense. He did a good job of pitching in the bottom half of the zone and letting our defense work."