GoBearkats.com Predicted to finish 5th in the annual Southland Conference preseason head coaches’ poll, Sam Houston State stands in first place as the Bearkats prepare reach the halfway point of the 2012 baseball campaign.
Not only are the Kats in first place, the young SHSU squad holds a four-game lead over second place Northwestern State and stands five games ahead of the four teams
What has gotten the Sam Houston baseball team to this point is “The Streak,” a series of 12 consecutive victories unequaled in the program’s 25 years in the Southland Conference.
Prior to this spring, Sam Houston longest winning streaks since moving up to the NCAA Division I level in 1986 were an 11-game streak in 2011 and a 10-game string in 2009. The Bearkats had put together consecutive Southland Conference series sweeps only three times in 24 years.
Then, three weeks ago, preseason Southland favorite and No. 23 ranked Texas State visited Don Sanders Stadium. The Bearkats swept the Bobcats, then won midweek games over Dallas Baptist and Texas Southern. The next week, SHSU won three straight on the road at UTSA, then knocked off No. 9 Rice in Houston. Last Thursday through Sunday, the Kats ran the streak to 12 with a sweep of Northwestern State.
During the 12 game string, Sam Houston has out hit its opponents .335 to .211, outscored foes 94-38 and compiled a 2.63 team earned run average.
The performance has propelled the team into the national rankings. Sam Houston stands No. 20 Collegiate Baseball, No. 24 in Baseball America and No. 29 in the Collegiate Baseball Writers Association polls.
“We really are excited about how the kids are playing and the team chemistry,” first year Bearkat head coach Pierce said. “A lot of good things are happening for them right now. We realize it’s early, and there’s a lot of season left. We just want to try to get a little better every day and be consistent.”
Sam Houston travels to Lamar for a road series in Beaumont this weekend. SHSU’s remaining series in Southland action pit the Kats against McNeese State, A&M-Corpus Christi, UT-Arlington, Southeastern Louisiana and Central Arkansas.
Two-time Southland Conference “Hitter of the Week” Anthony Azar has hit .480 during the streak with six doubles, one triple and two home runs.
In addition to having a strong offense, the Bearkats have gotten a lot of mileage out of their weekend starters. Sophomores Cody Dickson (3-2, 2.36 ERA) and Caleb Smith (4-2, 2.52) and senior Justin Jackson (6-2, 3.22) have been rock-solid performers. Jackson provided the punctuation for the series finale against Northwestern State, allowing three runs over seven innings while striking out eight batters.
The 12-game streak is the fifth longest winning streak in school history. The 1974 team holds the record with 19 consecutive victories. The 1974 team also had a 17-game streak. The Bearkats won 15 in a row in 1972 and 14 consecutive games in 1980.
With its latest run, Sam Houston State has climbed to No. 27 in the NCAA Ratings Percentage Index. Considering that the No. 1 seed has emerged as the victor only once in the 19-year history of the Southland Conference post-season baseball tournament, that’s good news for the Bearkats.
“Some of that’s out of control with the way RPI works, but we’re trying to position ourselves to not come down to having to depend solely on the conference tournament,” Pierce said. “We’re trying to do everything we can to at least have an opportunity for (an at-large bid).”
Sam Houston has represented the Southland Conference in the NCAA Baseball Championships in 1989, 1997, 2007, 2008 and 2009.