GoBearkats.com / Gene Schallenberg / Huntsville Item With Sam Houston State’s first at-large bid assured in the 2012 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship, the Bearkats now turn their attention to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
The Bearkats are making their seventh NCAA regional appearance, but in 1996, 2007, 2008 and 2009 Sam Houston earned its way into the event with a Southland post-season tournament title.
This year the Kats got in on the basis of one of an outstanding regular season performance that saw SHSU baseball go 38-20, roll up six wins over other teams in the NCAA field and earn their first Southland Conference regular season title since 1989.
“There’s no doubt watching the selection show was nerve-racking,” Sam Houston senior pitcher Justin Jackson said. “It was a great feeling when they called our name. Now our focus is on Arkansas. This team has done a good job of taking things one game at a time.”
Sam Houston drew the No. 3 seed in the Houston Regional, which will be held at Reckling Park on the campus of Rice beginning Friday, and are paired up with No. 2 seed Arkansas. Top-seeded Rice will face No. 4 seed Prairie View A&M in the other matchup.
“There were a lot of emotions. You want to get in and if you don’t, there’s nothing you can do about it. We had done everything we could up to this point,” senior outfielder Jake Arrington said.
All of their work from the recruiting trail to fall ball to the spring had paid off as the young Bearkats had finally gotten back to the NCAA tournament after a two-year absence.
“There were 16 regionals and ours was the 15th pick. For an at-large, we had to sweat it out there, but it was well worth the wait,” head coach David Pierce said. “At this point, we really didn’t care where we went. We’re very excited and pleased to be in the tournament. I want to commend the selection committee on how they handled it. I thought our body of work would get us in and fortunately it did.”
For the past several weeks, Pierce was confident about the Bearkats’ chances of getting an at-large bid if they were to stumble in the Southland tournament and communicated that to his players as well.
Not only was winning a game at Rice and also beating Dallas Baptist, a Super Regional finalist last summer, big for Sam Houston to receive the at-large, but the coach also said that the very first series of the season that the Kats won 2-1 went a long way toward the Kats now preparing for a regional this week.
“This is what we’re working toward in our body of work since the first weekend series against San Diego. You see how important a series like that turns out to be and we realized that at the beginning of the season,” Pierce said. “All of those things benefited us, but in hindsight, the season-opening series against San Diego was very big for this weekend as far as the final decision goes.
“We wanted to put ourselves in a position to have this at-large bid had we not won the (Southland) tournament. I’m very excited for our team and we’re very excited for regional championship week.”
With teams like Rice, which won the Conference USA regular-season title, and Arkansas, which was a top 5 team earlier in the season, in their regional, the Bearkats know that they’re going to have to step their game up even more.
Like the Owls, who call Reckling Park home, the Bearkats have gotten the opportunity to play at Rice which helps for the setting to be a familiar one.
“We’ve played there once before and I think it got us familiar with the field, so I think that will give us an edge over the competition, hopefully,” freshman shortstop Corey Toups said.
The Bearkats know they’ll have their work cut out for them against the Razorbacks, who will throw starting pitcher D.J. Baxendale (7-4 with 3.02 earned run average).
The Sam Houston-Arkansas matchup will kick off the Houston regional on Friday at 1 p.m. with the Rice-Prairie View A&M contest getting under way at 6 p.m.
Tickets now available for Houston Regional
Tickets are currently on sale for the Houston Regional, which will be held at Reckling Park at Rice. Currently, all-session tickets are available for $65 each and can be bought at Riceowls.com or by calling the ticket office at (713) 522-6957.
NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament – Houston Regional
Reckling Park, Houston
Game 1: No. 2 seed Arkansas vs. No. 3 seed Sam Houston, 1 p.m.
Game 2: No. 1 seed Rice vs. No. 4 seed Prairie View A&M, 6 p.m.
Game 3: Elimination game between Game 1 and Game 2 losers, 1 p.m.
Game 4: Winner’s bracket contest between Game 1 and 2 winners, 6 p.m.
Game 5: Elimination game between Game 3 winner and Game 4 loser, 1 p.m.
Game 6: Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 6 p.m.
If game 5 winner defeats game 4 winner, as necessary game scheduled Monday