Bearkat baseball begins Friday, SHSU seeks fourth SLC title

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Sam Houston State baseball hosts Wichita State in a three-game series this weekend at Don Sanders Stadium to start the 2015 season.

Brynn Castro | The Houstonian
Brynn Castro | The Houstonian

SHSU won three straight Southland Conference championships, and the goal for 2015 is to make it four straight and to make it to Omaha, Nebraska.

It all begins with the first series of the season. The Kats look to continue their dominance in Division I baseball as they have made it to the NCAA regionals in six of the last eight seasons.

Despite both the Shockers and Bearkats having great success in their respective conferences and in the NCAA Tournament for the past few seasons, both teams have relatively new head coaches leading their teams. Friday’s game will be the first SHSU game for Bearkat head coach Matt Deggs, who is entering after being the hitting coach at Louisiana-Lafayette. Shockers head coach Todd Butler begins his second season with the team after finishing fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference and missing the playoffs last season.

Deggs was hired as the head coach following former head coach David Pierce’s decision to take the same position at Tulane. Deggs was the batting coach at Texas A&M and Arkansas before ULL. Deggs also took control of the Rajun-Cajun’s team personnel, recruiting as well as being the third base coach. Deggs is known to play with a strong and aggressive offense as the Rajun-Cajuns finished in the top 10 of 14 offensive categories in their 2014 season, a season in which they were one game away from making the College World Series.

Although a new head coach might mean trouble for some teams, Deggs believes the Kats’ leadership has helped the team in the transition.

“[The players] have jumped in since day one and bought into everything that we have done,” Deggs said. “We’ve got great leadership from the top to the bottom.”

WHO’S IN, WHO’S OUT

SHSU lost key players to the MLB draft. Five Bearkats were drafted into the MLB last season and four other Bearkats were lost following graduation: right handed pitcher Tyler Eppler (Pittsburgh Pirates), infield and outfield player Ryan O’Hearn (Kansas City Royals), infielder Corey Toups (Kansas City Royals), infielder Carter Burgess (Tampa Bay Rays) and outfielder Colt Atwood (Oakland Athletics). Atwood decided to stay at SHSU for his senior season to help lead the Kats in the 2015 season.

Atwood joins nine seniors and 14 juniors as the returning Kats on roster. Atwood was selected to the Preseason All-Southland first team alongside teammate outfielder Hayden Simerly. Pitcher Sam Odom was named to the Preseason All-Southland second team following his stellar freshman season in which he finished 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA.

“There are obviously a lot of new guys and old guys that need to step up to replace what we have lost in the draft, but they are up for the challenge and we trust 100 percent,” Atwood said.

With the Kats bringing 20 players back and adding 15 newcomers, Deggs believes leadership is the biggest difference from the 2014 team than in 2015.

“There is a core group of older guys that are now getting their opportunity to play, and they are taking advantage of it,” Deggs said.

Although the Kats have been consistent in getting to the NCAA Regionals, they fall short in reaching the College World Series. SHSU looks to make it to the CWS for the first time since 1975 when it was in the NAIA.

Deggs knows if the Kats can stay healthy, they have a good shot at Omaha.

“We are not incredibly deep, but we do have some guys that work and play extremely hard,” Deggs said. “We have to pitch it, play defense, execute at the dish, use our speed to take extra bases and then clutch up and get big two out hits.”

The Kats host the Shockers in a three-game series on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Don Sanders Stadium.

“We are going to have to play mistake-free baseball,” Deggs said.

Friday’s first pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. with senior left handed pitcher Andrew Godail getting the nod for the season opener. Odom takes the mound on Saturday for the Kats at 3 p.m.

“We need to stay together and take it one game at a time and just have fun doing it,” Atwood said. “The team that’s having the most fun is the team that is winning.”

In the three-game series finale, junior left handed pitcher Logan Boyd gets the starts in hopes of winning the Kats first series of the 2015 season at 1 p.m.