The Sam Houston State University baseball program will open a historic season on Friday against Nevada University.
For the first time in Bearkat baseball history, the team will enter the 2017 season ranked among the top-25 collegiate baseball teams in the nation, with SHSU coming in at No. 23, according to “Collegiate Baseball” newspaper.
With SHSU being a mid-major team, head coach Matt Deggs said earning a spot in the top-25 is difficult to accomplish they are competing against teams in the Power Five conferences.
“For a publication to think that much of you heading into the season means there are a lot of people out there who think you’re pretty good,” Deggs said. “That target on our back just got a lot bigger, but it’s nothing but a positive for Sam Houston State.”
Along with their national ranking, the Bearkats enter the season as the favored team to win the 2017 Southland Conference Tournament. The team captured both the SLC regular season championship and tournament title in the same season last year for the first time in program history.
“We want to get to Omaha this season,” senior pitcher Heath Donica said. “Before we do that, we have to prove every game that we are capable.”
Adding to their pre-season praise, five members of the team were named SLC pre-season honorees, matching Lamar and Southeastern Louisiana for the most in the conference. Junior outfielder Bryce Johnson and Donica were named as first-team honorees, while sophomore third baseman Andrew Fregia, senior catcher Robie Rojas and sophomore pitcher Riley Gossett were named as second-team honorees.
“Getting that type of recognition is great,” Donica said. “But I really want to prove that recognition because the pre-season stuff does not matter as much as what you do on the field during the season.”
The team welcomes 22 returning players, four of who finished last season ranked in five of the top-20 statistical categories. Rojas led the nation in runners caught stealing with 30, while Donica was ranked 18 in victories on the mound with 10 wins and 20 in completed games with four.
On offense, Fregia finished at No. 11 with seven triples and Johnson took 20 in base hits with 90.
12 new players will be joining the Bearkats on the field this season. Deggs said the majority of the new faces are pitchers that are helping fill vacant positions.
“We lost a lot of those guys [pitchers] last year and we needed to continue to upgrade that spot,” Deggs said. “I have been very impressed with these new guys, but you are going to see a bunch of new faces on the mound ready to go this weekend.”
With opening day quickly approaching, Donica said overcoming the pre-season jitters will be Friday’s biggest obstacle.
“We’re so amped up and ready to get the season started,” Donica said. “It’s hard to take a step back and realize it’s just the first game of the season, so we’ll tone that emotion down a bit and play the game.”
The Bearkats will play a total of 34 home games this season at Don Sanders Stadium, the most home games for the program since 2009. In fact, 23 of SHSU’s first 25 games will be played in Huntsville.
SHSU will open the season Friday with a weekend series against the Nevada University Wolf Pack at Don Sanders Stadium. The first game will take place on Friday at 6:30 p.m., followed by Saturday’s game at 3 p.m. The Bearkats will close the series on Sunday at 1 p.m.