The Sam Houston State Bearkat softball team is coming down the final stretch in Southland Conference play. With just six games remaining in the regular season, the Bearkats are on track to be the fourth seed in the conference tournament.
After a slow start in non-conference play, SHSU has hit its stride. The team has seen some outstanding pitching and are positioning themselves well for a potential run at the conference title.
“The team has gone and progressed into a pretty good team,” head coach Bob Brock said. “As young as we were earlier in the year we weren’t sure about the freshman because it’s a big step, but we’ve been playing with pretty much five freshmen… but they’ve progressed and I think that a bid in the conference is attainable.”
The McNeese State Cowgirls sit atop the conference standings with an 18-3 conference record and are on the cusp of clinching the number one seed in the SLC tournament. Abilene Christian University, who the Kats defeated two games to one over the weekend, sit in second with a 16-5 record in conference. However, ACU is ineligible to play in the conference tournament this season due to the rules of jumping from Division II to Division I. Due to ACU’s ineligibility, the Nicholls State Colonels, who hold a 14-7 SLC record, is the tournament’s second seed as of right now.
Rounding out the top four is the Lamar Cardinals at 13-8 and the Bearkats at 11-10. The Stephen F. Austin Ladyjacks sit in fifth with a 9-9 SLC record, but are just a game and half up in the standings on eighth-seeded Southeastern Louisiana. Northwestern State and the University of Central Arkansas sit at the six and seven seeds, both with a 10-11 conference record.
The Bearkats came into this season with a young squad, knowing they would have to play several freshmen, and that the offense may struggle at times. What has carried the Kats this season has been their play in the circle. The Bearkats two main pitchers, senior Tayler Atkinson and sophomore Lindsey McLeod are top 10 in the conference in earned run average. Atkinson sits at seventh in the conference with an ERA of 2.56, and McLeod is 10 with a 2.74 ERA. The Bearkats have allowed the fourth fewest runs in the SLC and that is a big reason why their conference record sits above .500.
“They are capable of it,” Brock said. “Everybody is getting the chance to see how well they can do. They have been working really hard, so we are pretty excited about that.”
The Bearkats have also been great in the field, ranking fourth in the conference in fielding percentage and have the third fewest errors in the Southland. Freshman shortstop Tiffany Thompson is a big key to the Bearkats defense, as the team did not have a shortstop coming into the season. Brock said Thompson has filled the role quite nicely for the team.
“Tiffany Thompson coming in here and playing shortstop has been really strong,” Brock said.
For a team that has struggled to hit at times, the Bearkats have had to perform well both on the circle and in the field. SHSU has excelled at those two phases of the game and it has helped them reel in some close games throughout the season.
SHSU will now finish out the regular season with six games on the road. The Bearkats travel to Hammond, LA this weekend to take on SLU in a three game set before traveling to Houston on May 5 to take on the Houston Baptist Huskies in the final series of the regular season.