Kats hoist inaugural Don Sanders Cup after 12-2 thrashing of No. 12 Cougars

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The Sam Houston State Bearkats (27-14) took on the No. 12 Houston Cougars (27-13) Tuesday evening in game two of the Don Sanders Cup at Schroeder Park in Houston. After winning last Tuesday’s game against UH 5-4 in Sugarland, the Kats put on a performance to remember in Houston, stomping the Cougars by a final score of 12-2 and clinching the inaugural Don Sanders Cup.

SHSU sent freshman starting left-handed pitcher Kyle Backhus to the mound, and he found himself in some trouble early. After retiring the first batter, Backhus had runners on first and second with one out and runners on first and third with two outs.  Backhus was able to work himself out of a jam by striking out Cougar third basemen Jared Triolo to end the top of the first inning.

In the top of the second, the Bearkats were able to give Backhus some run support. After loading the bases freshman infielder Cross Austin hit a sacrifice fly to center field, giving the Bearkats a 1-0 lead. Senior shortstop Taylor Beene then hit a line drive single to right field, bringing home another run to extend SHSU’s lead to 2-0. Senior centerfielder Bryce Johnson hit a single to right field to make the score 3-0 in the Bearkats’ favor.

“Coming out here we were just saying relax, and focus on getting better,” Beene said. “We just focused on low and hard, and driving the ball through the gaps, and focus on getting better.”

Backhus backed his offense’s strong second inning with two strong innings of his own, allowing just two baserunners in the next two innings, allowing zero hits. With Backhus’ strong performance on the mound, the offense added more run support in the fourth inning. After getting runners on second and third with one out, a passed ball allowed sophomore first basemen Hunter Hearn to score, making it 4-0. Beene then laid down a sacrifice bunt to score sophomore outfielder Josh Biles, extending the score to 5-0. Backus worked through the fourth inning and into the fifth, before a hit batsmen and a walk signaled the end of his day.

“I was just trying to get in there and fill up the zone,” Backhus said. “I had a few walks; five, six whatever it was, but my motto is so what. That’s what coach Deggs tells me all the time.”

Junior right-hander Mark Hammel replaced Backhus on the mound and inherited runners on first and second. Hammel was able to get junior catcher Connor Wong to ground into a double play, and followed it up with getting second baseman Connor Hollis to ground out to second.

The Bearkats added another run in the top of the sixth on a RBI groundout by Beene, making the score 6-0.

Hammel was replaced after the fifth inning by freshman left hander Dominic Robinson. After retiring the first batter, Robinson allowed the Bearkats first run on a solo home run to junior shortstop Jake Schiener, his 13 home run of the season.  After a walk to the next batter, sophomore right-hander Collin Cameron relieved Robinson.

Cameron struck out the next batter, and followed that up with a groundout to end the inning with the Bearkats leading 6-1. The Bearkats added another run in the top of the seventh on an RBI groundout by sophomore third baseman Andrew Fregia, making the score 7-1.  With two outs in the seventh senior catcher Robbie Rojas got a rally started with a single, followed by an infield single by Hearn, and then sophomore outfielder Clayton Harp lined a triple into left center field to bring home two runs bringing the score to 9-1.

Cameron stayed on to work the eighth inning, and held the Cougars scoreless once again. The Cougars could not hold the Bearkats scoreless in the eighth however; the Bearkats led off the inning with back-to-back triples from Beene and Johnson, scoring one run, and sophomore outfielder Riley McKnight followed it up with a two run home run to left field.

The rout was on, as the Bearkats went up 12-1. Cameron stayed on to work the final two innings for the Bearkats; and he made quick work of the Cougar lineup, allowing one run on a solo homerun, but just two baserunners to close out a 12-2 Bearkats win.

“That was a really complete game,” Deggs said. “It all started on the mound with Kyle Backhus. He set a great tone, allowed us to be able to score; we were able to rack up five runs in that time.”

The win is Deggs’ 100-career victory, and it could not be much sweeter, as the win secured the Sanders Cup for the Bearkats.

“I guess that’s a pretty special night,” Deggs said. “There’s not a better man than Don Sanders, he’s given so much. That family has given so much to both universities, and he means a lot to Sam Houston State and (University of Houston).

Up next, the Bearkats will face the top team in the Southland standings, the McNeese State Cowboys. The three game series will start Friday in Huntsville, first pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. at Don Sanders Stadium.