HUNTSVILLE, Texas – The Texas A&M – Corpus Christi baseball team dropped just its second Southland Conference series opener Thursday, as Sam Houston State scored a total of seven runs in the fourth and fifth innings combined to pick up a 9-2 victory at Don Sanders Stadium.
However, the bats were not the only thing working for the No. 26 Bearkats (38-15, 20-8 SLC), as their starter Tyler Eppler had a strong outing, going eight innings while allowing one run on six hits andfanning five to pick up his eighth win of the season.
The only Islander (30-23, 19-9) to tally a multi-hit game against Eppler was Jordan Lee, who reached base a total of four times with two walks as well. Cody Stephens was also able to run his hitting streak up to 12, going 1-for-5 at the dish.
For SHSU, both Corey Toups and Travis Lee picked up three knocks, as the duo combined for seven runs driven in with three and four, respectively.
After a scoreless first two frames, the Islanders were able to jump out to the early lead in the top of the third. A Zack Gibson single to start the inning, followed by a Lee double to right with one away put runners at the corners for Brandon Tierney who flied out to right, allowing both runners to tag up to bring in Gibson to make it a 1-0 game.
The Bearkats had a strong start to the bottom half of the inning, as Lee singled up the middle to start the frame, but Josh Garza came up with a slick 6-3 double play up the middle to erase Lee, before Islander starter Matt Danton got the third out to maintain the 1-0 lead for the Islanders.
After a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the fourth for Eppler, SHSU was able to get its leadoff man aboard once again, as Anthony Azar singled to left. However, Danton looked like he would escape once again after recording consecutive fly outs.
But on a 2-0 count, Danton left one in Toups' sweet spot and he was able to get all of it for his seventh home run of the season, putting the Bearkats up 2-1. Danton continued to have troubles getting the final out, as two walks, a wild pitch and a single by Lee sent the game into the fifth with SHSU up 4-1.
The hits kept coming for the Bearkats the next inning. Following a grounder to start the inning, SHSU came up with four consecutive singles to plate two more runs and chase Danton from the game. Kaleb Keith came on with runners at second and third, throwing a wild pitch on his first toss of the game to plate the third run of the fifth before getting the final two outs. But the damage was done, as the Bearkats were able to make it a six-run deficit for the Islanders.
Eppler continued to cruise on the mound, allowing just two more hits in his final three innings, while his offense added two more runs in the eighth off another two-run single by Lee to make it a 9-1 game heading into the final frame.
Eppler's replacement had a tough go of it, as Seth Holbert came on and surrendered three walks to go along with an error to start the ninth to make it a 9-2 game. However, Nolan Riggs came on and closed the door on the Islanders, as he did not allow another run to cross the plate despite coming into the game with no outs and the bases loaded.
Game two will now be crucial for the Islanders in terms of keeping their hopes of a Southland regular season title alive, as they will have to win the next two games to be able to achieve a conference championship.
The important game two of the series on Friday at 6:30 p.m. will match southpaw Trevor Belicek (4-5, 3.81) against the Bearkats' Jason Simms (5-2, 2.55). Belicek is coming off his best outing of the season, throwing nine shutout innings, while striking out a career-high 12 batters against Lamar. He allowed just two singles and two walks, not allowing any runner to get past first, tallying five 1-2-3 innings en route to being named the Southland Conference Pitcher of the Week, as well as an NCAA Top Performer. The right-handed Simms owns the eighth-lowest ERA in the conference to go along with the fifth-lowest batting average against at .236.
Fans can follow along with the game by listening to audio provided for free on GoIslanders.com, while live stats and video can be found at GoBearkats.com.
As always, fans can also keep up with the team on various social media outlets by following the team on Twitter and Instagram (@IslandersBSB), as well as on Facebook (IslandersBaseball).