Sam Houston State baseball looks ahead after season to remember

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T he long list of accomplishments and accolades is awe-inspiring.

Sam Houston State racked up 44 wins, the most since its first Division I season in 1987, claimed back-to-back Southland Conference tournament championships and made its first Super Regional appearance.

That’s only for starters.

But coach Matt Deggs, who’s taking the program to new heights, is more impressed by intangible than awards.

“I put the onus on responding and bouncing back,” Deggs said. “We got swept twice this year and responded each time and bounced back.

“That speaks to the fortitude and toughness of this team.

“The awards are nice, the adulation is great. We appreciate all of it. It isn’t lost on us. But really and truly, at the end of the day, it’s about the team, and it’s about winning ballgames and having fun.”

Opting to celebrate

The first couple days after a season ends aren’t as fun, unless it ends with a national championship.

But Deggs did his best to smile through all the exit meetings.

“Usually it’s a very sad time, but we’ve determined not to make it that way,” he said.

“The last couple of days have been a celebration of the relationships and love this team shared. We’re not going to get down about it. It’s not goodbye. This is the beginning for the seniors and the guys who (were) drafted … and it’s just the beginning of our new journey with the guys who are returning.”

This year’s journey included a program-best six midweek wins, including wins over Baylor, Houston and Texas A&M, a 13-game conference winning streak, a perfect Southland tournament trip, the program’s fifth regional berth in six years, and wins over Arizona and Texas Tech to reach Tallahassee.

The Bearkats were up 6-1 on Florida State in the Super Regional opener before the Seminoles rallied to win 7-6.

“We were seven outs and one game away from going to Omaha, and … that’s going to keep us chasing this thing,” Deggs said. “We had two outs in the seventh with a three-run lead in the first game, and I truly believed whoever won that first game was going to win it because it was so emotional.”

That contest featured a rare 5-4-3 triple play in the third.

“The last triple play I saw like that, a true triple play, was Ken Caminiti back in the late 80s/early 90s,” Deggs said. “He had a hard ball hit to him with the Astros, and he stepped on third, threw to second, threw to first.

“There’s a lot of emotion that goes into that, because as soon as it happens, what does everybody assume? ‘This is meant to be. We’re going to win this.’ And so to get walked off in the ninth (was emotional).”

History made

The Bearkats were left with a hangover in a rain-delayed second game, contributing to their season-ending, 19-0 loss.

“If we play at noon, like we were scheduled to play, I don’t think the hangover affects us as bad, but when you have eight hours of up and down, up and down, it can wear on you,” Deggs said.

“But we make no excuses. They won it fair and square.”

Despite the rough ending, the barrier is broken – for Sam Houston and the rest of the conference.

“Once you do it, I truly believe you’ve paved the way,” Deggs said. “Maybe it’ll be us, maybe it’ll be another Southland Conference team, but somebody’s going to bust through and get there.”

Sam Houston finished the year 44-23 overall, 19-11 in conference. The program record for wins is 45, a mark that was set in 1986, the year before it began Division I play.

Losing leadership

Junior Bryce Johnson likely is moving on.

The Giants selected the first-team all-conference outfielder Tuesday in the sixth round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Sam Houston also is losing pitcher Heath Donica, a third-team All-American and all-conference pitcher of the year, first-team shortstop Taylor Beene, first-team catcher Robie Rojas and second baseman Lance Miles.

“They’re the best group I’ve ever had,” Deggs said. “The talent is one thing, but the void we’re going to have to fill is leadership.”

The program returns five position players who started the super regional opener, including sophomores Andrew Fregia, Clayton Harp – both third team all-conference – Riley McKnight and Hunter Hearn, and junior Blake Chisolm, along with sophomore Jaxxon Grisham and junior Hunter Southerland.

It also return most of its pitching staff, including freshman of the year Hayden Wesneski, freshman Kyle Backhus, sophomores Seth Ballew and Jordan Cannon and juniors Dakota Mills and Riley Cooper.

Potential impact newcomers include Buffalo transfer Ben Haefner, Texas Tech transfer Trey Ochoa, a switch-hitting infielder, Klein Collins’ Jack Rogers and Houston Christian’s Vince Ippoliti.

“I truly believe, because of these kids’ incredible effort, we were actually a year ahead of schedule,” Deggs said. “This ’18 team is the team we’ve been waiting on since Day 1, so we’re super excited.”