Sam Houston Comes Roaring Into the Lafayette Regional
Were you surprised? No. You probably weren't.
If you're a Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns fan, you shouldn't be shocked that former UL Assistant Matt Deggs has Sam Houston State in the NCAA Tournament in just his second season as head coach.
But if you saw them in the opening weekend of the season, you may have had your questions...with good reason.
The Cajuns swept the series, outscoring the Bearkats 21-6 in the three contests. But Deggs had 26 new players. And, it takes a while for things to come together. After starting the season 6-12, SHSU has gone 35-8, roared down the stretch to win the regular season Southland title and, pushed to the "if necessary" game in their bracket, took the title in the tournament as well.
Much of the lineup has changed. The entire weekend rotation isn't the same. But it's all come together at the right time.
Heath Donica (10-3, 3.23) is one of the Louisville Slugger's National Players of the Week after throwing 16 innings in the Southland Tournament, defeating Stephen F. Austin twice. He allowed just seven hits and four runs, with 18 strikeouts in those two starts. Freshman Riley Gossett (7-0, 2.57) had a win in the tournament, then came on in relief to save the title game. Dakota Mills (2-2, 3.44) stepped into the third starter role after Sam Odom was ruled ineligible toward the end of the season. All he did was beat Texas A&M.
All three pitched in relief against Louisiana, allowing nine earned runs in 6.2 innings. Needless to say, they've gotten better. Greg Belton (5-1, 13 saves, 3.29) is the best in an effective bullpen.
Offensively, the philosophy is a lot like it was when Deggs was in Lafayette. Bryce Johnson (.347-2-29) makes them go out of the leadoff spot. He's stolen 20 bases on the season on an aggressive team that has swiped 78. Andrew Fregia and Zach Smith have combined to hit 15 home runs on a team that has just 29. But the Bearkats have good gap power with 109 doubles and 19 triples. If you want to be critical, Sam doesn't walk enough (153) and strike out a little too much (406). But they find a way to score runs.
The pitching staff, which had a 2.95 ERA in league play, is what has made the Bearkats such an improved team. They were 14-3, 2.30 in the month of May. That pitching staff will get a test in this regional. But Deggs will keep the pressure on offensively.
It'll be all business once the games start. But Cajun fans are looking forward to welcoming Deggs and Associate Head Coach Lance Harvell back to "Tigue" Moore Field.