The Sam Houston State Bearkats this weekend were like the Terminator. A ruthless, relentless killing machine that could not be stopped. A baseball team that attacked the base paths, slugged the ball continuously, and excelled with the glove. The Bearkats demolished highly-ranked TCU 9-3 on Friday afternoon, destroyed Texas Tech 10-6 on Saturday.
It was only until Sam Houston met its Sarah Connor, the Texas Longhorns which pulled off the late-inning comeback to defeat the Bearkats 3-2 and take the trophy as the best team of the Houston College Classic. And while the Horns did put on a pitching clinic over the weekend, the true story, the feel good story of the weekend, is Sam Houston State. The little school tucked away in Huntsville that proved it can play with the big boys.
"That's why we want to play in these tournaments because that's what we're trying to create, a culture that we feel like we can play with anybody in the country," David Pierce, Sam Houston's head coach said Saturday. "That's our intent. We've got kids who buy into what we talk about and what we do. They work hard, and they're good baseball players. The bottom line is they're good baseball players and they deserve to be in this."
The Bearkats have made the NCAA postseason in five of the past seven years and dominate the Southland Conference. But when it was announced that Sam Houston State would be playing in this college classic, alongside Houston, Rice, TCU, Texas, and Texas Tech, many people wondered why Sam Houston should be mentioned in the same breath as the others.
Then came this weekend.
The star of the weekend, the guy putting the team on the map for the unbelieving was left-fielder Luke Plucheck. Plucheck didn't get as many hits as some teammates. He didn't get on base as much. He just made spectacular catch after spectacular catch in left field, two of his catches ending up among the plays of the day on ESPN's Sports Center on Friday and Saturday night.
"I'm just a big giant kid out here having fun," he said Saturday afternoon not long after having launched himself into the air to rob Texas Tech's Hunter Redman of extra bases.
But the whole Sam Houston State squad appeared to be having fun. The roster's packed with kids from the Houston area, kids who, as Plucheck said, were raised on the Astros and bleed Astros colors. And they relished their chance to play in Minute Maid Park, punishing the big boys and proving to everybody that their team is as good as anybody in the state of Texas.
The Houston College Classic, Plucheck said, "is just the epitome of our success the last two years, being able to get an invitation to play here against these quality opponents that have track records. I'm really proud of the guys. I'm really happy to be here. "
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The hitting stars for Sam Houston State were first baseman Ryan O'Hearn who was only three-for-13 for the tourney but with a triple, a monster homer, three runs, and four RBI. Right fielder Hayden Simerly was four-for-12 with a triple, a homer, two runs, and two RBI, and third baseman Carter Burgess who was six-for-11 with a run and a RBI.
"Our kids really feel like they belong in this tournament with these types of teams," Pierce said. "That's what they're doing. They're coming out here and doing what they've been doing, and we've just had some success in this tournament so far."
The relentless Bearkat machine finally found a pitching staff to shut them down, though UT did struggle to get a 3-2 lead, going through three pitchers and constantly dealing with Bearkat base runners. And it might have been the aggressive, relentless nature of the Bearkats that doomed the team more than UT's pitching, as Sam Houston State had one runner tossed out at the plate and another nailed at third base, giving Texas gift-wrapped outs.
The Texas Longhorns went 3-0 for the tournament, winning pitching heavy-contests each night, barely plating enough runs for the win. But if this weekend's any indication, the future of Texas baseball might be relocating from Austin and Houston to the Piney Woods town of Huntsville. There's a reason the Bearkats have made the NCAA postseason so many times this past decade. It's a damn good baseball team that's fun to watch. Luke Plucheck might not make the Sports Center highlights every night for the rest of the season, but it won't be due to a lack of effort.