TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Sam Houston State baseball team this weekend will play on what is almost unquestionably the biggest stage in program history, and any doubts about that can be laid to rest with this line from the school’s official game notes: “The 740-mile trek to Tallahassee is the farthest trip – and first plane trip – in the history of Sam Houston baseball.”
Well, not quite. After some research, Sam Houston State revised the note, saying that the team has not been on a plane trip since 1979, when it was an NAIA program. In comparison, the Seminoles made five flights in 2017 alone.
Then there’s the small matter of what’s at stake: A best-of-three Super Regional series with Florida State. The winner, of course, goes to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. Game 1 is set for noon Saturday at Dick Howser Stadium.
However any notion that Sam Houston State would be starry-eyed upon its arrival in Tallahassee went out the window just a few minutes into coach Matt Deggs’ press conference on Friday afternoon.
“This is a team, so you know, that is not just happy to be here,” Deggs said. “This is not a cherry on top of our season. This is not gravy.”
Given that they advanced out of an NCAA regional that included No. 5 national seed Texas Tech, as well as traditional baseball power Arizona, perhaps the Bearkats are right to feel confident about their chances this weekend.
Then again, they’re likely to find a group of Seminoles who are as red-hot as they are focused.
The former is evidenced by their 10-1 record in their last 11 games, as well as their four-wins-in-three-days run to win the NCAA Tallahassee Regional.
And the latter has come on the other side of a challenging regular season that saw the Seminoles scrape their knees a number of times before finding their footing in May.
That includes, as head coach Mike Martin noted, a few missteps against a handful of mid-major teams.
The lessons learned might have been painful at the time, but they’ve also helped to ensure that the Seminoles won’t be taking anybody lightly — not even a team that finished third in the Southland Conference standings.
The Bearkats (44-21) caught fire at the end of the season, earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by winning their conference tournament, then shocked the college baseball world by taking two from Texas Tech in Lubbock.
If that sounds familiar, it should. While the Seminoles’ triumph in the Tallahassee Regional would not be considered a shock, the odds were hardly in their favor after dropping the first game.
Otherwise, FSU (43-21) followed a comparable trajectory to this point – right down to its victory in the ACC tournament.
“It’s kind of similar to what we’ve been facing all year,” sophomore catcher Cal Raleigh said.
So there will be two cruising and confident teams at Dick Howser Stadium this weekend, and each has the other’s full attention.
“There’s 16 college baseball teams left,” FSU senior Quincy Nieporte said. “Those 16 are there for a reason. That speaks for itself and it’s impressive alone. No matter the school, the size of the school, the history or tradition of it, who they beat. They’re playing us for a reason and we’re still here for a reason.
“It’s going to be an absolute battle and it’s going to be a blast.”
And also a bunt.
Sam Houston State uses an unorthodox offensive approach that sees hitters lay down bunts in virtually any situation.
The Bearkats rank fourth nationally in total sacrifice bunts, but they also aren’t afraid to bunt with two strikes or two outs. Or both.
Which means FSU’s infielders – and its pitchers – will have to be prepared to field those bunts after every single pitch.
“They’re a very aggressive team,” Martin said. “One that, if you’re not on your toes, they will literally embarrass you.”
But it’s also strategy that might play into FSU’s favor if the Seminoles can stay sharp on defense.
“If they bunt,” Raleigh said, “we’ll field it, we’ll throw it to first base and we’ll get them out.”