That’s what separates Florida State from its 22nd trip to the College World Series in Omaha. Sam Houston State stands in the way of the Seminoles (43-21) and Omaha this weekend at Dick Howser Stadium. The Bearkats (44-21) head to Tallahassee as champions of the Southland Conference and winners of the Lubbock Regional hosted by No. 5 national seed Texas Tech. Last weekend in Lubbock, SHSU worked through the loser’s bracket,
coming back to win games against Arizona and Texas Tech, twice. An unlikely run has placed the Bearkats just a couple wins away from doing the unthinkable and reaching the school’s first ever College World Series.
“This is an opportunity that’s not about us, it’s much bigger than us,” Sam Houston State coach Matt Deggs said in the opening press conference on Friday. “It’s about hope, love and unity. We’re trying to bring a community together.”
Interestingly, this is the first appearance in a Super Regional for the Bearkats in school history. The plane ride to Tallahassee was the programs first since joining the Division I ranks, and the 740-mile journey is the furthest the team has ever traveled for a game.
It’s a new stage for Sam Houston State, but it’s far from their first rodeo in the NCAA Tournament. The Bearkats are perennially the best team in the Southland Conference, making their fifth appearance in the last six years and eighth out of the last 11 years.
“We’re not just happy to be here, this isn’t a cherry on top of our season, it’s not gravy,” Deggs said. “This is a part of a vision we’ve had since day one.”
The visitors from Texas play a unique brand of baseball under Deggs, focusing on small ball and speed on the base paths to wreak havoc on opposing teams.
The Bearkats rank No. 4 in the NCAA with 64 sacrifice bunts this season and No. 10 in stolen bases with 102. Centerfielder Bryce Johnson’s 33 steals rank fourth in the NCAA and it’s common to see SHSU bunt for base hits and place pressure on a defense in the field and on the base paths.
In 2017, the Bearkats boast wins over numerous “big-name” schools. They have 14 wins against the RPI Top 50, including those over Texas A&M, Rice, Baylor, Houston, and of course the wins over Arizona and Texas Tech in the Lubbock Regional last weekend. The roster has bought into the “sum of the parts is greater than the whole” mantra and embrace a unique philosophy.
“The strength of the pack is the wolf, but the strength of the wolf is the pack”, Deggs said.
“They understand to take a buffalo down as a pack, you’re not going in there by yourself or you will die. Everyone has a function in order to take that buffalo down.”
The Noles are seen as the favorites this weekend, having won 10 of its last 11 games and playing excellent baseball the last few weeks against the country’s top teams. However, the Bearkats are playing confidently and have nothing to lose this weekend in Tallahassee.
“Our boys are ready, prepared and unafraid,” Deggs said.
“They understand the stakes and who we are up against, but there is no back down, I promise you that.”
Team Stats (NCAA Rank):
Batting Average: .305 (No. 26)
On-Base Percentage: .398 (No. 17)
Hits: 665 (No. 10)
Home Runs: 31
Players to Watch:
RHP Heath Donica: 9-2, 1.91 ERA, 108.1 IP, 29 BB, 106 K
CF Bryce Johnson: .350, 89 H, 43 RBI, 33-40 SB
C Robbie Rojas: .347, 82 H, 15 2B, 7 HR, 45 RBI
1B Blake Chisholm: .343, 17 2B, 4 HR, 35 RBI
SS Andrew Fregia: .310, 7 HR, 47 RBI, 14-17 SB