In 2017, the Sam Houston State Bearkats enjoyed a historic season that ended in the program’s first appearance in a super regional. As we discussed after their regional victory in Lubbock, it was the culmination of a decade of building in Huntsville.
What if I told you that the team has a chance to be even better in 2018?
It’s never a sure thing that a team backs up a deep postseason run with an equally deep run the very next season, but SHSU has the roster returning in 2018 to do so.
Offensively, it starts with those they have back from the super regional run a year ago. The losses of Bryce Johnson, Robie Rojas, Taylor Beene, and Lance Miles hurt, but the return of Blake Chisolm (.343/.466/.551, 17 2B), Hunter Hearn (.326/.395/.447, 12 2B), Andrew Fregia (.302/.356/.450, 10 2B, 5 3B, 7 HR, 14 SB), Clayton Harp (.289/.379/.436, 12 2B, 5 HR, 50 RBI), Riley McKnight (.238/.349/.317, 11 SB), and Jaxxon Grisham (.255/.377/.327) go a long way toward offsetting those departures. While he has only hit .211 during his SHSU career, Mac Odom also brings a ton of experience to the table, having played in 101 games over two seasons for the Kats.
The lineup will also get an infusion of new blood from some very talented transfers.
The most notable of the those might be Buffalo transfer Ben Haefner. Last season, he hit .326/.435/.426, but with Buffalo shuttering their program, he needed a place to play his final season of college baseball, and it appears that he’ll find a home in the Bearkats’ infield.
Then there’s Trey Ochoa, who appeared in 38 games for Texas Tech’s 2016 College World Series team. And don’t forget about Darien Simms, an Arkansas transfer. He made an appearance in 27 games for the Razorbacks in 2016, before spending time in the JUCO ranks, just as Ochoa did.
Like the offense, there are key departures on the pitching staff. Well, more specifically, there’s one key departure, and that’s workhorse starting pitcher Heath Donica. “Heater,” as he was called around the team, was nothing short of outstanding for SHSU in 2017, but even with that hole in the rotation, the Bearkats return more than enough pitching to make up for it.
If you’re looking for guys who have some experience starting games, look no further than Hayden Wesneski (10-2, 3.93 ERA), Seth Ballew (6-3, 4.03 ERA), and Dakota Mills (7-3, 4.54 ERA). While these guys were all primarily starters, each of them showed some versatility as well, with at least a handful of relief appearances to go along with their starts. Kyle Backhus is similarly flexible, as he had a 4.19 ERA in 22 appearances, including six starts.
Sam Houston will also welcome back Riley Gossett, who missed all of last season with injury, but who went 7-0 with a 2.64 ERA in 2016. That gives head coach Matt Deggs and his staff a surplus of options when putting together the rotation.
It’s the same story among returning bullpen arms. Back are Nick Mikolajchak (3.38 ERA, 13 SV, 29.1 IP), Jordan Cannon (3.04 ERA, 23.2 IP), Riley Cooper (3.38 ERA, 50.2 IP), Brad Demco (3.44 ERA, 18.1 IP), and Dominic Robinson (4.21 ERA, 36.1 IP).
That’s to say nothing of any of the new faces the coaching staff welcomed to the team for the 2018 season, but with all of that talent back, establishing a role in the rotation or bullpen is going to be a tough task.
The Sam Houston State baseball program is rolling with all of the postseason success they’ve enjoyed of late, and with what they have returning for 2018, they have a very real chance to keep the momentum going.