Houston Baptist heads to its first NCAA regional after winning Southland title
SUGAR LAND, Texas -- Houston Baptist senior righthander Curtis Jones hurled the team's fourth consecutive complete game and the seventh-seeded Huskies erupted for a six-run, two-out rally in the eighth to down fifth-seeded Sam Houston State 6-0, and capture the program's first Southland Conference tournament championship and NCAA regional appearance Saturday night at Constellation Field.
"You can't even describe it -- you get four complete ballgames in the tournament, the stars just line up for you," HBU head coach Jared Moon said. "That game right there was a great ballgame. We kept hitting the ball hard all night, right at somebody, the wind held a few up. I thought their guy did an outstanding job in pressure situations, we were able to steal some bags, but I told the guys late in the ballgame, he was starting to elevate pitches. Fortunately, for us, we came up with the two-out rally and it's huge."
Jones (6-6), who was named the tournament's most outstanding player, shut out the Bearkats on 10 hits, while striking out seven and walking one on 111 pitches.
"To tell you the truth, I was feeling the pressure going into this one, after three really good complete games," Jones said. "I came out here with confidence and competed within the strike zone, just trying to stay low in the zone and get all of my offspeed pitches working. The defense helped me out a lot, making plays behind me, just trying to throw strikes and make them put the ball in play, because I know I have the best defense behind me."
Junior second baseman Greg Espinosa tripled, drove in two runs and scored one, while junior leftfielder Brandon Morones was 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run for the Huskies (28-25). Senior rightfielder Thomas Clay went 2-for-3, walked, stole two bases, drove in a run and scored one, junior first baseman Andrew Alvarez was 2-for-4 with a run and junior shortstop Louie Payetta went 2-for-5 with a double and an RBI. Espinosa, Clay and Alvarez were each joined Jones on the all-tournament team.
Greg Belton (1-1) took the loss for SHSU, allowing two runs on seven hits with six strikeouts and two walks in 7.2 innings. Jordan Church did not record an out, allowing four runs on four hits.
Hayden Simerly, Spence Rahm and Collin Yelich each recorded two hits for the Bearkats (30-28).
Jones put the leadoff runner on in each of the first three innings, but senior catcher Samm Wiggins picked off a runner at second in the first, Espinosa started a 4-3 double play in the second and senior centerfielder Zach Nehrir doubled a runner off at first on a line drive.
In the top of the eighth, Yelich reached on an error with one out, then Ryan Brinley singled to left, but Bryce Johnson flied out and Yelich was forced out at third on a grounder by Colt Atwood to end the threat.
With two outs and no runners on in the bottom of the eighth, Wiggins drew a four-pitch walk, then Alvarez laced a single to center to chase Belton from the game. On the first pitch from Church, Espinosa drilled a sinking liner to right and Johnson came up empty on the dive, resulting in a two-run triple to put the Huskies ahead 2-0. Morones followed with an RBI infield single, then junior third baseman Justin Monsour ripped an RBI triple into the leftfield corner to make the score 4-0. Clay lined an RBI single to rightcenter, stole second, then scored on Payetta's double to stake HBU to a 6-0 lead.
In the top of the ninth, SHSU got back-to-back singles from Jake MacWilliam and Simerly to lead off, but Rahm struck out. Zach Smith flied out to center for the second out, but Miles Manning singled to load the bases. Yelich then flied out to right to end the game.
Jones's shutout follows the shutout by senior righthander Ross Kennell on Friday against Central Arkansas, senior righthander Taylor Wright's complete game against Central Arkansas on Thursday and junior lefthander Matthew McCollough's complete game against Northwestern State.