HUNTSVILLE – The Sam Houston State baseball team will play 34 home games in 2017 highlighted by a first-ever visit from Texas to Don Sanders Stadium and a three-game series against perennial power Louisiana, third-year head coach Matt Deggs announced Friday.
“Jay Sirianni does an incredible job with our schedule,” Deggs said. “Our motto, and I think everyone knows it, is we’ll play anybody, anyplace, anytime. That will be the edge we have in order to obtain a good enough RPI to warrant a spot in a regional and our goal down the road is to host. In order to do that, you have to take on a very tough schedule.”
Sam Houston will play 23 of its first 25 games at home including the weekend opener, Feb. 17-19 against Nevada. The Longhorns head to The Don on Feb. 22 before Louisiana visits for three games Feb. 24-26.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to play a school like Texas here at home,” Deggs said. “David (Pierce) got his start here at Sam Houston and had three great years here. For him to think enough of us to want to come back here and bring the Texas Longhorns with us speaks volumes.”
The Kats weekend set against the Ragin’ Cajuns will also offer a visit from a familiar foe. Sam Houston opened and closed the 2016 season in Lafayette. Louisiana finished No. 19 in the final USA Today Coaches’ Poll and No. 20 in the D1Baseball.com top 25.
“I wouldn’t be shocked to see UL as a top-10 team coming out,” Deggs said. “They’re going to return literally everybody. They’re going to have one of the best pitching staffs in the country to go along with one of the best coaching staffs in the country. They know how we like to play. It’s one thing playing great teams and it’s another to play great teams that are family.”
The squad welcomes Pepperdine for a single-game on March 1 and Bradley for three games March 3-5. Other non-conference home games against Texas programs include single-games against Baylor (March 7) and UT-Arlington (March 21) as well as matchups against a pair of 2015 NCAA Regional opponents in Rice (March 28) and Dallas Baptist (May 10).
“With any great team, that’s part of our vision is winning 40-plus games every year,” Deggs said. “We want to win 40-plus, have a top-25 RPI, win the league, win the tournament, get through a regional and have the chance to walk through the gates of Omaha. The way teams get to 40 in a 56-game schedule is they win every Tuesday night. Tuesday night games are Friday night games as far as we’re concerned.”
For the first time since 2013, Sam Houston will face Southeastern Louisiana in Hammond. Other notable road trips to Rice (March 14), Texas (April 4), Baylor (April 11) and Texas A&M (May 16). Home Southland opponents will include Lamar (March 10-12), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (March 17-19), Nicholls (April 7-9), McNeese (April 28-30) and Incarnate Word (May 18-20).
“That’s one of those series when you’re working really hard you have that trip in mind,” Deggs said of the Southeastern Louisiana series. “It’s going to be a dogfight. I have the utmost respect for Southeastern Louisiana with what they’ve done. They’ve built a really good program. It’s a race in my mind to see who’s going to get where first.”
Sam Houston is coming off a historic season that saw the program earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Lafayette Regional while winning both the Southland Conference regular season and tournament championships for the first time in the same season.
The Bearkats, who opened fall camp Monday, return 21 players and welcome in 10 freshmen to the mix. The squad has reached NCAA Regional play seven times in the past 10 years and is seeking a first ever NCAA Super Regionals and NCAA College World Series appearance.
“They will definitely be on the radar just because we return so many guys and we were very competitive a year ago,” Deggs said of his squad. “The stakes are raised and expectations are higher which is what we’re trying to build. Like anything else, you don’t make the last out of the year and pick back up in August and you’re in a regional – you pick back up in fall ball. We’ve got to start at the bottom of the mountain. We know what the expectations are. That’s what we’re working toward every day.”