By Cheval John
When Bobby Williams took over as the athletic director 17 years ago at Sam Houston State, his vision was to make the department a first class organization that wins championships and excel in the classroom.
Those goals came to fruition and then some.
SHSU has won a combined 23 Southland Conference (SLC) titles, 17 NCAA playoff appearances that includes the school’s first ever national title at the Division I level (SHSU Bowling 2014) and two consecutive Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Finalist (Football 2011, 2012) and four Southland Commissioner’s Cups (2005, 2006, 2007, 2013).
In addition, the combined GPA for entire athletic department for the 2013-14 school is 3.04.
The department have extended a new tradition for the “student-athletes” called, “The Night of Champions,” an event that is as close to the ESPY’s that highlights the teams that have either won a SLC title or in the case of the bowling team, a national championship; spotlight Bearkats who have made it the national spotlight; and the achievements in the classroom.
Even SLC commissioner Tom Burnett was there to present former Bearkat running back and future NFL draftee Timothy Flanders with the award of becoming the first Southland player to rush for over 5,000 career yards in the FCS and setting the career rushing mark in the conference.
Of course, they deserve the recognition because they have brought the city of Huntsville a first-class athletic events that is as close to a major professional sport franchise.
What I mean is that cities (with the exclusion of Green Bay) that want to be the home of a professional sports organization, must have a strong tax base in order to build a stadium; Have a significant amount of people (300,000 and over) in order to support the giant salaries and have a strong media presence.
That poses a strong problem for small cities/towns like Huntsville because they don’t have those elements.
That’s where college sports comes into play because all of the amenities like maintenence of facilities, etc. are the responsibilities of the athletic departments of universities that sponsors collegiate athletics.
With universities being tax exempt, it makes it easier for these smaller cities to focus on other matters.
In the case of Huntsville, Texas, they have gotten more recognition over the last three years because of the SHSU’s football team making consecutive runs at the FCS playoffs (2011, 2012, 2013) and the bowling team national title win against University of Nebraska.’
Those runs gave SHSU and the city of Huntsville, national exposure when they were featured on the ESPN family of networks that brought great name recognition like the major schools that always get the national spotlight during the regular season.
Mr. Williams can say that his vision came to fruition.
They are all champions because of the way they carried themselves in the midst of the pressures of being a full-time student and a full-time athlete.
By Cheval John
Sam Houston State took the first game of the weekend series against arch-rival Stephen F. Austin by the score of 5-4 at Don Sanders Stadium in Huntsville, Texas.
Though Sam Houston (14-8 Southland Conference play, 32-14 overall) had left 10 runners on base, they overcame that with timely hits.
One of those timely hits came from right fielder Travis Lee.
Lee went 3 for 4 with 3 RBIs.
Lee’s first RBI came in the bottom of the second when he hit a single to right fielder that scored short stop Corey Toups, who led off with a walk, advanced to second and third on back-to-back sacrifice bunts by second baseman Shea Pierce and left fielder Luke Plucheck, easily from third base.
Though Stephen F. Austin (8-14 conference, 17-28 overall) had taken a 2-1 lead in the top of the third inning on a two out, two run home run by right fielder Ricardo Sanchez, a defense play from Bearkat center fielder Colt Atwood before the two run blast turned out to be key.
Lumberjack second baseman Conner Fikes led off the third with a double and was attempting to score the first run on a one out single by center fielder Matthew Dickey.
However, Atwood threw him out at home plate for the second out.
The Bearkats responded in the bottom of the fourth inning with two runs to make it 3-2.
Pierce started the rally when he had a one out single.
He advanced to third on a single by Plucheck, while advancing to second on the error.
The next batter, Lee hit a single to left field that drove in Pierce to tie it up at 2.
Atwood followed with a sacrifice fly that capped the inning.
Sam Houston added another run in the bottom of the fifth inning to increase the lead to 4-2 on a RBI single by Lee.
First baseman Ryan O’Hearn’s RBI single in the bottom of the sixth inning made it 5-2.
Lumberjacks was not going away quietly as they cut the lead to 5-3 in the top of the seventh inning on a RBI single by Brett Thornell.
Stephen F. Austin drew within a 5-4 lead in the top of the eighth inning after Fikes, who was running on the play, led off with a single and advanced to second base on a ground out by Sanchez, scored from second on a throwing error by reliever Andrew Godail.
Stephen F. Austin made it more interesting in the top of the ninth inning when Fikes led off with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by third baseman Nick Ramos.
However, Ramos would remain stranded as reliever Ryan Brinley struck out the next two batters to secure the win for the Bearkats.
The second game of baseball’s version of “The Battle of The Piney Woods” begins today at 4 p.m.