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Bearkats host ranked DBU in weekend series

Mar. 20—HUNTSVILLE — Two members of an NCAA regional tournament will clash on the diamond this weekend in a Conference USA matchup.

Sam Houston, who won the WAC tournament and played in the LSU regional, gets No. 15 Dallas Baptist, who was one game short of going to a super regional, in a CUSA game at Don Sanders Stadium.

It will be the first time that Sam Houston hosts DBU at The Don since the 2018 season when the Bearkats dropped the series 2-1. Sam Houston hosted the Patriots last year in a 19-13 bout that saw DBU leave with a win.

Now, Sam Houston has an opportunity to end its five-game losing streak to DBU and remain at the top of the CUSA standings after two weeks of conference play.

Pitching over the weekends has been the real key for Sam Houston. Senior Coltin Atkinson has assumed the role of the Friday night starter and has not disappointed. He enters the series as the ace and is coming off an eighth-inning shutout of New Mexico State.

Atkinson will head into the game with a 4-1 record, with the lone loss coming to St. Johns. He sits tied in 34th in NCAA pitching with a 1.76 ERA. But DBU's bats will be tough for him to miss.

Sam Houston pitchers have combined for 174 strikeouts through the 21 games played this season with Atkinson leading the way with 30 in his five appearances. DBU strikeouts 24% of their at-bats and have drawn 97 walks to get runners on.

Outside of Atkinson, the Bearkats will need strong pitching out of their Saturday and Sunday arms. With Marshall Wales being held out since the second series of the weekend, head coach Jay Sirianni has had to make changes to the staff.

Each weekend has been the same on Saturday and Sunday. Senior Miles Hellums was moved up to Saturdays and Gavi Coldiron was placed on Sundays.

Hellums has had moments of being strong but has not made it out of the fifth inning on three of his five starts. He has a 7.04 ERA and has given up 35 hits which could be troubling with the Patriot hot bats.

The Bearkats are going to need a strong performance from Hellums and whoever they pull from the bullpen against DBU.

Coldiron sits with a 2.05 ERA in 26.1 innings pitched after making starts all over the place. Coldiron made two midweek starts before shifting over the Sundays where he stayed in a groove. Coldiron has gone at least six innings in his last two outings and struck out seven.

While NMSU and Texas State took him for 10 combined hits, only two runs scored as he worked through the jams.

Sam Houston's staff ranks third in the country in walks per nine innings as they throw strikes but against sluggers like Ethan Mann, Chayton Krauss, Miguel Santos and Grant Jay, strikes may be a difficult approach.

That quartet of Patriots have 93 hits and 176 RBIs this season to tough out everything they hit in the batter's box and battle.

But Sam Houston can hang with the best of them at the plate too.

The Bearkats rank 32 in the nation in hits with 219 but sit outside of the top 50 in team batting average. Junior slugger Walker Janek has led Sam Houston.

Janek is ranked 48th in the MLB Pipeline and his junior year has only helped his stock. Excluding the game against Northwestern State, Janek has reached base safely in 21 games and has a hitting streak of 25 games dating back to last season.

Janek also homered in five of the six games for the Bearkats for an offensive spark. Between Janek, Easton Loyd, Malachi Lott, Jeffery David and Hunter Autrey, the offense sparks in nearly every game.

This season, Autrey led the Bearkats with seven home runs and worked his way into the starting lineup in the last 11 games for the Bearkats.

Sam Houston has scored double-digit runs six times this season for 146 runs.

DBU brings in two strong pitchers Ryan Johnson and Jaron DeBerry. The duo has struck out 76 opposing batters and allowed 51 hits in 59 1/3rd innings.

"They are going to be good and I feel like we are playing baseball pretty well right now," Sirianni said. "It's going to be a good old-fashioned dog fight. It's a three-game series and I think we are grisled up. It's going to be a good challenge."

The Bearkats and Patriots will face off in the weekend series starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Don Sanders Stadium. The game will be broadcast on the ESPN+ platform. The rest of the series will take place at 3 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.

It is also the first time a ranked opponent will come to Don Sanders for the first time since 2017 when No. 13 Lousianna played at The Don.