Bearkat softball opens first home series with a bang

Mar. 1—HUNTSVILLE — With former conference foe Abilene Christian University in town, Sam Houston softball showed out in its Friday doubleheader against the Wildcats.

Needing just three innings, across two games, to score 18 runs, the Bearkats took the series on the first day of the weekend.

The Bearkats opened game one with a five-run first inning and closed it with a five-run fourth to get the 10-1 win. In game two, Sam Houston posted eight runs in the third to get the 8-1 win for the sweep.

"The team was excited to be at home and I think that showed. We have familiarity with ACU and they have been tough on us the last few years," Sam Houston softball head coach Garrett Valis said. "They do a great job there. To get started off this way, to get our bats firing and going on all cylinders. We have been kind of waiting on that from 1-9. Tomorrow is a new day and we have to be ready for them to show up and try to salvage the series."

With a doubleheader on tap, Sam Houston knew they could not waste any time against a team that had previously won four of the last six games played.

Senior Ellie Grill gave the Bearkats life early. The fifth-year leadoff batter belted a ball to center field for a lead-off jack. From there, the bats kept going as Sam Houston posted a five spot in the opening frame.

"I think we came in with a lot of confidence," sophomore infielder Morgan Holliday said. "We've been swinging the bat well and being better in situational hitting in practice, I think that came today in the game."

But that wasn't the only big inning for the Bearkats. Once again in the first game, the Bearkats plated five runs in the fourth inning. In those two innings of the first game, Sam Houston combined for seven of its nine hits but scored all of its runs.

Sam Houston used big innings to secure both wins as they collected nine hits in each game, the problem was only two of the hits came outside of the big innings.

Senior Hannah Scheaffer led the Kats with three hits and two RBI in the games. Junior Tricia Yarotsky drove in a total of five on the evening.

"As a coach, you are always in between that. You want the consistency inning to inning, but when you can score in bunches it can deflate another team," Valis said. "I think ACU had the momentum in the second game. If we had just gotten two [runs] in that inning they are probably feeling pretty good. It was, I think, a deflating thing when you get them in bunches."

Despite the lack of offense in the other nine innings, things were held down to near perfection inside the circle.

Sam Houston used just two pitchers across the 12 innings with both starters going the distance. Valis started freshman Amy Abke in the circle against the Wildcats.

In her first start at the Bearkat Softball Complex, Abke went the distance in the run rule and allowed two hits in her five innings of work. She faced 18 opposing hitters with her two allowed hits being a double and a late homerun.

"I really like our pitching staff and the beautiful part of it is they are getting better and better," Valis said. "We can count on multiple arms and get kids out in different ways. When you are playing a three-game series, you can give the types of looks we are giving and use everyone, it gives you an advantage."

Valis gave the game two start to senior Mika Vento. Vento had faced the Wildcats seven times before Friday night, with the last time coming in 2022. While some of those starts didn't go as planned, she attacked them this time.

Vento gave up a first-inning home run to Olivia Marble that went over the centerfield wall. While she had occasional traffic, she bounced back on several occasions to allow four hits and seven punchouts against Wildcat hitters.

Over her Sam Houston career, Vento has been hit or miss. Her freshman year as a Bearkat she boasted a 4.13 ERA in 120IP, she followed that up with a 4.51 in 143.2IP pitched. Things took a south turn her junior year though.

Vento pitched in 48.2 of the Bearkats innings and had an 8.69 ERA in 16 games. But with the Bearkats working on confidence, she is back on the rise in the circle.

"It was huge. We have been working on confidence and they showed out tonight. Everything they have been working on translated," Holliday said.

While it wasn't the true home opener for Sam Houston, it's the next best thing. The Bearkats had played away from home for the last 13 games between tournaments and midweek games.

The Bearkats hosted a tournament to begin the year but a majority of it was canceled due to the weather conditions. Sam Houston got in two of its five games that weekend.

So the series against ACU was the first time since Feb. 9 that the Kats played at home.

"Being home felt nice and it was the performance that we wanted to see," Holliday said. "We came out and kicked butt."

Sam Houston will return to the Bearkat Softball complex to wrap up the series at noon on Saturday and will host No. 10 Baylor in a midweek game on March 5.