Kats picked to win 2018 Southland baseball title

The Bearkats swarm the pitcher's mound after defeating Texas Tech 4-3 to win the Lubbock Regional for their first NCAA regional title. With 23 returners, plus new talented players, expectations for Sam Houston State's baseball team remain sky-high for the 2018 season. The Kats were picked to win the Southland Conference title, topping the 2018 Southland preseason poll, which the league office released Thursday and was voted upon by each program’s head coach and sports information director. The 2018 season begins Feb. 16 as Sam Houston State hosts Kent State in the opener of a three-game series. That begins a nine-game homestand before the Bearkats head to Houston to take on Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kentucky at the Shriners Hospitals For Children College Classic at Minute Maid Park on March 2-4.

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Respect continues to pour in for the Bearkats.

Already picked in preseason polls for Perfect Game and Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, Sam Houston State was voted as the favorite to win the 2018 Southland Conference championship.

The Bearkats were selected No. 1 in the 2018 Southland Conference Preseason Poll, which was released Thursday and voted upon by each program’s head coach and sports information director.

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Kats picked to win 2018 Southland baseball title

“It’s big-time respect,” Kats sophomore pitcher Kyle Backhus said. “We don’t look at polls too much. We just go out there and play, but if other teams think we should win, then we’re doing something right to get that respect. When we go out there, we just try to go and win the game.”

Sam Houston was voted the top team ahead of Southeastern Louisiana and 2017 regular-season champion McNeese. The Kats also received 18 of 26 first-place votes.

“It’s nice to be recognized, but obviously that just grows the target on your back. There’s not any surprises. Everybody’s got their ears pinned back when they see you on the schedule,” Sam Houston head baseball coach Matt Deggs said. “But that’s what we want. We want to build that type of expectation. These kids are capable of coming out and winning the conference. That’s really always our first goal.

“If they come out and play the way they’re capable of playing, they should put themselves in position of contention and playing their best going in to the conference tournament. Rankings are nice. Fans enjoy them. It’s good to see kids get recognition for hard work, but really, it’s not worth a whole lot because you have to go play the game. The game’s not won on paper or by prognosticators or anything like that. It’s decided by the boys between the lines.”

The Bearkats are two weeks into their preseason work after beginning on Jan. 27. Now, a week out from beginning the 2018 regular season, the Kats say they’re continuing their one-day-at-a-time approach.

“This year, compared to last year, is a lot different because I was a freshman,” Backhus explained. “This year kind of flew by. We’re all in to things. The team is bonding well together, so that makes it that much easier to get ready for the season. We’re ready for it.”

Sam Houston has 23 returning players from last season’s super regional squad, plus added a host of new talent.

“We all know each other really well,” senior first baseman/designated hitter Blake Chisolm said. The new guys, we’ve really meshed with them, so it’s a really great team atmosphere to be a part of.”

Next Friday, Sam Houston State opens the 2018 campaign in the opener of a three-game series against Kent State. That begins a nine-game homestand before the Bearkats head to Houston to take on Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kentucky at the Shriners Hospitals For Children College Classic at Minute Maid Park on March 2-4.

“It’s been a long wait since the last out at Florida State,” Deggs said. “This team has pretty much been together for three years. They’ve had high expectations. I think it will be a matter of tempering that and take each day as one at a time and just going out to play our best baseball together.

“We’re a work in progress. We’re going to keep getting better. That’s exciting. I think this team will have a chance to play its best baseball in late-April, May, June. I think our thing now is to just stay focused on getting better each day. We’ve got a long way to go.”

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