With a No. 3 ranking, the Sam Houston Broncos are obviously loaded with talented players but it has been a pair of two-way stars that have been the most important piece of the puzzle that has them in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2013.
Seniors Chris Haggard, a Centenary signee, and Peyton Johnson, a McNeese State signee, have carried the Broncos this year.
“They are high character kids and their teammates rally behind them,” Sam Houston head coach Chad Hebert said.
Haggard (5-1, 2.16 ERA) has been solid on the mound but with teams trying to avoid Johnson at the plate, he has stepped up offensively leading the Broncos in nearly every offensive category (.444, 10 doubles, 2 triples, 5 HRs, 31 RBIs, 40 runs) and even hit a two-run home run off LSU bound Blayne Enlow in the regional round.
“PJ has a lot of respect around the state,” Hebert said. “They worry so much about PJ that they pitch to Chris and they end up paying for it.
“Haggard has carried us offensively with clutch hit after clutch hit. He hit a two-run home run off of Enlow. You can’t ask a guy to step up more than he has.”
Haggard earned national player of the week honors from Prep Baseball Report last week after striking out 11 against Chalmette in the first round and driving in five runs in three games.
Johnson has started on the mound nine times this year and went the distance six times to rack up a 6-3 record with a 1.80 earned run average. At the plate, Johnson is hitting .327 with nine doubles, two home runs and 25 RBIs.
“PJ has kept his pitch count low,” Hebert said. “He has done an outstanding guy.
“He has been as rock solid as he can be all year for us.”
Sam Houston will host Walker (18-19) in a best-of-three series starting today at 6 p.m. (Saturday – Game 2, 11 a.m.; Game 3, 2 p.m.). While Walker may be the 27-seed, the Wildcats have pulled two upsets in the playoff so far over No. 6 Destrehan in the first round and No. 11 New Iberia in the regionals.
“They are playing good baseball right now otherwise they wouldn’t be in the quarterfinals,” Hebert said. “You are facing a team that is hot which is a little bit unnerving but if you weren’t play them you would be playing someone else.
“We have a lot of confidence right now since we beat the Enlow guy. If we pitch and play defense as well as we can we will be fine going forward.”