CONWAY, Ark. – Sam Houston State seemed poised to end its Southland Conference slump on Saturday afternoon. Then, an eighth inning filled with miscues magnified it further.
The Bearkats dropped their fourth-consecutive league game, 5-3, as Central Arkansas plated three runs in an eighth inning that included two errors and as many wild pitches, erasing Sam Houston’s one-run lead.
The loss came on a day in which Sam Houston (26-13, 13-4 SLC) committed six total errors, including a season-high four in the doubleheader finale. The Kats were also saddled with a 3-2, 10-inning Game 1 loss earlier in the afternoon that saw Central Arkansas (21-18, 9-8) walk-off on a two-out single.
Central Arkansas pitcher Cody Davenport (3-2) went the distance in the finale, scattering nine hits while allowing three runs, all coming in the fifth. Sam Houston starter Seth Ballew held the Bears to three hits and two runs (none earned) over six innings.
Following his departure, however, four Sam Houston relievers combined to allow three runs while walking as many over the final two frames including Kyle Backhus (2-3), who drew the loss. The loss was the first in 25 games when leading after seven innings.
The Bearkats, who have not lost five straight in conference action since 2011, look to reverse their fortunes on Sunday, closing out the series at 1 p.m. against the Bears.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Ballew set down seven straight to begin the game and buckled down when necessary in the third. The left-hander permitted three walks in the frame including consecutive on 3-1 counts but stranded the bases loaded, inducing Southland Conference-hits leader Hunter Strong to pop out into center.
The Bears broke through in the fourth, scoring the first run for the second consecutive game. Rigo Aguilar led off with a single, stole second and came around to score on a single through the right side from Brooks Balisterri for the 1-0 advantage.
After scoring just two runs in a 3-2, 10-inning defeat earlier in the day, the Sam Houston bats awoke in the fifth. Lance Miles rocketed a double into left field and moved to third as Taylor Beene reached on a bunt single. Then, Bryce Johnson lined a single into right, tying the game at 1-1.
Sam Houston, which entered the weekend fifth nationally in triples, added its 20th as Robie Rojas provided the big hit, rifling a 2-1 pitch down the right field line for a three-bagger, plating two and giving the Kats their first lead of the series at 3-1.
UCA trimmed the deficit to one in the bottom half as Michael Haun, who produced a pair of diving grabs in center field earlier in the game, laid down the one-out bunt. Ballew fielded the ball without trouble but his throw sailed over the head of first baseman Jaxxon Grisham as Haun headed to third.
Leadoff hitter Keaton Presley sent a sacrifice fly into center field, scoring the run to trim the Sam Houston lead to 3-2. The Kats headed to the pen in the sixth as Backhus was efficient, stranding one in the sixth before turning a 1-6-3 double play in the seventh.
Backhus ran into trouble in the eighth as a leadoff single into left turned into a bases loaded, no-out jam after a pair of bunts led to a throwing error, pulling Riley McKnight off the bag at first, and a first-pitch infield bunt hit, ending the day for the left-handed freshman.
The Bearkats brought in closer Nick Mikolajchak, who fanned his first hitter, but chaos on the base paths ensued as a wild pitch skipped to the backstop. Rojas grabbed the ball on a slide but his throw sailed into the Central Arkansas dugout, scoring two for a 4-3, Bears lead.
Miscues continued to hurt the Bearkats as Dominic Robinson walked his lone batter and with Colin Cameron on, the right-hander issued the second wild pitch of the inning, scoring another for a 5-3 lead. After a full-count walk, Cameron struck out Haun, to strand the bases loaded.
Head coach Matt Deggs on the doubleheader loss…
“Obviously, it wasn’t our best day. We didn’t play very well. I think we were ready to play from the get-go. I thought Heath threw a tremendous game for us. We had our opportunities and weren’t able to cash in. We punched out 12 times. We gift wrapped quite a bit today. You can get in slides like this. We made four errors (in Game 2) and they ended up scoring five runs on six hits. We didn’t do anything to help ourselves. You have to have the ability to respond.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on the starting pitching performances…
“I thought Heath and Seth pitched extremely well. Seth gave us a quality start in that second game. I was real proud of Seth. Outside of the toss to first, which I know he would like to have back, he pitched well enough to win that ballgame. It’s not characteristic of us giving up a lead in the eighth.”
Head coach Matt Deggs on turning the page to Sunday’s finale…
“We generally have a pretty short memory. You have to rest up and try to move on. That’s the great thing about baseball. Tomorrow is a brand new day and I think we’ll be ready to go.”