DeLAND, Fla. – Hayden Wesneski struck out 11 and the Sam Houston State Bearkats held on for a 4-3 win over Stetson on Saturday night at Melching Field at Conrad Park on the second day of the Rycass Classic.
Wesneski was at his best for the Bearkats (2-0) against a Hatter (0-2) team that went 48-13 in 2018, picking up his first win of the season in a brilliant performance. The junior righty needed just 97 pitches to navigate 7.1 innings, allowing just five hits, a run and one walk to go with his career-high 11 punchouts.
Meanwhile, the Bearkat offense scraped out four runs and nine hits off of three Stetson pitchers, building a 4-1 lead that they would need to withstand a late Hatter rally in the ninth.
A solo home run by Chase Cryer in the eighth and a hustle run in the ninth helped build that lead, one that reliever Nick Mikolajchak held up in the eighth by getting the final two outs of the frame. But things got tricky in the ninth when the Hatters plated a pair and had the tying run on base with nobody out; however, the Kats then turned to junior Kyle Backhus who retired three of the four hitters he faced to earn his first save since 2017.
Stetson’s Robbie Peto took the loss in his debut, striking out three and allowing two runs in 5.0 innings. Meanwhile, Nick Chiseri put up 3.2 innings of relief.
The Bearkats will close out the weekend on Sunday morning when they take on Virginia Tech. Gametime has been moved up 30 minutes and will now begin at 9:30 a.m. CT. Fans can follow along with @BearkatsBSB on Twitter or watch via live stats on GoBearkats.com.
After a perfect first, Wesneski needed some magic to get out of the second unscathed after Jonathan Meola led off the inning with a sure double to left field. But the Bearkat righty responded by getting a grounder to third to hold the runner before striking out Eric Foggo and Nick Cardieri to keep Stetson off the board.
The Bearkat offense rewarded him an inning later, getting to Peto for a run to take the early lead. Consecutive walks to Reese Johnson and Jack Rogers set the table, and after a sacrifice bunt from Riley McKnight, Colton Cowser delivered a sac fly to left field to score Johnson and put the Kats ahead 1-0.
Wesneski could not have responded any better, pulling off an immaculate inning in the home half of the third. After striking out three in the first two frames, he set down Kyle Ball, Jacob Koos and Andrew MacNeil all on strikes, getting the final two swinging.
The Bearkat offense tacked on another run in their next half inning, getting it started with a bunt single by Jordan Cannon and a sure single by Gavin Johnson. Reese Johnson then beat out an infield single and the Hatters committed their first miscue of the game, allowing Gavin Johnson to score and up the lead to 2-0.
Stetson was finally able to respond, though, in the home half of the fourth. Austin Bogart opened the inning by tripling over Rogers’ head in center field and two batters later Baylen Sparks blooped a single just inside the left-field line to bring home Bogart and cut the Bearkat lead in half.
Wesneski went on to retire eight of the next 11 hitters he faced through the seventh inning, and got another run to work with when Chase Cryer crushed a solo home run with two outs in the eighth off of Chiseri.
Mikolajchak helped get the Kats out of a fire in the bottom of the eighth, retiring each of the two hitters he faced, and SHSU added a key insurance run in the top half of the following inning when Hunter Hearn beat out a force play at second base with two outs, allowing Colton Cowser to score all the way from second on the play.
That run proved to be huge when Stetson finally got the bats going in the ninth with a single from Sparks, followed by a double by Foggo and a two-run single by Jorge Arenas that quickly made it a 4-3 game. The Kats then had to turn to Backhus to face pinch hitter Jake Murphy, and the lefty responded with consecutive strikeouts of Murphy and Bruce Martin to keep the would-be tying run at first base. Koos gave the Hatters one last chance with a two-out single, but Backhus was able to get Andrew MacNeil to ground out for the game’s final out.