HUNTSVILLE – The Sam Houston State Bearkats built up a four-run lead and then held off a ninth-inning rally to secure an 8-6 win in the series rubber match over the first-place McNeese Cowboys on Sunday at Don Sanders Stadium.
The Kats (29-15, 15-6 SLC) got clutch performances from its pitching staff, including three freshmen, in the win. Hayden Wesneski turned in 6.1 strong innings on the mound, tying a career high with five strikeouts in moving to 7-2 on the season.
Still, the Cowboys (29-13, 19-5 SLC) made it interesting in the ninth after Sam Houston had built an 8-5 lead with just three outs to go. McNeese got its first three hitters of the inning on base in the ninth and had runners on second and third with nobody out for the middle of the order, but lefty Dominic Robinson had the answer out of the bullpen, retiring all three hitters he faced to secure his first save in a Bearkat uniform.
Sam Houston also got a big day at the plate from sophomore Josh Biles who connected on a two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth and delivered an RBI single an inning later. That led a Bearkat offensive attack that picked up 10 more hits in the game, running its total to 40 for the weekend set.
Bryan King took the loss for the Cowboys, falling to 3-2 with 4.1 innings of work before surrendering the mound to a quartet of relievers.
The Kats manufactured their first run of the day in the opening inning without a hit, working Bryce Johnson all the way around after a leadoff walk and scoring him on a grounder from Lance Miles to go up 1-0.
Meanwhile, Wesneski cruised through the first four innings, setting 11 hitters down in a row after allowing a single to the hitter of the game. That pushed him into the fifth where he ran into trouble after a walk to Joe Provenzano and a single by Shane Selman opened the inning. An RBI single from Mitchell Rogers followed that, and the Cowboys took 2-1 lead one batter later on a ground ball from Will Fox.
But that was the only lead the Cowboys would see on the day as the Bearkats immediately answered in the bottom half of the frame. After a leadoff walk to Clayton Harp, Biles blasted his first home run of the year out to left field to vault Sam Houston back in front 3-2. Andrew Fregia then added another to the Bearkat tally with an RBI single later in the inning, giving Sam Houston a 4-2 lead going to the sixth.
There the Kats would add on when Biles drove in another with an RBI single into the right-center field gap to score Hunter Hearn and one batter later Harp came in to score on a wild pitch to up the advantage to 6-2.
But McNeese would claw their way back in it in the seventh, thanks in part to a pair of Bearkat errors. A single, error and a walk loaded the bases with one away and spelled the end of Wesneski's day and another error cut the lead to 6-3 with the bases still loaded. Dustin Duhon then singled to right field to cut the lead to 6-5 before reliever Riley Cooper was able to ring up Ricky Ramirez and get Matt Gallier out on a grounder to keep the Bearkats in front.
After Nick Mikolajchak had worked out of a mini jam in the eighth, the Bearkat offense went back to work, loading the bases with nobody out on a pair of walks and a double from Harp. Mac Odom then cashed in on his first trip to the plate, shooting a single to left past a drawn-in infield to score one and Taylor Beene followed two batters later with a sacrifice fly to give the Kats a three-run edge going to the ninth.
Things got sticky in a hurry, though, as Mikolajchak hit Fox with a 2-2 pitch to lead off the inning and then gave up a single to Robbie Podorsky. Duhon followed that up with a double to center field to score one, trimming the lead to 8-6 and putting the tying run at second base with nobody out and the middle of the order due up for the Cowboys.
The Kats then turned to Robinson and the freshman got the three-hole hitter Ramriez looking at a called third strike before coaxing a pop up from Gallier. He then ran the count to 1-2 on Provenzano before the Cowboy second baseman skied out to center field to close it out.
The series win keeps the Kats in sole possession of second place in the Southland, a game up on Houston Baptist and 2.5 games back of the Cowboys with three league weekends left in the regular season.
Sam Houston will next host Houston on Tuesday evening at Don Sanders Stadium in the finale of the Don Sanders cup before traveling to Hammond, La., for a three-game set at Southeastern Louisiana.
Head coach Matt Deggs on winning the series …
“It feels like it's been a while since we got a conference series win, and this was a big one. We reel off 13 in a row and then hit a bump in the road and drop a couple of series and then run into probably the best team we've seen in our league this year. It was just a scrap from the word ‘go' and all three games were very intense. It was just a fight. Those guys are very, very tough and play the game extremely well.”
Deggs on the team's pitching performance …
“I thought we did a nice job of responding and playing our game today and that started with a great game from Hayden Wesneski. It was a great performance and we really needed it. It was just what we needed at the right time. To come out and throw up some zeros, he gave us an opportunity to go out and score. I thought Riley (Cooper) did a nice job and Nick (Mikolajchak) got out of an inning, but then that is the life of a closer in the ninth. They got to him and Dominic (Robinson) was just outstanding. He did a great job and it was just what the doctor ordered.”
Deggs on Josh Biles' day at the plate …
“I thought he put a jolt in the lineup and he brings a certain amount of arrogance to and intensity to the lineup that we needed. He had a big day and I thought his homer kind of let us put our hair down and relax. He had a great day.”
Deggs on the insurance runs in the eighth …
“Against a ball club like McNeese you can't get enough runs. Seven, eight, nine runs a lot of times isn't enough. That's how it goes sometimes. One of the things this weekend was the elements were to their (McNeese) benefit. We are a team that is going to hit doubles and triple sand steal bases, and they have the power of the long ball. So, I thought they elements were in their favor, but I thought both clubs did a great job of executing and swinging the bat and we found a way to get it done.”