HUNTSVILLE- The Sam Houston State Bearkats erased a 5-0 deficit with a pair of big innings, blowing past Kent State in the finale of a three-game series on Opening Weekend with a 12-6 win on Sunday at Don Sanders Stadium.
Sam Houston (2-1) erupted for five runs in the fifth and added seven more in the seventh, quickly negating what looked to be a contest firmly in Kent State’s favor. Andrew Fregia finished just one hit on the day, but made it count by launching a game-tying, three-run homer off of starting pitcher Jared Skolnicki to tie it up in the fifth and freshman Jack Rogers delivered the go-ahead blow with a two-run shot of his own an inning later.
The pair combined for five of Sam’s 12 RBI on the day and were two of six players to finish with multiple RBI. Chase Cryer delivered his first two hits as a Bearkat, both coming in the Kats’ seven-run sixth inning. The junior transfer opened that frame with a double and then capped the scoring with a three-run single into the right-center field gap with two outs.
Hunter Hearn finished off his big weekend with two more hits and two more RBI from the leadoff spot, giving him seven RBI for the series. Clayton Harp would also add a pair of hits and an RBI, while Ben Haefner also finished with a double and a run batted in.
Those big innings helped make sophomore lefty Kyle Backhus a winner in relief as one of four Bearkat arms to see action in the game. He punched out a pair and allowed one run in 1.2 frames of work before handing the ball off to James Kuykendall who struck out four more Golden Flashes (1-2) in the game’s final 2.2 innings.
Kent State built its lead on the strength of a pair of solo home runs from first baseman Brad Hamilton, including one in the third inning that opened up the game’s scoring. They would add three more in that inning before Hamilton launched a leadoff homer to open the fourth, but from there Kent State would get no more.
The Kats are scheduled for their first midweek game of the season on Tuesday when they take on Houston at Don Sanders Stadium. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m. in the opening game of the Don Sanders Cup series. Sam Houston will then turn its attention to another set of Bearcats when they host Cincinnati for three games beginning Friday in Huntsville.
The Kats squandered a scoring opportunity in the bottom of the first, and two innings later Kent State managed to break through first. Bearkat starter Dominic Robinson had cruised through the first two innings, needing just 20 pitches to put up a pair of zeros, but that all changed in the third when the Golden Flashes sent 10 hitters to the plate and pushed across four runs. Hamilton got it going with a one-out solo home run to left-center field and from there the next five KSU hitters would find their way on base. A single and a pair of walks loaded the bases after Hamilton’s blow and Nick Kanavas made it a 3-0 lead with a two-run single into right field. Then, one batter later the Golden Flashes would get creative, putting in motion a successful double steal that resulted in Kanavas swiping second and Josh Hollander sliding in safely into home to give KSU a 4-0 lead.
The Kats turned to Colin Cameron in relief to get out of the third, but Hamilton struck again in the fourth. The KSU first baseman gave the Golden Flashes a 5-0 lead an inning later when he pulled the first pitch of the inning into the left-field jet stream for his second solo shot in as many innings.
Skolnicki had been cruising through the first four innings, but quickly found himself in trouble early on in what would be a game-changing frame for the Kats. Rogers kicked it off with his first hit of the day, a sharp double into the right-field corner, a knock that was just the third hit of the game at the time for Sam. Two batters later Harp would get the Kats on the scoreboard with a sure single into left to score Rogers and two batters after that Hearn would get in on the action with a two-out RBI single of his own to cut the lead to 5-2. That brought up Fregia as the potential tying run and the Bearkat slugger took advantage of the opportunity, launching a three-run homer out to left field on the first pitch of the at-bat, tying the game at 5-5.
The tie would not last for long, however, as the Golden Flashes were able to immediately answer. Kent State would quickly get in business with a leadoff single and a hit batter, but a failed sacrifice bunt attempt would garner the Kats a key first out. But they would take the lead one batter later on an aggressive hit-and-run play that saw Mason Mamarella score all the way from second base on a ground ball to second, putting KSU back in front 6-5.
Sam Houston would then take control of the game in its half of the sixth, sending 12 hitters of its own to the plate and pushing across seven runs to go up 12-6. Cryer had two hits in the inning, including a leadoff double into the left-field corner off of eventual losing pitcher Zach Schultz. Rogers would then follow with arguably the game’s biggest swing of the day, taking a 2-2 pitch the other way to left field for a two-run homer that surged Sam in front, 7-6, for the first time on the day.
A hit batter, walk and a bunt single would then load the bases with two outs and Hearn added an insurance run with a sure single into the left to score Eric Bohnert. Haefner would add a sacrifice fly and then after an intentional walk to Fregia, Cryer would blow it open. With the sacks juiced once again and two outs, he lined a 3-2 pitch into the right-center field gap that would push home all three runners, including Fregia all the way from first.
QUOTABLES Coach Deggs on taking the opening series against Kent State…
“I thought it was a great series against a really good ball club and that is really talented team over there. They can pitch and swing really well, and they are a little older too. What I appreciated about that series is that we got a little bit of everything. We got some adversity in the first game and then we had some comfort in the second game and following third game we had to get a comeback on. I thought we got a good start for us and to continue to get better and better. We have a really good Houston team coming in Tuesday night this week.”
Coach Deggs on seven-run sixth inning…
“We came out of some big two-out, three-strike at bats this weekend. None bigger than Cryer’s in the seventh, and with the wind blowing out the way it was today, that can make anything happen. I thought James Kuykendall did a really good job and settling us down after that.”
Chase Cryer on his big sixth inning…
“On the double, he was eating me up with the off-speed pitches in my first two at-bats, so I decided to get over myself and make an adjustment there and take what they were giving me. On the single I was just trying to fight to get the ball in play and let my runners make a play and luckily it found a hole.”
Jack Rogers on his big home run…
“You know, it was awesome. The coaches telling me to stay to the left side of the field and it felt great to do something to help my team like that. I didn’t know it off the bat and then I saw the guy turn around and watch. It felt great with this type of big atmosphere around me.”