HUNTSVILLE – Clayton Harp hit a walk-off, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to send the Sam Houston State Bearkats off as winners, 7-5, over Houston Baptist on Saturday afternoon at Don Sanders Stadium.
The Bearkats (34-17, 20-6 SLC) needed the big hit after HBU (23-27, 15-11 SLC) erased a 5-0 lead with two runs in the seventh and three more in the eighth. The win also puts them on the cusp of clinching a share of the Southland Conference title, which they could do with a win in Sunday's series finale.
The homer was Harp’s fifth of the season and the fifth time the Kats have walked off a win this season, capping a 10-hit day that included two hits apiece from Blake Chisolm, Andrew Fregia and Riley McKnight.
Dakota Mills moved to 3-1 on the win, striking out six in 2.1 innings of relief. That came in relief of starter Seth Ballew who also struck out six in 6.2 frames, shutting out the Huskies for the first three innings before a two-run homer by Jake Scott in the seventh.
Scott's homer made it 5-2 and brought in Mills, who got out of that inning; however, the Bearkat stopper surrendered the lead an inning later on a two-out, pinch-hit double by Grant Buck with the bases loaded that tied the game up at 5-5.
HBU starter Matthew McCollough was the second Husky starter go to the distance, but took the loss to fall to 7-3 on the year. He logged 8.0 innings officially and struck out nine hitters without issuing a walk, but was tagged for all seven runs on the day.
He retired six of the first seven hitters he faced before the Bearkats were able to strike for four runs in the bottom of the third. A leadoff single by McKnight was followed two batters later by a first of two doubles on the day by Blake Chisolm, setting the table for Mac Odom who picked up an RBI on a fielder’s choice.
Fregia then delivered a big early blow to the Husky efforts, fisting a line drive over first base and up the right field line. From there, he legged out a triple and drove in the first two of his three RBI of the game. One batter later Jaxxon Grisham shot a single back up the middle to bring Fregia home and make it a 4-0 game.
Ballew worked around a leadoff double in the next inning and got a double play in the fifth to put up a pair of zeros before the Kats gave him another run to work with in the bottom of the frame. That run also came courtesy of Fregia on a sacrifice fly that scored Chisolm after he had led off the inning with a double.
It stayed that way until the seventh when Scott blasted a two-run homer to left field that cut the lead to 5-2. Ballew was able to record two more outs, but a double by Brady Batten and a walk brought the tying run to the plate. But Mills punched out Jonathan Ducoff on strikes to end the threat.
Mills was not so fortunate, though, in the eighth. An infield single by Spencer Halloran seemed innocent enough to open the inning before two more strikeouts had the Kats one out away from getting out of the inning. But consecutive two-out walks loaded the bases and brought Buck to the plate. He fell behind in the count 1-2 before splitting the left-center field gap for a bases-clearing double that knotted things up at 5-5.
Sam Houston had a chance to re-take the lead in the eighth when the first two hitters reached on a Fregia double and a hit batter; however, McCollough was able to work out of it to send things to the ninth.
But there, he was not able to work past the Kats again. McKnight opened it up with a single to left to bring up Harp who launched the first pitch he saw over the right-field fence, just out of reach of Heck to end it in dramatic fashion.
The Kats will look to clinch a share of the SLC crown on Sunday, and can do so with a win at The Don on Senior Day with first pitch set for 1:00 p.m. Hayden Wesneski is set to get the start against HBU righty Brady Batten. The Kats will honor their five-member senior class prior to the start of play.
QUOTABLES Head coach Matt Deggs on the dramatic win …
“When you have been going the way that we have, that is generally the way you are going to come out of it. It’s going to be a fight to the finish and you’re going to have to earn it, which is what we went out and did today. I am thankful for the way that game played out because I think it can go a long way towards our toughness and our resiliency and our ability to bounce back.
Deggs on giving up the lead and Harp’s walk-off homer …
"That’s about as disappointing as it gets, having the best closer in the league going for a traditional three-inning save. To have our lead slip away like that, in the midst of a tug-of-war, that is a huge momentum shift. I thought he did a great job of gathering himself back up and throwing up a big zero against some very good hitters in the top of their order in the top of the ninth. Clayton was due. I didn’t start him today and he probably was a little red coming into that at-bat and it paid dividends for us there. He was able to run one out of here."
Deggs on the Bearkat pitching performance …
"That’s probably as well as I’ve seen Seth Ballew pitch the ball since he’s been here, as far as back and forth, add and subtract. He had the ability to command a breaking ball, changeup and a fastball. He had those guys off balance and then Dakota came in and we weren’t able to hold it, but he did what he needed to do. He got back in the scrap and gathered himself and was able to throw up a big zero."
Deggs on the offense breaking out …
"We are capable of huge things offensively. Very rarely we see seven or eight hitters hit a rough patch all at the same time. It hasn’t just been weak outs, we’ve driven some balls. Hunter Hearn’s first two at-bats today had nothing to show for them. Where we need to continue to be resilient is to stay off the outcome. Stay off the result and the scoreboard, and continue to stay in the fight and compete with great bat speed on every swing. I saw more of that today."
Deggs on mixing up the lineup ...
"A lot of what we do revolves around being able to shorten the field. We just haven’t been able to do that lately. Mac Odom came in today and provided a huge spark. Riley McKnight and Eric Bohnert played well. We mixed some things up, knowing we were going to see a kid that could go back and forth and really commands the baseball. We knew runs would be at a premium and that ultimately ended up being the spark for us, the injection of those new kids in the lineup."