SAN ANTONIO – A ninth-inning rally and an extra-inning home run was just what the doctor ordered for the Sam Houston State Bearkats on Thursday night, securing the outright 2018 Southland Conference championship with a 5-4 win in 10 innings over UIW at Sullivan Field.
UIW (29-24, 13-15 SLC) starter Bernie Martinez baffled the Kats (36-18, 22-6 SLC) for eight innings and entered the ninth inning with a 4-2 lead; however, Jack Rogers delivered a two-run single in the ninth with Sam Houston down to its last out and an inning later Hunter Hearn delivered a leadoff home run to put Sam Houston in front for good.
The win secures the sixth regular season Southland title for Sam Houston in program history and clinches the No. 1 overall seed in next week’s SLC Tournament in Sugar Land with two games remaining in the regular season.
The game-tying hit was the only hit of the night for Rogers, who finished with three RBI in the game. In all the Bearkats would be out-hit by the Cardinals, 10-8, but only three of those UIW hits came in the final four innings. That was thanks in large part in thanks to reliever Gabriel Sequeira who shut UIW out for 3.1 frames with four strikeouts on his way to picking up his fifth victory of the season.
That came in relief of Nick Mikolajchak who gave the Kats 5.2 innings with a pair of strikeouts. Dakota Mills closed it out with the final three outs of the game, picking up his 14th save of the year and moving him into sole possession of second place in the SHSU record book in single-season saves.
For UIW, Martinez took a no-decision despite being just one out away from his fourth complete game of the year. he struck out seven and allowed seven hits, but it was Cody Allen who fell to 2-5 with the loss after surrendering the go-ahead homer to Hearn in the 10th.
The Kats got on the board first, plating a run in the second inning off of Martinez. Singles by Clayton Harp and Eric Bohnert set it up with Harp coming in to score on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Chase Cryer.
Mikolajchak kept the Kats out in front until the fourth when the Cardinals erupted for three runs off the Bearkat starter. Consecutive singles to open up the inning and UIW tied it up on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Eddy Gonzalez. It looked as though the Kats would get out of the frame still tied at 1-1, but Christian Gonzalez put UIW up 3-1 with a two-out, two-run double.
Sam answered with a run an inning later on a sacrifice fly by Rogers, and could have had more except for a great play by Cardinal center fielder Ridge Rogers on a fly ball in center field off of the bat of Andrew Fregia that ended the inning. The Kats gave that run right back in the bottom of the fifth on a two-out error that allowed Rogers to score.
Sequeira then entered with two outs in the sixth inning and picked up the first of his four strikeouts, getting the final three when he struck out the side in the eighth inning to give the Kats a chance in the ninth.
Needing two runs to keep things going, Ben Haefner got the Kats the base runner they were looking for when he led off the inning with a pinch-hit walk. But Martinez would get the next two hitters out, putting the Cardinals just one out away from a win that would have essentially secured a spot in next week’s SLC Tournament.
But Gavin Johnson then came up big for Sam, extending the game with a pinch-hit single and the Kats got even closer one batter later when Martinez hit Blake Chisolm to load the bases for Rogers. The freshman then came through with the big hit of the game, lining an 0-1 pitch back up the middle to plate a pair of runs, tying the game and pushing it into extra innings.
Things did not last much longer as Hearn unknotted the game against Allen, blasting his eighth homer of the year over the left-field fence to put the Kats up 5-4. Sam Houston had a chance to add on, but three more UIW relievers managed to get the Cardinals back to the plate. But in the bottom of the inning Mills got it done, putting one runner on with two outs before punching out Christian Rodriguez on three pitches for the game’s final out.
Sam Houston will now go after its ninth series win in league play this year on Saturday in the middle game of the series. First pitch is set for 2:00 p.m. from Sullivan Field with Seth Ballew slated to get the ball against a UIW pitcher to be determined.