HOUSTON – The Sam Houston State Bearkat bats slow to get going on Sunday afternoon and a three-run first inning was all No. 21 Mississippi State needed in a 4-1 win at Minute Maid Park on the final day of the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic.
The Kats (7-4) finished with seven hits on the day against the Bulldog (6-5) staff, with only five scattered singles coming against starter Jacob Billingsley who struck out six in 6.0 innings for his first win of the year. Mississippi State scored three times in the first inning before Billingsley ever took the bump, taking advantage of three of Sam Houston starter Seth Ballew’s six walks on the day.
Cole Gordon earned his first save of the year with two strikeouts in 1.1 scoreless innings of relief.
They would add one more in the seventh, but stranded 14 runners in the game, putting at least one runner on base in each of the first eight innings of the win. Sam Houston would not get a run home until a pinch-hit RBI single from Jaxxon Grisham in the bottom of the eighth off of reliever Keegan James. Clayton Harp finished 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored.
Ballew fell to 0-1 on the season with the loss, despite not allowing another run after the opening frame. Still, it took him 106 pitches to get through 5.2 innings, walking six and striking out two. Nick Mikolajchak came on to pitch the final 3.1 innings, allowing just one unearned run and three hits in that span.
The Bearkats will now return to Huntsville for two more games before opening up Southland Conference play next weekend at Lamar. Sam Houston will host Prairie View for a two-game midweek series, beginning Tuesday night at The Don. First pitch for Game 1 vs the Panthers is set for 6:30 p.m. and will be aired on ESPN3.
Three walks in the opening inning proved costly for Ballew as Mississippi State pushed across three early runs. A one-out triple by Tanner Allen opened the scoring by bringing in Jake Mangum, and Luke Alexander followed that up two batters later with an RBI single. Ballew would then issue consecutive walks to Dustin Skelton and Tanner Poole, the latter pushing home Hunter Vansau for the third Bulldog run.
Things look to be shaping up for an easy inning for Ballew in the third as he quickly retired the first two Bulldogs he saw; however, Skelton won out in a long at-bat with a double that extended the inning. An infield single and a walk followed, loading the bases for Mississippi State with two away and the top of the lineup coming up. But Ballew held firm, coaxing a grounder to third by Mangum to strand all three runners.
After Ballew worked around a leadoff hit in the top of the fourth, Sam had its first scoring chance of the day in the bottom half. An infield hit from Ochoa and a walk to Andrew Fregia put the first two runners on, and a one-out walk to Harp loaded them up. But Billingsley responded, striking out Chase Cryer before getting Ben Haefner to ground out to leave the bases loaded.
Sam Houston was finally able to bring a runner all the way around in the eighth, doing so with a pair of two-out hits. After James had retired both Fregia and Hunter Hearn, Harp hustled out a double off a blooper into left-center that fell in front of Mangum. One batter later Grisham found a pitch he liked and lined it into right field, bringing in Harp for the first Sam Houston run of the game.
Things got more interesting as the inning went on when Haefner reached on a wild pitch following a third strike that would have ended the inning. That brought up Jack Rogers who was called out on a bang-bang play at first base on a grounder that ended the inning.